The fashion industry has been setting trends for decades, dictating what’s cool and what’s not. The latest verdict is in: sustainable innovation is the future. Brands have increasingly begun placing sustainability as a pillar in their operations and are actively working towards implementing positive change. A majority of big names in fashion have admirably committed to the goals outlined by UN Fashion Charter and G7 Fashion Pact. But, more can always be done. It calls to question how we can tackle the issue from its roots. Although erasing negative environmental footprints is a positive step in the right direction, how can we remove it completely? The answer to that lies in sustainable innovation—research and development schemes which focus on eco-friendly materials generated by agri-food industries, renewable energy sources, and technological start-ups.
Carbon emission is one of the biggest issues the fashion industry faces. The practice of generating raw materials for clothing production is a carbon-intensive process—an estimated two-thirds of our clothing derives from fossil fuel-derived synthetics. With garment production expected to hit 102 million tonnes a year by 2030, sustainable efforts need to accelerate to prevent additional strain on the world’s resources. Major businesses recognise the scale of the climate crisis and are looking to implement sustainability and corporate social responsibility into their operations, many have turned to carbon offsetting, the practice of offsetting all emissions and waste from their entire supply chain. The offset is created either by funding reforestation schemes like planting a tree or supporting renewable energy sources such as wind or solar. The transition from fossil fuels to new renewable energy sources drastically reduce atmospheric carbon emissions, and purchasing 100% renewable electricity is one of the most efficient ways to reduce the carbon footprint of a business.
Investors are taking note of the increasingly profitable green market too. In 2016 190 of the Fortune 500 companies collectively saved close to 3.7 billion through renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives, indicating that the pursuit of sustainable business models is not only the right thing to do but also smart investments. This coincides with a report from Bloomberg in 2019, which announced over 500 investors with $35 trillion of assets have been urging the government to take more action on climate change. The environmental crisis is a critical issue for investors’ portfolios, which teeters between substantial risks and huge opportunities. The consentient concern is a call for clarification on regulations and policies which will aid in directing capital appropriately to tackle the issue of climate change from an environmental perspective, but also safeguard portfolios.
The green market and smart investments play an instrumental role in the fashion industry, a key component in the global economy. The sustainable fashion market is predicted to become a $123 billion market by 2030, and fashion leaders want a slice of the cake, with many becoming direct investors themselves. Research shows that 88% of consumers are hungry for environmentally friendly alternatives to fashion consumption, yet, there is a lack of creative, eco-friendly solutions in the industry. Despite many startups promising long-term solutions and holding immense promise for the future of fashion, in many cases, bringing the necessary innovations to scale requires immense funding. A vocal advocate for sustainable innovation is none other than Kering. In 2017, the luxury conglomerate was named a founding partner of Plug and Play, a Silicon Valley startup accelerator. The scheme aims to transform operational processes and promote the adoption of sustainable practices within the fashion industry. Selected start-ups are granted $113,000, allowing them to scale up their innovations which is further supported by training, mentorship, networking opportunities from Kering. A particular focus is placed on initiatives that can improve the textile industry’s approach to water use, energy use, waste, chemical use, and labour practices.
Another fashion house that has opted to invest in innovative startups is Chanel. A signatory of the aforementioned Fashion Pact, the Parisian fashion house announced an investment into Evolved By Nature last year. The Boston based start-up has generated an eco-friendly textile using a patented ‘activated silk’, composed of discarded silkworm cocoons—offering a positive alternative to harsh, synthetic chemicals commonly used in the creation of raw materials. Chanel’s acquisition is the latest in line, following an investment into Finnish start-up Sulapac the previous year. Listed amongst the top-100 start-ups in Europe by Wired Magazine for two years in a row, Sulapac is a developer of eco-friendly packaging, using biodegradable and microplastic-free materials, and effectively eliminating the use of harmful plastics.
The actions taken by the fashion industry are setting an example to other sectors by exhibiting the level of commitment required to combat the impending crisis. What is more interesting, is that while the initial Capex for the sustainable investments might seem overbearing, they certainly seem to pay off. Investing in green initiatives is not a short term gain, but rather a sustainable (pun intended) future growth solution. Signs all point towards one thing—companies with a competitive edge are all playing on the green side.