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The Apparel Industry: What’s Necessary and What’s Possible

Sometimes the greatest obstacle to tackling a challenge is knowing where to start.

The fashion industry generates $1.2 trillion annually.  It also generates a lot of waste.  Second to oil, fashion and textiles is the most polluting industry in the world. With an industry this big and broad, where does a brand start on its sustainability journey?  While Francis of Assisi might not be a conventional fashion icon like the little black dress, his wisdom is timeless.  “Start by doing what’s necessary,” he said, “then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

What’s Necessary: A fashion revolution

Twenty-five percent of the world’s pesticides are used to grow cotton alone, and one-fifth of industrial water pollution stems from the dyeing and treatment of fabric. Bringing this to a more personal level, it takes approximately 7,000 liters of water to produce a single pair of jeans.  So at each stage in a garment’s life, both people and the planet are under threat.  Because of this intense use of resources, the current apparel model is no longer sustainable. The first step towards systemic change is acknowledging that a new paradigm is necessary.

An organization leading this social shift in thinking is Fashion Revolution.  Their mission is to change the industry into one which values people, the environment, creativity, and profits in equal measure.  They believe industry change begins with transparency.  Transparency, at its simplest, means companies know who makes their clothes and under what conditions.

What’s Possible: Supply chain transparency

Many apparel companies point to slim profit margins and complicated supply chains as reasons for not tackling sustainability.  But today’s consumers and shareholders are asking for it.  Building a sustainability roadmap insures brands remain competitive, relevant, and resilient. If ESGissues are not addressed, at some point a brand’s supply chain will be affected. Eventually climate change will “negatively affect the availability and quality of key raw materials — and by extension, the vulnerable communities that are farming these materials,” says a sustainability report published by BSR. Not addressing these issues now will create a myriad of additional challenges for the apparel industry in the future.

Depending on a company’s size, it could take years to tackle all supply chain issues. Big companies have deeper more complex channels to explore. Smaller companies grapple with limited buying power and minimum order quantities.

One way to systemically tackle such challenges is to use sustainability management software. Sustrana offers a cloud based management system. The platform allows companies to benchmark themselves against competitors, identify and prioritize risk, pick projects and manage to completion. The end result is a more sustainable, profitable, and transparent company. And a healthier planet and workforce.

What’s Seemingly Impossible:  Closing the loop on fabric

As we’ve written before, it’s not as simple as recycling old garments into new ones.  Becoming 100% circular goes a lot further than recycling. It’s about developing solutions and business models to extend the lifespan of products. It’s about choosing the right materials, or developing new ones.  Accomplishing a goal this big will require incredible innovation. The good news is, new technology, such as recycling food waste into yarn and polyester eating microbes, is being developed every day.

The fashion industry has built its reputation on being creative and edgy.  On being a trendsetter. By leading the charge for sustainability it has the opportunity to not only do good, but also to become the most coveted fashion trend of all … timeless.

Join the revolution and make the impossible – possible

Want to get involved?

  • Contact your favorite brands and ask #whomademyclothes.  Share your finds on social media.
  • Consider joining the Sustainable Apparel Coalition an organization that envisions an apparel industry that produces no unnecessary environmental harm and has a positive impact on the people and communities associated with its activities.
  • And if you are in the business, get started on your sustainability journey, and jump on the Sustrana platform to manage the work.