Celebrating Dynamic Shifts in our Industry
Working in sustainability, there is always more to learn, more to change, more to do, and more to solve. This is why it is especially important to take the time to pause, look around, and celebrate the successes and the transformations we have collectively achieved.
Several transformative trends have stood out over the past year, and we’d like to take a moment to celebrate these dynamic shifts with you, to show you the impact your work is having, to inspire you to examine how you might apply these principles in your own work, and to highlight the direction our industry is headed.
Dynamic Shift #1: Closing the Loop
Whether termed “Circular Economy,” “Closing the Loop,” or “Alternative business models,” the need for curving the traditional linear model of apparel (take-make-waste) into a regenerative cycle has become accepted industry wisdom.
This is in part fueled by social media, through which consumers are expressing their interest in the story behind their clothes, and expressing their expectations of the companies they support. Dozens of brands now have circular business strategies, and numerous platforms exist that enable companies to share learnings and best practices. Manufacturers are even getting on board with the shift, as we see in the recent China Water Risk report. We have seen the launch of the world’s first circular economy standard (BS 8001:2017), the rise of companies that specialize in upcycled or refurbished clothing (ThredUp, The Renewal Workshop), and technology innovations in tracking, recycling, and regenerating fiber that all contribute to a less wasteful and more thoughtful industry, with a smaller environmental footprint.
Looking ahead, we believe that the idea of circularity will be an expected component in any apparel business’s sustainability strategy.
Dynamic Shift #2: Transparency
Transparency has been a buzzword for several years now, but over the past 12 months we have seen an explosion in terms of tangible actions brands and suppliers taking to demonstrate their commitment to transparency. Brands are publishing their supplier information online, joining the “Transparency Pledge,” developing open costings for their products, and sharing information regarding their suppliers’ chemical usage and wastewater quality. Behind this push in communication, brands are stepping up in terms of taking greater responsibility for supply chain management, building better relationships, and understanding the processes within their supply chains.
Expectations have changed dramatically regarding what should be publicly available information, and companies in leadership positions are modeling a willingness to share their progress, and even their struggles, in a way that enables the whole industry to improve.
Dynamic Shift #3: Building Knowledge in Product Teams
We are increasingly seeing brands devote time and resources to educating their buyers and designers, and helping those individuals embrace their role as crucial change agents in the journey towards more sustainable products. This is a shift we see at brand headquarters, and it is being echoed by buying offices as well as suppliers.
This enables a brand to take a more integrated approach to sustainability, shifting to a pro-active attitude (thoughtful and strategic design and development) rather than a reactive, end-of-pipe scramble to ensure products will meet minimum requirements.
In our work with brands, we see that knowledgeable teams are better able to incorporate their company’s sustainability strategy and vision into product design and development, and are more likely to see the opportunities—creative, design, marketing, sales, or communication opportunities—associated with their products than those teams who have not had the benefit of training and struggle to get beyond seeing sustainability as a limitation.
Resources: GoBlu's VIA
Dynamic Shift #4: Integration of Sustainability into Business Expectations
We continue to see companies further integrating sustainability into their business decisions, business goals, and public reporting—a major step that places sustainability firmly out of its former “bonus” status and into the minds and strategies of business leaders.
The Pulse Report this year illustrated the financial impact of business as usual, and demonstrated the benefits that sustainability leaders are beginning to realize. Additionally, we applaud both the release of the UN Sustainable Development Goals two years ago, and the way leading apparel and fashion companies have embraced these goals over the past year.
We believe there are particularly relevant opportunities linked to the following SDGs:
- Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
- Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all
- Goal 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all·
- Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns·
- Goal 15: Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss
Hopefully we have shared our optimism and provided you with some inspiring ideas as you head back indoors this autumn. If you have any stories to share, please do connect with us and we would be happy to profile interesting stories to help share learnings to our broader community.
About the author: Ariel’s interest in supporting sustainability and access to a clean, safe environment was sparked when she spent two years living in an Amazon village, helping her community build its first clean drinking water system. Ariel spent five years working with an international NGO focused on mentoring, and four years at MADE-BY, most recently as a Senior Consultant, where her focus was on helping brands develop and apply the right sustainability strategy. She enjoys finding ways to make more technical topics, such as dyeing, approachable and interesting for product teams as well as CR teams, helping to build their knowledge, confidence, and impact. Ariel has her Master’s degree in Leadership for Social Change and incorporates a human behavior and group dynamics perspective into her work.