The clothing and fashion industry are at the forefront of the debate around climate change and sustainability. Collectively, it is responsible for 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse emissions each year - more than the aviation and global shipping industries combined.
While the debate continues about how society manages this looming problem, the clothing industry has begun taking substantial action and appears not to be shunning its responsibility. Many of the UK's favourite fashion brands are driving the advancement of reusable technology and waste management as well as assigning huge budgets to help raise awareness of the issue.
Are the Biggest Brands the Biggest Burden?
Sports brands have never been more popular in the UK. The estimated value of the sports apparel and footwear market in the United Kingdom has been growing at an impressive rate since 2015 and looks set to be worth 66.6 billion euros by 2020. But with sales on the rise, what could this mean for the leading brands' environmental credentials? Inevitably, more clothing being sold means more waste.
Not necessarily. In fact, far from being bad news, there are notable positives. Sports companies care greatly about how they are perceived and being a force for sustainability plays a significant role in many of their brand campaigns. Adidas, a name synonymous with UK sport and high-street fashion, has taken significant steps to state its contribution to a more sustainable future - their popular Ultraboost range is made with 100% recycled material.
And it's not just their products that are changing. They are working towards phasing out the use of all virgin plastic by eliminating plastic bags in-stores. In 2019, they launched Run for the Oceans and donated 1.5million to Parley Ocean School, an educational initiative at the heart of marine conservation. As well as raising money, the campaign saw them pledge to altogether remove virgin polyester from their supply chain by 2024. They are also striving to make 11 million pairs of shoes from used plastic collected from remote beaches and coastal communities around the world while continuing to raise awareness of the most significant environmental challenges society faces today.
Nike is also adapting its business model. In 2019 they saved 32bn litres of water by sourcing sustainable cotton. They also used 75% renewable energy in their owned facilities and 99.9% of footwear manufacturing waste was recycled or converted to energy.
High street brands like Primark and Topshop are also making notable statements with their new approaches. Primark Invested £10 million in 160,000 cotton producers to encourage sustainable cotton and are using ships to deliver goods around the world rather than air freight. Topshop recycles 95% of waste from UK stores and sources 100% of its energy in the UK from renewables. They are also a key player in the better cotton initiative to encourage sustainable farming. ASOS, the UK's most popular online fashion brand, is also committed to making a difference. In 2019, 34% of all fibres used in ASOS Brands came from sustainable sources and for the 3rd year running they decreased their carbon intensity per customer.
The Better Cotton Initiative
The Better Cotton Initiative is the leading force in the global production of sustainable cotton. They deliver education and training to over two million cotton farmers across 21 countries. This has led to licensed BCI Farmers producing more than five million metric tonnes of 'Better Cotton' a year. Their retail partners include Topshop, H&M, Ikea, Levi's, Marks and Spencer's, Jack & Jones and many more. The continual growth of this project could have a hugely positive effect on the future of the planet.
Making An Ethical Choice
Alongside the most popular brands, there also an increasing number of exciting, less-familiar companies that are changing the way clothing is created and consumed. Earth Positive are leading the way in climate-neutral clothing. Their t-shirts are organic and ethically made using energy generated from wind and solar power. Continental focuses on innovative manufacturing processes that minimise negative environmental impacts and conserve energy and natural resources. Thought clothing create contemporary clothing from natural and eco-friendly fabrics like hemp, bamboo, and organic denim.
Fast Fashion and The Future of Clothing
The elephant in the room when discussing the issue of sustainable clothing is the emergence of 'fast' fashion and a growing culture of buying more and keeping less. Globally, 60% more garments were purchased in 2014 than in 2000, and it estimated that 85% of all textiles would end up in a landfill. Many leading fashion houses including Louis Vuitton and Gucci issue five collections a year as opposed to the traditional two. Last year, H&M released 24 collections. This has a knock-on effect which means that trends come and go faster, forcing up the rate of consumption at a startling rate. The effort to counterbalance this, while certainly growing, must be substantial if the industry is not to become an even heavier burden on the future population.