Will 2021 be the year that fashion slows down?
Over the last few weeks, we have been given major insight into the future direction of the fashion industry. Sustainability was a core theme of the recent Copenhagen Fashion Week, which showcased sustainable brands and also launched the Zalando Sustainability Award. Things seem to be looking positive.
After an unprecedented year for business in 2020, the fashion industry is undergoing large scale change. Sustainability is at the forefront of the minds of consumers, making it almost impossible for brands to ignore. In January, Business of Fashion published an article exploring what brands are prioritising in 2021 to respond to this market demand.
“While the pandemic is an ongoing and immediate crisis, brands are doubling down on commitments to reduce emissions, keep clothing in a virtuous loop of recycling and tackle human rights abuses in the supply chain in a bid to mitigate the risk that the next disaster to hit the industry is environmental.”
– Rachel Deely, BoF
In the article, Deely outlined three key areas that are gaining attention; the circular economy, social justice and biodiversity.
Fashion is an ideal industry to implement circular economy theory, where clothes are kept in circulation for longer and waste is minimised. Deely notes that the second-hand apparel market is still small but is growing quickly, with brands such as Cos and Levi’s launching their own resale offerings. Even Gucci is “looking at ways to integrate resale into its business”.
As well as reuse and other efforts to extend the life of clothing, recycling is a key feature of the circular economy – something the fashion industry has historically been guilty of not utilising. 2021 could see widespread use of new recycling technologies, with H&M Group due to test a machine that can recycle blended cotton and polyester.
Deely notes that H&M have “committed to supporting the technology’s wider rollout if all goes well”. Technology like this has the potential to boost the fashion industry’s move to circular, and bring recycled fabrics into the mainstream.
A key aspect of movements towards sustainability is tackling working conditions and rights. Poor working conditions and labour violations have long plagued the fashion industry. In 2020 an investigation into a garment factory in Leicester added to the discussion, finding that workers were earning far below minimum wage and were supplied with no PPE despite working through the pandemic.
Consumers are increasingly questioning if clothing is worth its human cost and nations have spoken out too. ”The United States has said it will bar entry of all cotton products and tomatoes imported from [China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region]” after widespread coverage of human rights abuses. The pressure is mounting from all angles to create visibility in fashion supply chains, so this will certainly affect change in the industry this year.
Looking beyond reducing harmful impact, there are opportunities to actually contribute positively to the world, which is what Deely highlights in the point on biodiversity.
The fashion industry’s impact on biodiversity is apparently “one of the industry’s most poorly understood and complex environmental pain points”. In 2021 and beyond we can expect the ecological disturbance of the fashion industry to become more central in discussion, and brands that seek to realign balance with nature will surely be ahead of the curve.
Sustainability is moving from a niche to a much larger movement, which is fantastic for the planet. There will undoubtedly be brands that try to capitalise on sustainability as a trend, while maintaining unsustainable practices in the shadows. But there will equally be many that genuinely wish to reshape the industry and contribute positively in the world.
Small brands have played an incredibly important role so far. They have been the ones paving the way, letting the industry know that it’s time to change. In 2021, the fashion industry is waking up. Industry giants are seeing the need to change their practices, and this year will hopefully see the effects of this.
published an article, titled ‘What Brands Are Prioritising in 2021’ (Business of fashion 2021)