THE DILEMMA OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY

FASHION IS A GLOBAL INDUSTRY. THE FASHION INDUSTRY IS DENMARKS 4TH LARGEST EXPORT INDUSTRY. WE HAVE WITNESSED CONTINUOUS GROWTH IN DENMARKSS EXPORT OF FASHION OVER THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS. HOPEFULLY, THIS WILL CONTINUE FOR MANY YEARS TO COME. BUT THE FASHION INDUSTRY IS ALSO THE SECOND-LARGEST POLLUTING INDUSTRY IN THE WORLD AFTER THE OIL INDUSTRY. THE EMISSIONS FROM THE FASHION INDUSTRY ARE GREATER THAN FOR AVIATION AND SHIPPING COMBINED. RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS SHOW THAT THE AVERAGE CONSUMER TODAY BUYS 60 PERCENT MORE CLOTHES THAN 15 YEARS AGO. THE NUMBER OF GARMENTS PRODUCED HAS DOUBLED SINCE 2000 AND EXCEEDED 100 BILLION PIECES. IN 2014; IT WAS EQUAL TO ALMOST 14 PIECES OF CLOTHING FOR EVERYONE ON EARTH CAUSED BY RISING CONSUMPTION AND A GROWING POPULATION AND MIDDLE 

When the world’s population rises to an estimated 8.5 billion people by 2030, annual global clothing consumption could rise from 62 million tons today to 102 million tons – similar to, for example, 500 billion extra T-shirts. 1.7 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions came from textile production in 2015. It is expected that 26% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions will come from the fashion industry in 2050. “Pulse of the fashion industry” released by Global Fashion Agenda and Boston Consultancy Company in their 2019 report state that whereas the fashion industry has improved their efforts in the field of sustainable thinking the industry is still far from sustainable. The report also states that insufficient initiatives are being implemented to stop the development and that the industry will be unable to achieve e.g. UN Sustainable Development Goals.

While other industries succeed in limiting emissions of global greenhouse gas emissions, things are going the wrong way in the fashion industry. The question is: how do we reverse the development and who should do it or who is responsible? The fashion industry’s dilemma is that the consumers have rewarded producers and brands by consuming and buying more than ever before; and there is a lot of money in it for manufacturers and brands to continue on the path of destroying our planet. There is plenty of statistical material available on how big a waste the industry delivers both in production and in unsold production. Did you know that about 15% of fabric intended for clothing ends up on the cutting room floor?

We expect that the negative development will continue unless

  1. a) The industry takes responsibility and controls and regulates itself
  2. b) Government and other regulations will be enforced on “the dirty bastards”
  3. c) Consumers wake up and discover what they support and take over the power through resistance d) a number of manufacturers and brands will disrupt the business by turning sustainability and circular thinking into their advantage through introduction of new sustainable business models.

With regard to new business models we have started to witness initiatives from visionary brands such as Patagonia based on systemic initiatives. The majority of brands, however, are still mainly involved in mainly tactical “easy to implement” actions fitted to their existing business models. Often, these could be described as “green washing marketing initiatives” without significant impact on the planet and assisting the brands and manufacturers remove attention from their business models based on selling new clothes year after year to consumers having little chance to understand the meaning and impact of the more than 100 certifications from Oeko-tex, EcoCert, GOTS, Fairwair, Fairtrade etc.

Next to a well thought and “easy to understand and communicate” certification system the biggest challenge will be actions on the real issue; it is not just about producing in the right way or using the right packaging (all being great tactical initiatives contributing on each their level); it is about prolonging the usage of our fashion and apparel pieces; we need to slow down and use fewer items for a longer period of time.

“The Pulse of the fashion industry report” points out that overproduction is the foremost problem in an industry where we have taught manufacturers that it is worthwhile to market questionable quality fashion at low prices. To slow down and use fewer items for a longer period of time requires a completely different approach from manufacturers, brands and a new consumer behavior.

New (circular) business models based on quality, design and value for money measured over a longer period of time than one year will be part of the solution. It could include re-use, re-production, returns, rental and other models always with a focus on the fact that consumers will likely never be particularly prepared to pay an overprice for “just” sustainability or good conscience.