By Roxy L. Rowton
Spring/Summer 2020 fashion trends reflect an industry coming to grips with the harmful effects from fast fashion and mass production. Designers and apparel brands shift their focus to sustainability, transparency and circular fashion. These factors will continue to impact the industry in the decade ahead as designers and apparel brands strive to bolster reputations as faithful stewards of fashion.
For Spring/Summer 2020, it isn’t merely the latest trends strolling down the runway. A commitment to making the fashion industry more sustainable and transparent sashays down the runway among the clothes. Consumers are demanding to know the true cost of making a garment, tracing the supply chain from raw material to cloth and the manufacturing chain from production, labor and delivery. Apparel brands and fashion houses are stepping up their efforts to disclose manufacturers and the origins of raw materials. These actions give the apparel brands and fashion houses a communication channel to their consumers about their sustainability efforts. It allows the consumer to make more informed choices about the garments they bring into the closet.
The Fashion Revolution is a non-profit social enterprise that works to ensure that the global supply chain transparency and responsibility are on the agendas of governments worldwide. They reviewed 200 global fashion and apparel brands. Their review included the quality of information they disclose about their suppliers, supply chain policies and practices, as well as, social and environmental impact. The average score was less than 21 percent. Yet the Fashion Transparency Index 2019 showed that brands are making improvements toward greater transparency.
Seventy major fashion brands are publishing a list of their first-tier manufactures, such as where their garments are sewn, cut and finished. Thirty-eight fashion brands are disclosing their processing facilities, such as ginning, spinning, wet processing, embroidering, printing, dyeing and laundering. Ten fashion brands are reporting the facilities or farms supplying fibers such as cotton, wool and polyester. While the results of the Fashion Transparency Index 2019 on transparency progress are encouraging, the fashion industry has still room for significant improvement.
Scaling Mill Production:
The process of spinning, weaving, dyeing, printing and finishing in clothing mills generates much of the harmful environmental impacts of fashion production. The intensive reliance on dyes and chemicals, the burning of coal and fossil fuels, the release of greenhouse gas emissions and wastewater during fashion manufacturing are the chief culprits that contribute to toxic environmental effects. The harmful environmental impacts of clothing manufacturing are often beyond the direct supervision of a fashion house or apparel brand. However, an increasing number of fashion brands and designers are engaging with their suppliers/manufacturers to integrate more sustainable practices such as the reduction of energy, water, chemical and dye use.
Programs such as Clean by Design create green supply chains by bringing together apparel retailers and fashion brands with their suppliers to curb the harmful environmental impacts in clothing factories.
Reutilizing garments at the end of use is essential if the fashion industry is to transform to a more circular market. Material recovery or the recycling of apparel is another channel that is being examined by fashion brands. One method is to redesign new garments from post consumer apparel. The second is to recycle post-consumer apparel by integrating and blending these into new yarns and textiles.
Textile recycling innovators, such as Tyton Biosciences in Danville, Virginia and Recover in Spain, develop apparel recycling solutions for processing recycled polyester and organic cotton waste. Harnessing water as a solvent to make clean, recycled fibers suitable for the varied needs of the fashion industry. Apparel recycling at the end use of garments turns textile waste into quality up-cycled yarns. Textile recycling innovators develop and manufacture low-impact up-cycled yarns and fabrics that offer apparel and fashion brands, as well as consumers, a material recovery solution and closed loop system for reliable end-of-use waste management.
Re-commerce, also known as reverse commerce, is the increasingly common practice of buying and selling previously owned goods to consumers. More than any other industry, fashion is leading the growth of reverse commerce. Clothing re-commerce has outperformed traditional retail by 21 percent during the past few years according to re-commerce retailer ThredUp. Young Millennial and GenZ thrifters are the largest group redirecting their apparel purchases to secondhand garments.
Whether it is thrift, secondhand, used, or gently worn, resale has become good business. The resale of used garments is of utmost importance as clothes are frequently discarded before wearing out. Resale assists reroute garments from landfills and incinerators. Fashion brands are increasing efforts to collect their gently worn products to encourage customers to engage in circular fashion. Fashion brands such as Eileen Fisher, Patagonia and other traditional retailers offer take-back programs that resale previously owned apparel to their consumer base.
As fashionistas and pragmatists fall back in love with iconic denim, fashion ramps up production for denim apparel. Up-cycled denim will likely infiltrate all tiers of the fashion industry. The Ellen MacArthur’s Jean Redesign Program has gained momentum; circularity is a major concern of denim production. Designers and fashion brands pledge to use more sustainably-sourced cotton in denim apparel such as the Better Cotton Initiative, organic cotton and recycled cotton. They also seek to partner with denim manufacturers that commit to production methods using fewer chemical dyes, eliminate salts, reduce water consumption and employ renewable energy sources.
A number of brands have become collection agents. They offer services that encourage their clientele to return worn jeans and denim apparel to recycle. Repurposing old garments is one way for the fashion industry to tap into sustainability and the consumer demand for an icon.
Roxy L. Rowton has spent three decades assisting women transform their wardrobe from a random assortment of garments into a curated collection of functionality and individuality. She shares her expertise on the Fashion Files at Prince William Living and “build a better wardrobe” blog at everydayrefinement.com