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Insights and News /

13 August 2019

Putting the brakes on fast fashion

Louis Blaxill

Louis Blaxill
Analyst | Products and services | London

Nicole Suen

Nicole Suen
Consultant | Products and Services | London

The Environmental Audit Committee ‘Fixing fashion’ report recently set alarm bells ringing across the fashion industry as it suggested that the government take radical action to force fashion producers ‘to clear up the mountains of waste they create’. Although the report’s recommendations were rejected by the government, it clearly demonstrated that if the fashion industry is going to continue to prosper, there is a need for an overhaul of the current approach to fast fashion.

Consumer awareness of how the fashion industry is impacting the environment is higher than ever before. A recently commissioned survey[1] found that almost 90% of consumers wanted brands to help them to live and shop more sustainably. This is personified by over 550 new charity stores opening in Britain since 2013, demonstrating consumers’ desire for affordable apparel coupled with a positive environmental and social impact. If this trend continues, the demand for sustainable apparel will only increase and will become a hygiene factor for many consumers.

Increasing demand for sustainable apparel has created opportunities that have been exploited by innovative challenger brands that are willing to look beyond the traditional confines of fast fashion.

Allbirds was created in 2005 with the core value that they ‘bore an equal responsibility to their shareholders as they do to the planet’. With this in mind, they have eradicated plastic from their supply chain and have created a footwear range made entirely of renewable and biodegradable products. They are now valued at $1.4 billion, having harnessed the demand for conscientiously produced apparel.

Rent the Runway have taken a very different approach, reducing the waste produced by the fast fashion mentality. They have pioneered the concept of rental clothing through a subscription. They offer customers the opportunity to wear and return items of clothing for a monthly fee. This removes the need to dispose of clothes after use whilst simultaneously reducing the price tag that would be typically be associated with frequently refreshing your wardrobe. They have grown to over $1 billion by leveraging a recycling and reusing solution to satisfy the consumer’s desire for new and fashionable apparel.

The changing demand is even driving strategic changes amongst retailers that would have been traditionally associated the fast fashion. H&M recently launched a range of products made from vegan, pineapple leaf leather (supplied by Pinatex) and has pledged to use 100% recycled or sustainable materials by 2030. Vogue reported Zara’s recent culture change, shifting towards a philosophy of ‘slowing down, buying less and making what we have last longer. This is embodied by their ‘Join Life’ collection which will account for 20% of Zara’s offerings by the end of 2020.

Although the outlook of the Pulse report may initially paint a worrying picture, challenger brands have demonstrated that there are opportunities to be exploited, paving the way for the bigger brands to follow suit. Increasing consumer awareness is reshaping the fashion industry. It won’t be long before consumers come to not only prefer affordable, sustainably produced apparel, but demand it.