How is the fashion world responding to climate change?

Hazel Needham

Hazel Needham

Image of models walking down a runway in various different outfits

Ethical fashion brands represent a large chunk of One Tribe’s partners, donating a percentage of every purchase to urgent rainforest conservation. Do you see your favourite in the list? The fashion world is taking action, ditch fast fashion, and join the sustainable movement. 

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Your wardrobe may not be the hottest thing this season…

Typically, we don’t associate the fashion world with climate change. How can your swanky new suit, bought especially for that dream job in the big city, have anything to do with rainforests in Brazil? Surely, owning 17 bikinis is completely unrelated to the snowstorms in Antarctica? Right?

Wrong. Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world. It is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions: more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Each garment you buy drains yet more of the planet’s resources and the fashion industry uses up to 93 billion cubic meters of water, which is enough to meet the consumption needs of 5 million people.

And the question of environmental impact doesn’t stop once your new must-have arrives in your wardrobe. What happens when your suit gets a hole in it? Or your shirt starts to fade in the wash? Or when they both just became so last year?

 In the US 85% of all textiles are thrown away. When we talk about fast fashion, we aren’t talking about hot trends, we are talking about how globally, the equivalent to a rubbish truck full of clothes is dumped in a landfill every second.  In the UK, where individuals buy more new items of clothing than any other country in Europe, not even 1% of old clothes are recycled into new garments.

The fashion world has no option but to adapt to become sustainable. Megan Eddings, Founder and CEO of Accel Lifestyle, explains how sustainable fashion “Takes into account the entire supply chain and life cycle of a garment, from where and how it is made to when it ends up in our landfills.” She insists that consumers must consider the impact their purchases have on the environment. 

The Fashion Pact

What is it?

Fortunately, it isn’t only consumers who have a responsibility to create a sustainable fashion industry. Under the G7 Fashion Pact, some of the biggest brands in the fashion world have recently pledged to revolutionise their production processes.

The Pact is a first-of-its-kind initiative centred on three science-based sustainability targets. The first target is to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with the aim of preventing the Earth’s temperature from rising a further 1.5 degrees Celsius within the century.

The second aim is to restore biodiversity and natural ecosystems that have been damaged by the industry, supplemented by the elimination of all micro-fibre plastic pollution. The third is to preserve the oceans, namely by the reduction of single-use plastics.

Who’s behind it?

Kering, a global luxury fashion company that manages brands like Gucci and Saint Laurent, has been a key leader when it comes to addressing the industry’s sustainability issues. Chair and CEO François-Henri Pinault was selected by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to scaffold the objectives of the G7 Fashion Pact, though Pinault explained that the task was not one that could be completed alone. Pinault explained, Despite what we’re doing [to reduce our impact alone], things are not moving. We really need to define targets together.

What could bring fierce competitors together better than a climate crisis? The Fashion Pact is a coalition of exceptional magnitude, with  60+ competitors and partners across regions and cultures.

That’s 32 companies, and approximately 150 brands, working together to develop a sustainability industry. The Fashion Pact is proud to feature global players, niche brands, and subject matter experts from sectors along the entire value chain, setting a common agenda with priority actions and tangible targets. 

The big brands making big changes

Stella McCartney

Fashion giants involved are not taking their new environmental responsibility lightly. Stella McCartney has always been a frontrunner when it comes to sustainability within the fashion world, using leftover t-shirts and upcycled materials in her collections to lower carbon emissions. She also sources the viscose for her clothes from sustainable forests in Sweden. 

Zegna

The Italian luxury brand Zegna is also committing to reducing the use of raw materials for its clothes by designing suits not only from recycled materials, but with the intention of recycling them again in the future.

Prada

Prada, too, is putting its money where its promises are by signing its third sustainability-linked loan, this one for €90 million, to help further its environmental targets. The loan will go toward regenerating and reconverting production waste as well as increasing its self-producing energy. Already, Prada has invested in solar power, and its production and logistics sites in Tuscany, are expected to become almost entirely energy independent over the next few years. 

Along  with Michael Kors, Gucci and Versace, Prada has also sworn off fur. Although this has obvious animal welfare advantages, fox and mink coats generate enormous carbon footprints. Ceasing to use fur is therefore an impressive commitment to making fashion both sustainable and ethical.

Image of two minks from a mink farm.

Zara

Million-dollar investments and fur coats do not mean that ethical fashion is limited to designer brands. Highstreet names have also committed to the G7 Fashion Pact. Marta Ortega, whose father founded Zara’s parent company, Inditex, is part of the Zara women’s design team. She told Vogue “[We] are highly focused on making clothes in a responsible, sustainable way.”

Another designer, Bea Padin, explains how the entire fashion world is starting to change in the name of sustainability.

“At Zara, the teams are very conscious, but we are also seeing that sensitivity at our suppliers. In particular, we see it in the options being created by the new recycled fabrics, whether from natural or man-made fibers, sustainable plant-based fabrics, et cetera. However, we are keenly aware that there is still a long way to go. The industry has to find new techniques, develop the fabrics, and get them to market!”

Other major brands who joined the Pact include PVH (which owns Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger), H&MAdidasChanelTapestry (which owns Coach and Kate Spade), NikeAlexander McQueen, HermèsBurberryGap, and Capri Holdings (Michael Kors’s new holding company, which owns Jimmy Choo and Versace).

Young adults holding numerous shopping bags from a high street shopping haul

Slow Fashion

The G7 Fashion Pact is an incredible start to a hugely difficult process. Fast fashion has prompted consumers to seek short-term solutions, but as these solutions continue to irreversibly destroy the natural environment and its resources, the entire industry must commit to reinventing itself.

Consumers and companies within the fashion world can no longer afford to be ignorant of their environmental impact. As Libby Peake of the Green Alliance explains“Slow fashion is the only sustainable future for the industry and the planet.” 

The best way to ensure your wardrobe is as trend-forward as it is climate forward is to learn more about sustainable and ethical fashion, check out 5 materials that might help the fashion world to save our world here! 

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