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Sustainability in Fashion – New York Fashion Week

POSTED UNDER Social Responsibility

“We aren’t going to stop producing clothes, but we have to have a discussion about how we do what we do and the amount we produce.” As Fashion Week takes center stage in New York City this week, this quote from Danish Fashion Institute Chief Executive Eva Kruse illustrates how the industry is taking a new, harder look at increasing sustainability – and making extraordinary efforts to transform the business in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few short years ago.

That’s a good thing because there’s a lot of opportunity to reduce its environmental impact: The fashion industry generates $2.5 trillion per year, and it accounts for 85 percent of the textiles that end up in landfills (estimated at 21 billion tons) and 10 percent of global carbon emissions. It’s also the second-largest user of water and contributes 20 percent of the industrial waste water on the planet, according to a research study published by the Danish Fashion Institute.

Trade associations, educational institutions, nonprofits, luxury brands and retailers (including Macy’s) have established programs to increase sustainability and limit negative environmental impact, and while there’s a lot happening in stores and operations, companies are recognizing there’s tremendous opportunity in the supply chain.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition, of which Macy’s is a member, is tackling that issue head-on, working with suppliers around the world to “help address inefficiencies, resolve damaging practices, and achieve the environmental transparencies that consumers are starting to demand,” according to the Coalition’s website.

“Consumer consciousness and expectations are evolving regarding corporate environmental issues – they want their brands to behave responsibly,” says Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) Director of Consumer Sectors Elisa Niemtzow. “Brands up until now were marketing sustainability as what consumers should do. Now it’s ‘Here’s what we’re doing for you.’”

Like many large movements, this one started small, as startup companies began adopting sustainable practices. In 2010, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) took up the challenge and teamed with Lexus to offer an annual “eco-fashion challenge,” with cash prizes awarded to three young companies committed to creating environmentally responsible fashion lines.

Designer Stella McCartney was another early adopter; McCartney integrated her deeply held beliefs into her business practices, creating a brand that uses no animal products, including leather and fur – mainstays of the luxury brand business. As her success started to grow, others joined in, including McCartney’s parent company Kering – which also owns brands like Balenciaga, Gucci and Bottega Venata. In 2012, Kering established new sustainability targets, driving its brands “toward higher levels of economic, environmental, ethical and social performance.”

Glasgow Caledonian University’s Fair Fashion Center, a New York-based nonprofit, is helping fashion companies reinvent themselves in more sustainable ways. Among its key initiatives are facilitating a 100 percent renewable energy strategy, reducing packaging, and creating an online carbon offset option called NOCO2 (meaning no carbon dioxide).

The fashion industry may have a lot of work ahead of it – but it’s already made some important strides for a more sustainable future.


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