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To ‘Future-Proof’ Business, Fashion Must Pivot Toward Sustainability

The mounting pressure for the fashion industry to adopt sustainable methods for sourcing and manufacturing was evident at Project New York last week, where trend forecasters, consultants and retailers hashed out what’s next for sustainable fashion.

Here, three industry insiders share the various paths brands and retailers can take toward a more sustainable future.

New retail strategies

At WGSN, senior consultant Rachael Dimit said she sees major investment firms pulling away from brands without actionable sustainability plans.

“It’s not where consumers are going to be spending their money,” she said. “There’s no sense in investing in those types of companies.”

That’s why Dimit positions sustainability as a necessity for brands—not a trend. And at the core of her message, she encourages brands to adopt circular strategies to “future-proof” their business while simultaneously helping Mother Nature. “They really need to do it if they want into the around in the future,” she added.

Re-commerce, or the “recovery and resale of a garment by the original retailer” and resale, “the general release of an item on the secondary market,” are two ways Dimit says brands can help extend the life of garments, while simultaneously gaining data. In an economy where data is gold, she pointed out that most data brands have on the use of their products ends at the moment of transaction. “But if a brand is able to track the product life in their own secondary market, the brands can make more informed decisions on when they are creating new collections,” she explained.

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And as the U.S. re-commerce market is set to double to almost $33 billion by 2021, the retail models also mean big business for brands. For many young consumers, re-sale is the entry point into luxury and streetwear—dollars that will hopefully trickle into the traditional market as they enter the workforce.

“It’s all about trading hands and designing products meant to last,” she said. “Previously loved pieces can now be used more than once because today there are multiple first uses.”

Small, meaningful steps

For a multi-brand retailer with a vendor and product assortment as vast as Bloomingdale’s, scaling sustainability is no overnight task. “Sustainability is still somewhat a buzzword in the industry,” said Justin Berkowitz, men’s fashion director for Bloomingdale’s.

From March to May, Bloomingdale’s highlighted sustainable goods and products made by Certified B Corp companies in its “Good for the Globe” rotating pop-up shop. The shop-in-shop stocked items like vegan sneakers by Veja, Levi’s denim, S’well reusable straws and water bottles and Kayu woven bags.

While conversation about ethical sourcing and sustainable materials is growing, and there are more fashionable products sustainably made at the read, Berkowitz said sustainable fashion is in its early days. “The short answer is that we still have a long way to go,” he said. “I think, as an industry, we are very aware of what’s going on. And I think that we’re beginning to get that message out there. I think it’s going to take a little bit more time for the customer to become fully embracing of it.”

More importantly for the future, he believes sustainability is a topic that most people in the fashion industry are invested in. “We’re aware of what our industry does to the environment. I think it’s something people believe in,” he said. “But I think that we have some time to continue to educate the customer, make them interested and make them understand why pricing might be a little bit different. We just need to keep putting the message out there and really educate why this is important.”

Fiber counts

With comfort, active and utility on the upswing for Spring/Summer 2020, Marian Park, WGSN youth fashion editor, said fashion’s plastic problem is come to light. “The rise of outdoor and urban utility trends present a sourcing challenge,” Park said. In the U.K., Park reported that recycled polyester has showed a 26 percent increase year-over-year, and a 20 percent increase in the U.S. “This solidifies the importance of developing your long-term sourcing strategy,” she said.

Consumers paid attention to major brands like Adidas when it pledged to gradually absorb the 10-20 percent higher cost of recycled plastics, and to Everlane when it vowed to remove all virgin plastics from tis business by 2021 starting with outerwear. “The customer is more aware of plastic-based fibers and their environmental impact,” Park said. “There’s now an expectation on brands to source more sustainable alternatives.”

While speaking to utility trends, Park urged brands to use recycled content for any element that looks plastic. “These will be the first pieces that your consumers will call into question,” she added.