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Experts Call on Fashion to ‘Champion the Rights of Nature’ After COVID-19

While the COVID-19 crisis is not directly related to sustainability, many fashion experts anticipate an industry-wide shift to conscious consumption in the post-pandemic world.

That was the point of focus during Fashion Snoops’ “Making sustainability the new normal” discussion last week, in which in-house professionals, as well as experts from Isko, Oeko-Tex and Lenzing, shared their fashion predictions and strategies for adapting to the demands of the future.

Panelists agreed that sustainability is no longer optional—it’s a concept that’s now vital to staying in business.

“There is no alternative to being greener and more sustainable in the future,” said Olaf Schmidt, vice president, textiles and textile technologies, Messe Frankfurt. “When you decide not to be that as a company, you have no future.”

One of the main reasons for this is society’s newfound connection with nature. As the pandemic continues on, consumer spending is slowing. People are now staying indoors more than ever and reflecting inward, taking inventory of what they truly need. Experts believe this shift in perspective will likely translate in their future purchases.

According to Nia Silva, Fashion Snoops’ materials editor, now that society is opening its eyes to the interconnectedness of all things, the industry needs to respond accordingly and start “championing the rights of nature.”

“How can we honestly take a step back to acknowledge what we don’t need to take, and then slowly honor the elements that we do?” she said. “This is a huge conversation surrounding protection, and the rights that nature has to itself.”

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The industry has already worked hard to develop more sustainable practices, introducing innovations such as biodegradable materials and using recycled materials and water- and energy-saving processes throughout the denim supply chain. Panelists pointed to their companies’ latest sustainable pushes—Isko’s R-TWO collection of reused and recycled materials, Oeko-Tex’s Made in Green label that ensures eco-friendly processes, and Lenzing’s increased use of recycled cotton.

But according to the experts, there’s still more that needs to be done—and sizable change requires sizeable adoption.

“As manufacturers, we all have to take responsibility, but it’s not restricted to us,” said Harold Weghorst, global marketing vice president, Lenzing, adding that there needs to be legislation that taxes any materials that are not sustainable. “We still have to make a huge shift, and that can only happen if we all work together.”

Panelists agreed that legislation would help motivate businesses to act more sustainably, as companies that fail to adopt sustainable practices often do so because of budget concerns.

However, sustainability may not be as expensive as once thought.

“Sustainability has social aspects, yes, but it’s also about saving water and electricity. If you work in that way, you save and earn more money,” said Georg Dieners, general secretary, Oeko-Tex. “Sustainability saves money, it does not cost money.”

Weghorst agreed.

“It used to be this paradox that sustainability and affordability cannot go together. But there is enough proof already that this is not the case,” he said. “By driving sustainability, it will also become much cheaper. If we are able to work together with value chain partners and create transparency, I’m convinced that it will become much more affordable for all of us.”