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Industry Fashions Carbon-Cutting Strategies

Fashion brands and retailers have accelerated their sustainability efforts in 2021—and experts expect them to escalate these initiatives in the years to come, thanks to increased government pressure.

A new Edited report found that the government’s growing involvement in fashion’s environmental impact is helping to push companies in the right direction. Both the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in Glasgow in November, as well as the recent UN climate change report, pointed to carbon reduction as a top priority for the industry, according to the retail analytics firm. New legislation and penalties for fashion businesses could be implemented to more quickly combat global warming.

Retailers can meet these new demands by overhauling their most carbon-intensive processes, such as sourcing and shipping. Edited reported how online luxury retailer Farfetch is taking action by launching a pre-order plan that only carries out production on what’s already been ordered, minimizing the waste that comes with excess inventory. Others are implementing pandemic-fueled services such as curbside pickup, BOPIS, and shipping directly from stores to reduce the carbon emissions associated with delivery. Levi Strauss & Co. attributed much of its pandemic success to quickly implementing these strategies, signaling that their benefits are environmental as well as financial.

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Others are reducing their footprint by adopting reusable packaging or less damaging polybags. Companies like Gap Inc., Toad&Co. and Wrangler and Lee owner Kontoor Brands have experimented with “lightweighting,” or decreasing the thickness and size of their polybags to reduce the amount of plastic used, Edited noted.

The products themselves are becoming more sustainable as well, with many companies looking to material innovations for a smaller environmental footprint. A growing number of leaders at COP26 added their names to the Global Methane Pledge, which aims to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030 by swapping methane-rich animal products like leather for more responsible alternatives.

Mylo, a faux leather cultured from mushroom roots, is a top contender for brands such as adidas, Stella McCartney and Lululemon, while grape leather is a popular alternative at Ganni. Piñatex, a hide-like textile made from the waste leaves of the pineapple plant, is another natural solution that checks the ethical and aesthetic boxes.

Cotton alternatives will also veer into the spotlight, as rising cotton prices and growing sustainability concerns have many searching for other options. Experts have projected that sustainable materials may become more attractive to consumers now that cotton prices are more aligned with the cost of environmentally friendlier fibers like hemp, lyocell and Tencel.

Edited noted that, once again thanks to government-led initiatives, consumers can also expect “brutally direct” marketing in the coming years from companies looking to dodge greenwashing allegations. The Competition and Markets Authority in the U.K. recently warned businesses they had until Jan. 1 to ensure their environmental claims comply with the Green Claims Code, which ensures brands back up sustainability labels with clear and accurate information. Similarly, new initiatives from the European Union and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission are calling for companies to quantify their marketing claims.

The increased pressures are also driving companies to get more creative in how they design their products. Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein owner PVH Corp. has made strides in 3D design, which allows it to reduce the cost and waste associated with producing physical samples. It expanded its 3D design startup, Stitch 3D, to help brands outside the conglomerate scale their digital design capabilities. In one season alone, digital design processes saved PVH $1 million on FedEx and courier charges, between mailing fabric swatches, yardage and garments.