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Fashion Must Close the Gap Between Sustainability Targets and Tracking

Over the last decade, sustainability has gone from an oft-mentioned buzzword to a business imperative. The fashion industry recognizes the need for sustainable change. However, when it comes to sustainability, what companies say and what they are currently doing are two very different things.

Sourcing Journal and AlixPartners’ recent joint 2022 Survey Report, Fashion in Focus: New Norms and Paradigm Shifts, found that although 78 percent of brand, retailer and wholesaler respondents note that their companies have specific and measurable sustainability goals, only 19 percent are actively tracking and analyzing carbon data. The resulting dearth of available data is holding companies back from making meaningful progress as well as demonstrating their impact.

“The biggest barrier to change has been access to data, metrics and transparency around sustainability initiatives, which can often answer the question of cost versus benefits,” said Matt Clark, managing director at AlixPartners. “Retailers need the right tools and measures to embed new ways of working and ensure sustainability becomes ‘business as usual’ across their value chains.”

Despite a lack of widespread tracking that would indicate their exact progress, 56 percent of respondents believe they are either on target (28 percent) or ahead of target (28 percent) toward meeting their goals.

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Although there is a widespread push to enact targets, the industry is deploying disparate tactics in service of these goals. When asked to select up to three actions being taken by their company to cut their carbon footprint, the top solution was using recycled and sustainable raw materials, mentioned by 56 percent. Next was swapping to sustainable packaging (46 percent), followed by reducing corporate travel (37 percent) and positioning production closer to markets (31 percent).

Process improvements—such as virtual design and sampling—could save not only time but also resources and costs. However, adoption is lagging with just 48 percent using virtual design tools. “We no longer have the luxury of time or ignorance to fly hundreds of thousands of samples and even production volumes all over the world,” said Sonia Lapinsky, managing director at AlixPartners. “Consumers will notice and respond with their dollars.”

Partly due to these cost efficiencies, environmentally friendly solutions don’t need to cost retailers or consumers more money. Showing the potential for lower priced low-impact goods, intimate apparel producer Gelmart introduced a line of bras for its Kindly label at Walmart that uses a sugarcane-derived material for the cup. This innovation comes with big box-style pricing, making it accessible. “For sustainable practices to really be sustainable, the impact needs to occur at the mass level,” noted Yossi Nasser, founding partner of Gelmart and Full Stride Ventures.

Instead of treating sustainability like a siloed endeavor, it must be integrated into all aspects of the business. Whether firms are concerned with meeting compliance requirements as more regulations come down the pipeline, or if they are working toward internally set goals, it’s more important than ever to go beyond talk with action. Stakeholders—including consumers, NGOs and regulatory bodies—are watching.

“When it comes to day-to-day decision making, retailers must consider the implications of their sustainability goals not just on long-term strategic planning but also on the yearly budgeting process,” said Anita Wu, director at AlixPartners. “Sustainability doesn’t need to come at a cost but may require a shift in priorities to allow companies to meet their carbon reduction goals.”

To download the full Sourcing Journal + AlixPartners 2022 Survey Report Fashion in Focus: New Norms and Paradigm Shifts report, click here.

Come hear report findings presented live at Texworld Evolution New York City, Feb. 2 at 2 p.m. ET at the Jacob K. Javits Center.