Global fashion industry in substantial shift towards sustainability

Consumers are driving brands in a very definite direction, writes Muhammad Nurual Alam.

Sustainability has become a powerful force in the fashion world for an eco-conscious image among the apparel brands. Consumers are demanding for clothing that sourced from ethical supply chain and so fashion companies are recognizing the need to adopt with the trend for a sustainable and responsible practices.

As a result, the sourcing of materials for manufacturing processes and a comprehensive approach to sustainability is emerging, aiming to change the industry’s environmental impact. Despite of high costs, war and conflicts as well as the impact of reduced free trade the global apparel market is increasingly aligning with ethical fashion, converging towards a responsible and eco-conscious clothing and fashion.

Concept of sustainability and clothing

Sustainable fashion concept is a difficult to configure as there are many different form and criteria like a clothing that made sustainable materials such as ‘plastic-free’, ‘organic’, ‘recycled’ even sometime it has been defined that the item made of recycled plastic could be considered sustainable. It has been observed that polyester accounts for more than half of the fibers used in textile production but polyester is not biodegradable and releases toxic microfibers into the environment.

On the other hand, it is also estimated that in the year 2030 the manufacturing and retail of apparel will produce 1.27 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide and equivalents. According to McKinsey & Company’s estimates, the textile industry emits an average of 23 kg of greenhouse gases per 1 kg of textile production. So the apparel manufacturing process produces the most greenhouse gases on earth. It means sustainable clothing does not define on materials only it also includes manufacturing process.

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Current and future of sustainable clothing 

The global fashion market is experiencing a notable transformation and since 2017 the ethical fashion market has witnessed remarkable growth, achieving a substantial value of nearly USD 7.5 billion in 2022 that driven by a steady compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.5%. As of 2022, sustainable clothing items have gained share of 4.3% in the market which was 2.83% in 2017.

In 2023, the global sustainable apparel market valued at USD 11.2 million where the organic cotton sub-segment of sustainable clothing dominates with a 37.0% market share in 2023 and the organic market is expected to be the fastest growing segment in the ethical fashion market segmented by end-user, at a CAGR of 16.4% during 2022-2027. It is estimated that sustainable apparel market to Grow at a CAGR of 9.3% to reach US$ 27.2 million by 2033 as per Fact.MR Report. This upward sustainable trend indicates a growing awareness and demand for eco-friendly fashion.

The ethical fashion market is expected to expand with a projected value of USD 11.2 billion by 2027 and the growth will continue at a notable rate of 8.1%. till 2027. The journey of projections suggests that ethical fashion will have a momentum with an estimated CAGR of 8.6%, ultimately reaching an impressive value of USD 16.8 billion by 2032.

Sustainable clothing materials

The sustainable clothing market growth is driven by a surge in the fashion world. Synthetic and regenerated materials such as Tencel that made from sustainably sourced wood pulp, and Pinatex which is also derived from pineapple fibers or banana fiber all these are witnessing for an expansion with an impressive market share by 50.9%. Additionally, the organic materials for fashion is projected to exhibit high growth at a rate of 16.4% CAGR. Eco-friendly brands are expected to grow rapidly at a rate of 10.6% between 2022 and 2027and animal cruelty-free brands are currently dominating the market share with a rate 43.3% in the total ethical fashion collection.

Ethical fashion market and manufacturers mind set

In 2022, in terms of regional dynamics the Asia Pacific region takes the lead in the ethical fashion market holding a significant 33.0% market share. Eastern Europe and South America are poised to emerge as the fastest-growing regions, with projected CAGRs of 12.5% and 10.3%, respectively.

McKinsey Executive Survey shows that the fashion industry focusses on environmental, social, and governance issues. As climate change brings increasingly extreme weather events and global temperatures rise the survey resulted that the topic is seen as both the number-one priority and number-one challenge for industry executives. Manufacturers are looking forward to find a balance between sustainability initiatives, risk management, and commercial imperatives.

Sustainability approach by the clothing brands

Zara promised to use 100% renewable energy in their own operations in 2022. They also promised that in 2023 to eliminate single-use plastics for customers. Their plan is to introduce more sustainable 100% linen and sustainable or recycled polyester by 2025.

It has been said that the majority of the materials H&M uses are not eco-friendly so though they incorporate some lower-impact materials like organic cotton and recycled polyester in some of their products but it is categorized that H&M a score of “Not Good Enough” for the environment.

C&A does not use any polyester labels or nylon seams, instead both of these are made out of organic cotton. A GOLD rated product also uses 50% renewable energy in the production process and 50% of emissions are offset locally.

Nike runs for sustainability and diverts 99% of all footwear manufacturing waste from landfills. It also took initiative to divert more than 1 billion plastic bottles annually from landfills to create yarns for new jerseys and uppers for Flyknit shoes. The Reuse-A-Shoe and Nike Grind programmers convert waste into new products, playgrounds, running tracks and courts.

Adidas doubled down on its commitment to sustainability in 2021 and defined sustainability for   2025, which focuses on further material innovation, the switch to cleaner energy sources at supplier facilities, and enabling low-carbon design for its products.

Puma targets to improve sustainability for the areas such as carbon emissions, renewable electricity, water, and plastic, as well as evidence of progress throughout. There are a satisfactory amount of targets and detailed progress reports, so Puma receives a top rating for its Environmental Report.

It is crucial and highly important for the fashion industry to embrace sustainable practices in all of their supply chain making them an integral part of their operations and ensuring a thriving, eco-friendly future for all.

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