Faculty & Research
Faculty & Research
Can fashion really be sustainable?
By Wang Qi
Just how bad is the environmental impact from the fashion Industry?
Carbon emissions from the fashion industry account for 10% of the emissions from all industries worldwide. Almost 70% of apparel are made from synthetic fibre produced using non-renewable energy. In light of the current growth rate, by 2050, the fashion industry may contribute 25-30% of the world’s total carbon emissions.
The fashion industry is the second largest industry in terms of water consumption. The water needed to produce a white cotton shirt is enough for one person to drink eight cups of water per day for 3.5 years, while the water used to produce a pair of jeans would last for ten years.
Apparels made of synthetic fibre make up 35% of the microplastic pollution in the world. Many materials used by the fashion industry are not biodegradable. If they are dumped into ocean, they will not decompose and will instead be consumed by marine life.
The waste generated annually by the global textile and fashion industry amounts to 92 million tonnes. With current technologies, we can only recycle 20-25% of that waste.
A sustainable fashion movement
Sustainable fashion is a movement and process of fostering change in the fashion industry towards greater ecological integrity and social justice. Sustainable fashion involves addressing the industry’s severe pollution problem and dealing with interdependent social, cultural, ecological, and financial systems.
Changes in consumer perceptions
Brands perceive that when a consumer buys clothes, they own the clothes. Can consumers break away from that perception, and see themselves as users (instead of owners) and share used clothes with others?
Innovation in business models
Brands should break through existing relationships with consumers. For example:
Circular fashion model
Although there are already a few very creative re-engineered brands, it is far from enough. Only when more players on the chain of sorting, classification, cleaning and re-engineering enter the picture will we be able to realize a sustainable and circular chain.
There are now platforms experimenting with leasing or pre-ordering models where consumers make monthly payments, are able to get new arrivals each month and then return their clothes to the platform after wearing them.
Can businesses provide a sharing platform where people can share clothes? Would consumers be willing to try on shared clothes? If the design is attractive, it might be possible.
Innovation in technology
In terms of technology, there are already a few signs of progress. However, the links in the technology are very disconnected and we need to put all the related parties together to enhance co-operation and information sharing and speed up the sustainable development of the fashion industry.
Finance and investment policies
In some countries, there are now financial organisations that provide green loans for businesses. These organisations sign contracts with businesses, including a standard for annual carbon emissions and recycled materials, in exchange for low-interest or zero-interest loans. If companies do not meet these standards, their interest will go up.
Some governments are now promoting green or balanced fiscal policies. In addition to taxes levied for the use of natural resources, pollution discharged and exhaust emissions, governments should provide policies favourable to businesses specialising in recycling, cleaning, maintenance, and reproduction of used clothes.
Laws and regulations
China has already adopted a classification method to deal with recycled waste, but it is short of unified standards needed to identify what should be recycled and how it should be recycled.
Green standards and certification
China is now setting standards for certification for which national-level standards are needed. This will allow consumers to tell if the clothes they have bought are recyclable and what the recyclable components are.
Wang Qi is a Professor of Marketing at CEIBS. For more on her teaching and research interests, please visit her faculty profile here.