Sustainability is a so-called trend. Although the word trend is definitely not quite right! Trends are rife in the fashion world – rather short-lived – whereas sustainability (as the name suggests) should be a paradigm shift that’s beneficial to the environment over the long term.
But is the fashion industry prepared for this movement? Here is an overview of how sustainable the fashion industry already is and where the ‘trend’ is heading.
Sustainability in the Fashion Industry – Political Background
An increasing number of local and global movements (such as Fridays for Future, led by Greta Thunberg) are demonstrating against climate change. These movements put pressure not only on politicians to think more about the environment and less about the economy, but also on industries. And the fashion industry is under close scrutiny because it is one of the biggest polluters: a report prepared by GFA and the Boston Consulting Group estimates that the global textile and clothing industry was responsible for the consumption of 79 billion cubic meters of water, 1.7 billion tons of CO2 emissions and 92 million tons of waste in 2015. These figures are so gigantic that it is hard to put the scale into perspective.
Nevertheless, it illustrates that the fashion industry must change – not least to keep Millennials and Generation Z as customers because they account for 85 percent of global sales growth in the luxury segment. And as you can see from movements like Fridays for Future, sustainability is particularly important to younger generations.
Sustainability and luxury brands
Sustainability has clearly moved away from being perceived as the mission of hardcore environmentalists, that wear stereotypically hippie trousers, dreadlocks and batik shirts, to become a conviction that permeates all areas of life – and also the brands we buy and support. This is of course noted by luxury brands, and therefore more and more fashion brands try to ‘integrate’ sustainability into their production.
A widely discussed example is the increasingly widespread practice of luxury brands to stop using real fur that has been cruelly peeled off animals. But also in other areas more and more luxury brands are now aiming to make the production chain as environmentally friendly as possible. Among luxury brands, Stella McCartney is considered a pioneer of the movement, but many other designers are also now known not only for their designs, but also for their sustainable approach. Six of our personal favourites are:
- Filippa K
- Christopher Raeburn
- Nudie Jeans
But it’s not only the production behind closed doors that belongs to this mindset but also how authentically and transparently brands operate overall.
A ‘sustainable fashion brand’ – what does that mean?
It doesn’t look like the so-called sustainability trend is going to fade away. Sustainability and environmental awareness are values that are not just moral but also increasingly vital for brands to thrive. But what exactly will it mean for a fashion company to call itself a sustainable fashion brand in 2020 and beyond?
This is where brands will have to go while the trend continues:
- Fair production: First and foremost, production itself is an immensely important point. Pioneers among sustainable luxury brands work with ethical companies that treat their employees fairly, i.e. reward them with fair pay and offer good working conditions. The working conditions in Western Europe (e.g. Portugal or Italy), for example, are usually far better than in many producing countries in the Far East. A significantly higher degree of transparency and political regulation is also afforded by production in developed regions, such as the European Union.
- Reduced CO2 emissions: Carbon dioxide is known to be one of the biggest causes of the greenhouse effect, which is the main cause of global warming. So it’s important to stay local when transporting clothing and to use as few transport routes as possible. This is a point that clearly speaks in favour of a local value chain (in our case European). Factories where clothing is produced should also be equipped with energy-efficient machines.
- Climate neutral: Even if fashion companies do everything they can to be as environmentally friendly as possible with production, they will inevitably emit a certain amount of CO2. A few companies (including SANVT) have started to address this by off-setting their production-related emissions. This is often done by promoting environmental protection projects and planting more trees.
- Environmentally-friendly materials: When choosing materials, it is of course important to ensure that they are easy to recycle. Modern blended fabrics made of synthetic fibres such as polyester and natural fibres such as cotton are the most difficult to recycle. Some fashion brands, similar to technology companies, are starting to offer discounts when customers return old clothes for recycling. Urban old clothes collections are, of course, other alternatives.
- Biodegradable process: Truly sustainable luxury brands do not just rely on end consumers to recycle but rely on biodegradable textiles and materials in the design process too; in other words, using materials whose toxic plastic particles do not end up in the oceans (and, consequently, the food chain).
- Water recycling: The fashion industry is responsible for almost 20% of global water pollution. Dangerous chemicals are also often used to process or dye fabrics. Truly sustainable companies therefore only use harmless dyes. Modern dyeing plants of environmentally friendly companies also recycle all waste water and thus avoid contamination in the immediate vicinity of their production facilities.
- Packaging: In general, packaging for garments should be kept as low-key as possible. In theory, this should be simple to implement for (unbreakable) textiles. Shipping packaging and labels should also be of natural origin and above all be 100% plastic-free and biodegradable.
- Transparency & traceability: the most innovative sustainable fashion brands will make sure that the impacts, emissions and compensations can be understood by the people who buy – right down to the individual item. This transparent approach is becoming more possible with technology. At SANVT people are able to trace the climate neutrality of each SANVT T-Shirt and its carbon offset by using an ID number and an associated URL for tracking.
SANVT in the market: mixing luxury, sustainability and affordability
Sustainability at SANVT
At SANVT want to contribute to a better planet: not for marketing but because of conviction. As such, we feel SANVT ticks all of the boxes above to be a sustainable fashion brand.
Nevertheless, we go one step further: not only is our production in Portugal sustainable but so is our philosophy: SANVT stands for timeless essentials that do not follow short-lived fashion trends. As we use only the finest materials, and all our products are crafted to the highest standards, our basics can be worn significantly longer than conventionally produced garments. SANVT truly combines luxury quality and affordability with sustainability.