What happened?

During the London Fashion Week last weekend, not only climate protesters voiced their disapproval, activism was alive on the runway as well. At Vivienne Westwood’s show, Greenpeace activists were among the models walking the catwalk, Oxfam had a “recycled” fashion show, and vegan designer Stella McCartney showed her eco-friendly designs. In December last year, major fashion brands (from luxury brands like Burberry to fast fashion brands like H&M) united against climate change, and signed an agreement committing to reduce their environmental impact.

What does this mean?

Due to globalization and e-commerce, the pace of the fashion industry has accelerated over the past years. The resulting fast-fashion sector is rapidly growing; sales have increased by more than 20% over the last three years. Also, the fashion industry has become one of the most wasteful industries in the world. The 2018 Apparel Industry Overproduction Report shows that 30% of all clothing produced is never sold at all, over 50% of fast fashion produced is disposed in under a year, and less than 1% of clothes is recycled and a lot ends up in landfills. Moreover, annually, our clothes pollute the ocean with microfibers equal to 50 million plastic bottles. However, awareness about the climate impact of the fashion industry is growing. More consumer awareness could turn the tide of the now booming fast fashion industry and luxury brands like those involved in the London Fashion show could set the trend of more sustainable practices.

What’s next?

According to the 2018 annual Edelman brand survey, 64% of consumers globally now buy based on their ethical, social or political beliefs – a 13% increase in just one year. The shift in consumer behavior towards sustainability is already visible in the food industry. Large processed food corporations feel the pressure to cater to the increasing wish for natural foods and are now seeing competition from organic food grocers. Not only might the consumer drive change, MPs in the U.K. are calling for a “fast fashion tax”, public figures such as President Xi Jinping’s wife Peng Liyuan are leading by example by wearing items by sustainable designer Ma Ke, and many (new) brands are producing recycled or durable clothing (such as outdoor brand Patagonia) or offer repair and reuse services. With consumers, designers and politicians taking steps towards a more sustainable future, this year could see the fashion industry transformed. Among a growing number of initiatives, international platforms such as the Copenhagen Fashion Summit and Shaping Fashion will bring together those working towards a sustainable fashion industry in 2019.