The fashion industry leaves an immensely destructive trail in its wake, from harmful pesticides used in growing and manipulating fabrics to the leached chemicals from toxic dyes; from the energy required to care for each article of clothing, to the landfill impact of worn-out clothes. Conventional cotton alone requires a third of a pound of chemicals to make just one t-shirt. How many t-shirts do you have sitting in your drawers?
The sustainability movement has built momentum over the last decade, but the fashion industry has been especially slow to address such concerns. The lag can partially be attributed to the fact that the goals of consumption and those of environmentally friendly fashion seem to be fundamentally at odds. Apparel companies have been profiting hugely from “fast fashion”; that is, selling low-cost garments whose shelf-life is, by design, short-lived. This business model is economically and environmentally unsustainable, and fashion houses and garment manufacturers in general need to make changes if they want to maintain growth and be successful in the future.
Read on for 5 reasons why apparel companies should be paying closer attention to sustainability: 1. It’s good for the environment—and for your health
Sustainability isn’t just an option anymore. I know I’m being Captain Obvious here, but we can’t continue consuming goods at the rate that we have been for the past few decades if we hope to have materials to work with in the future (to say the least).
But did you know that your clothes can be harmful to your health? With toxic dyes that contain heavy metals, carcinogenic residue from traditional dry-cleaning, and hormone-disrupting chemicals found in most major clothing brands, getting dressed in the morning can be as dangerous as smoking! Pursuing environmentally-friendly clothing options can be as good for your health as it is for the world.
2. You make money by meeting customer demands…and positive PR doesn’t hurt either
American buyers are voting with their wallets, increasingly taking care to purchase goods and services from companies that meet their standards and reflect their values. The companies profiting and growing now are those that tap into this mindset of social and environmental good, and integrate it into their brand image.
Take the success of TOMS Shoes, a company that pledges to donate a pair of shoes to someone in need with every purchase. This venture proved so successful – even through the recession – that the company recently launched a sunglass line with a similar promise to restore the sight of someone in need with each purchase of a pair of TOMS sunglasses.
Other examples include mega-retailer H&M, which released its first environmentally-minded capsule collection last year to much fanfare. Designer Stella McCartney has become a darling of the sustainable fashion world due to her extensive use of organic materials. Other brands such as Kate Spade, Vivienne Westwood, and Yves Saint Laurent have followed suit with offerings that are socially conscious and/or eco-friendly.
Generally speaking, positive public perception of a company can have a major impact on its bottom line, and consumers will view any action taken by brands to decrease their negative environmental effects as positive change. Brands can capitalize on sustainability as a value creation opportunity, leveraging it to differentiate themselves from other brands and increase customer loyalty.
3. Re-examining your business operations can lead to improvements in your bottom line
Implementing sustainability initiatives encourages businesses to completely review their purpose and operations, which can lead to opportunities for improved efficiencies, cost savings, etc. This was the case for carpeting company InterfaceFLO, which in 1994 set a goal of eliminating all forms of waste from all of its facilities. Since then, the company has saved more than $100 million through its waste elimination efforts, and waste-cost-per-unit of production has been reduced by 48%. Nike cut down on its waste and saved $700 million in a year.
Essentially, sustainability is about profitability: doing more with less. Increasing resource productivity and protecting your brand through sustainable consumption are ways to maintain your business’s growth and increase your long-term profit margins.
4. Sustainability initiatives can contribute to an engaging, healthy company culture
People like to work at companies that they also support as consumers, as well as those in which they feel that they could make a difference in the world . Focusing on sustainability has the power to engage and motivate your staff, and creates an environment that is ripe for new innovations and for employee engagement.
Furthermore, a company that gives back attracts dedicated, passionate employees. Everyone wants to be a part of something; people want purpose, something to be proud of—and a company that gives back provides that.
5. Winning companies build solutions to the world’s most challenging problems
There are greener pastures ahead for the sustainable fashion industry! Innovation is about more than new products and services; it is about reinventing business processes and building new markets that meet untapped consumer needs. The apparel industry should see this big global problem as a an opportunity for growth and shouldn’t, to paraphrase President Obama’s chief of staff, “waste this crisis.”
(Photo credit: www.lifestylesfashion.com)