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We must take the first step to sustainability

The evidence of climate change, dead whales with thousands of plastic materials inside them, seabirds eating plastic, etc. give us goosebumps. These dreadful effects have led us to justify our works and have given the room to rethink about what we have done and what we will do in the future. Hence, sustainability has become the new focal point for the consumers as well as the clothing brands which is guiding both parties to a brighter future.

sustainability-in-fashion-industry
Figure 1: Sustainability has become the new focal point for the consumers as well as the clothing brands which is guiding both parties to a brighter future.

The nasty things we have done to our world

The fast fashion industry may seem very neat and clean, but in the background, it is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to pollution. You will be amazed to know that, fast fashion is downing the world and sending reusable textiles to the landfill every year. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, that accumulation in the landfill is 26 billion pounds by Americans! The Vox Magazine states- the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing every year, which is roughly the equivalent of 191 T-shirts per person!

Want to know about more alarming statistics? The State of The Reuse report says, of those 26 billion pounds of clothing that go in the landfill, 95% could be reused or recycled. They could be donated too. Instead, they are thrown away and to satisfy the consumers’ needs, new virgin dresses are being made from scratch. According to the same report, it takes 700 gallons of water to make one new cotton T-shirt, 1800 gallons of water and 111kW.h of energy to make one new pair of jeans. A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all microplastics in the ocean came from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester. Not only this, according to Business Insider, the fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined!

Now what?

Where there is pollution, there is a solution! Consumers nowadays are well educated about the environmental impacts of their choice and being attracted to sustainability. Dr. Matt Johnson, professor at Hult International Business School and Founder of neuromarketing blog Pop Neuro, said to the Business Insider, “There is accumulating evidence that consumers are impacted by the perceived sustainability of [a] brand, and further, that consumers are willing to pay a premium for products from a sustainable brand over a non-sustainable competitor brand.”

Recent-studies-show-sustainability-concern-increasing-among-consumers

Still, value and ease of purchase are driving the purchase decisions, but sustainability is becoming a bigger factor. According to the research of GlobalWebIndex, 42% of U.S. and UK consumers say products that use sustainable materials are important when it comes to their day-to-day purchases.

In fact, in a recent study, Hotwire uncovered that concerns around sustainability are becoming a ‘high stakes’ issue for how brands communicate to their customers. The data shows that 82% of consumers would consider dropping a brand associated with a partner or supplier who handled a high-stakes issue in a way that violated their values.

It certainly is an indicator of customer awareness as protecting the environment topped their value list. You surely are accustomed to labels like ‘organic’ and ‘sustainably-grown’ in the grocery aisle if you have visited foreign countries or at least kept an eye on them, this is also being incorporated and becoming popular in the fashion industry.

In order to contribute to a more sustainable world and wardrobe, you do not need much to get started. We all know that charity begins at home. So you need to take the time to look at what is currently in your wardrobe, what you need and where you are going to buy it. See the value in the clothing you already own and keep these three rules in mind if you have the opportunity when consuming: buy organic, buy local, buy consciously.

To depict the Bangladeshi perspective, successful fashion designer and former international model Bibi Russel said to an interview in bdnews24.com, “People are now highly aware of ethical and sustainable fashion. Bangladesh is sitting on that. But you have to promote these gifts. Products from China and Thailand are pouring into our country, and consumers want to see which has the better price value.” To promote sustainability and dispel the prejudice of keeping the price value on the top priority we have many things to do. And we need to take steps fast!

An example is better than precept

Albert Einstein once said, “You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.” A lot of foreign brands are playing outstanding in the field of sustainability and fashion. We can obviously learn a lot from their business models. Most of those brands have genuine interest and passion, they have strong reasons behind their endeavor. For example, Yael Aflalo is the founder and CEO of the sustainable women’s clothing and accessories brand named Reformation. She said, “On a trip to China, I saw first-hand the devastating amount of pollution there from manufacturing, and I knew that I had to make a change and stop contributing to the fashion industry’s waste.”

This strong inspiration made her form the company and produce garments made sustainably — everything from the fabrics used to the manufacturing processes to the hangers used in-store are chosen with keeping a minimal carbon footprint in mind. While working with sustainability, Reformation did not sacrifice style at all. Rather they are just inspiring the consumers to buy clothing that they would buy anyway. The added specialty is, the item is made ethically with less waste. They are not radically changing customer behavior rather they are promoting a simple change in the customer’s choice to make a big difference.

There is a conception in the mass people that sustainability is very expensive which decreases their interest in sustainable setups. In most of the cases, this conception is true. But Aflalo wants to think of it in a different angle. To debunk this Aflalo said, “Related to less waste and material use, which can actually lead to savings … But there are some aspects of responsible manufacturing and better materials that may lead to marginally higher costs. So as we scale our business, we are committed to making our stuff even more accessible and passing on efficiencies and savings to our customers wherever possible.”

Reformation is not the only example. There are myriads of brands carrying the flag of sustainability. NAADAM, a sustainable Mongolian Cashmere Clothing brand is redefining luxury with its affordable, sustainable cashmere which is better for the environment as well as its workers.

For ‘radical transparency’ in everything from pricing to using innovative materials, Everlane, an American clothing retailer, has become a popular choice.

Zalando, a Germany-based apparel e-tailer is promoting sustainability by flagging up ‘sustainable’ choices on its website. Target has a goal to use 100% sustainable, organic cotton in all products from Target-owned brands by 2022. Walmart has taken a pledge to improve the carbon footprint of its supply chain within 2025.

All of these are big players. What about the beginners? For them, Aflalo suggests starting small. “To start,” she said, “[brands] can focus on sustainable materials — so they can source an organic or better material, and just plug that into their same business model … This one is a bit harder, but look into operations and business impact to offer better transparency around manufacturing processes and hold your business accountable to start making changes.”

How sustainability also boosts branding opportunities?

Producing in synchronicity with sustainability creates a winning condition for the brands in every way. Firstly, these brands are saving the world, secondly, being the torch bearers of sustainability, they receive love, respect and trust from the consumers’ side.

recycling-fabric-by-Bangladeshi-garment-manufacturers
Figure 2: Bangladeshi apparel manufacturers are increasingly ensuring sustainability in the industry.

As a result, they are celebrated by all and their products sell well. Transparency in everything from pricing to the quality of materials, without any doubt, makes the products to be sold like hotcakes.

In fine it is neither possible to change our buying habits radically nor to produce everything sustainably with 100% precision. Specifically for a country like Bangladesh, it is insanely difficult. The socio-economic conditions do not allow us to go fully green as we have so many things to solve first. Rather we can start gradually. Because there is a saying- a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We must take the first step.

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