Sustainable Fashion: A New Paradigm For Brands To Embrace

The global fashion industry, worth US $2.5 trillion and employing over 75 million individuals globally, has become one of the major polluters on our planet, writes Shreya Ghodawat


Imagine a world where our love for fashion and our planet existed in perfect harmony, like a conscious juxtaposition. Sustainable fashion brings us one step closer to that dreamy reality, where the fast-paced frenzy of overconsumption gives way to the slow, mindful movement of ethical fashion. A world where our clothing speaks not only of our style, but also of our values and our connection to the earth.

In truth, the art of fashion holds an unfathomable power to shape our values and aspirations.  In a world where beauty and aesthetics often preside over ecological impact, the garments we choose to wear leave behind an indelible imprint on our planet and its inhabitants. The global fashion industry, worth an astonishing US $2.5 trillion and employing over 75 million individuals globally, has become one of the major polluters on our planet. It accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and 20% of global wastewater, leaving behind a massive environmental footprint. 

We are all familiar with the insidious grip of the fast fashion industry, where one is seduced into buying more and more clothing, leading to a culture of disposability. Documentaries like “The True Cost” throw light on how the fast fashion industry depletes the earth’s resources and exploits labor to pass on a “cheap” cost to the end consumer. In stark contrast, sustainable fashion celebrates the beauty of the slow fashion movement. It is not just about the materials used, but also about fair labour practices, supporting traditional craftsmanship, and eliminating child labour from the supply chain. It is a call for quality over quantity, where every collection is thoughtfully designed and crafted to endure. 

So, what exactly is Sustainable Fashion?

Sustainable fashion is an all-encompassing approach that takes into account the entire supply chain and life cycle of a garment - starting from its production, consumption to disposal. It is essentially a concerted effort to reduce the fashion industry's carbon footprint and minimise its negative environmental impact. It is also about giving new life to old clothes, repurposing, recycling, and upcycling them to create a circular economy where waste is minimised, and resources are conserved. 

At its core, sustainable fashion is an ethical and responsible approach to fashion that considers not only the environmental impact but also the social impact of the industry. 

It is about fostering a fashion industry that takes a long-term approach to the design, production and consumption of our clothes and accessories - one that works for the wellbeing of people, the planet or animals. 

The Rising Demand for Slow Fashion

In our current reality, the fashion industry is in a state of flux with conscious consumerism leading the way. The pandemic has hastened this shift, as people are adopting a more mindful approach towards fashion, seeking to align their purchases with their values. The seismic shift towards slow fashion has been particularly notable in India, where consumers are embracing minimalism and eco-consciousness like never before.

This is an exciting time for sustainable fashion. Sustainability is emerging as a key factor shaping consumer preferences. A survey by Bain & Company found that over half of urban Indian consumers are planning to increase their spending on sustainable brands, while a whopping 60% are willing to pay a premium for eco-friendly products. Meanwhile, a McKinsey survey highlights that 67% of consumers consider the use of sustainable materials a crucial factor when making purchasing decisions.

What's fascinating is that it's the younger generation, Gen Z and Millennials, who are leading the sustainable fashion movement. With 75% of Gen Z and 70% of Millennials willing to pay more for environmentally-friendly products, it's clear that this isn't just a passing fad but a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour. As we enter this uplifting era of conscious consumerism, it's imperative for brands to embrace the sustainability trend, reflect upon their current practices and bring forth a change in their practices, materials, and messaging. Because the sustainable fashion trend is here to stay. 

From Purpose to Profit: How Sustainable Fashion Can Benefit Businesses?

This shift towards sustainability isn't just a matter of doing what's right, it's also a strategic business decision. The fashion industry is increasingly recognising the financial benefits of sustainable practices. 

A study by the Boston Consulting Group revealed that sustainable fashion brands tend to perform better financially than non-sustainable brands, with an average EBIT (Earnings Before Interests and Taxes) of 6.8% compared to just 4.8% for non-sustainable brands. By implementing sustainable packaging practices, businesses can further reduce material and shipping costs and carbon emissions, ultimately leading to increased profitability. Sustainable practices have shown to not only benefit the environment, but also a company's bottom line.

Adopting sustainable practices can also help businesses avoid legal and reputational risks associated with environmental or social issues. The fashion industry is beginning to prioritise social compliance, with transparency and ethical labour practices becoming increasingly important. Companies that fail to prioritise these practices risk facing legal repercussions, boycotts, and negative publicity that can damage their reputation and financial performance. By prioritising sustainability, businesses can mitigate these risks and avoid costly consequences.

By adopting sustainable practices, businesses can save valuable resources such as water, energy, and materials, ultimately leading to reduced costs and a more efficient production process. For example, using recycled materials or adopting circular business models can minimise waste and reduce a company's environmental footprint. In doing so, businesses can help address some of the most pressing environmental issues while improving their own operational efficiency. Ultimately, this can result in long-term financial benefits and a competitive advantage for companies that prioritise sustainability.

In addition to financial benefits, promoting sustainability initiatives can enhance a company's brand value and reputation. By contributing to the well-being of society through fair labour practices, investing in local communities, and reducing environmental impact, businesses can create shared value that benefits both themselves and the communities they operate in. According to a study by Nielsen, 66% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable brands, highlighting the growing importance of sustainability in consumer decision-making. By meeting this demand for environmentally and socially responsible products, businesses can stay relevant in a changing market and increase customer loyalty and trust.

Key Takeaways 

The rise of sustainable fashion is a reflection of the transformative winds blowing across our society and environment. It beckons us to take action, to demand ethical and responsible business practices that will chart a new course for the fashion industry. As our consciousness expands and we become more cognizant of the consequences of our choices, fashion brands must shift gears or risk being left in the dust. By prioritising transparency, fair labour practices, and sustainable materials, brands can not only cater to the evolving demands of their customers, but also engender positive social and environmental impact in their communities.

While the journey ahead may present some challenges, the rewards are boundless. The fashion industry has the potential to be a positive force for change that can herald us towards a sustainable, equitable future. It falls upon us, as consumers and industry leaders, to take the reins and make it happen. 

(Shreya Ghodawat is the sustainability Strategist | Founder & CEO, of Sustainable Guides)

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