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If the fashion industry really wants to reduce its environmental footprint, Roger Lee, CEO of garment manufacturing firm TAL Apparel, said it needs to have a system in place.
“We, as manufacturers, can’t have 50 customers and have 50 different ways of working and 50 different ways of measuring sustainability,” Lee said.
Lee said technology on traceability should also be looked into because the fashion industry lacks the ability to judge whether a product is made in a sustainable way or not.
“It’s really complex because people may not understand that cotton can come from many different countries blended into one fabric, and how do you trace that?” Lee said.
“When you take into account each country, and the way they do farming, they could be different. So it’s quite a complex calculation to do. But to me, traceability is absolutely important.”
David Schneider, co-CEO and co-founder of the German online fashion platform Zalando, added that traceability is a prerequisite for transparency.
Schneider said consumers used to just buy or wear whatever designers created, but those days are over, and now, they’re asking for more transparency from companies and for a sustainability platform.
“We see indications that if we do [provide transparency], it really works,” he said. “Customers stay, [the offering] converts better, it creates lots of engagement, customers act on it, and I think that’s very encouraging, but it comes back to what Helena is saying, we have to work together in making that actually available.”
How are the fashion giants taking action?
Sustainability is ingrained in H&M’s internal culture, so everyone has a common direction and platform.
“It’s amazing once you start to articulate clearly what kind of ambition the company has when it comes to sustainability how much change it can do,” Helmersson said.
According to the company’s latest sustainability report, 100 per cent of the cotton H&M uses is now organic, recycled, or sourced in a more sustainable way, and nearly two-thirds of the group’s materials (64.5 per cent) are from recycled or more sustainable sources.
“We set a new ambitious material goal, aiming to use 30 per cent recycled material by 2025,” Helmerssion said.
Its most recent sustainability endeavour is the launch of a rental service last week in the US and last April in the UK. The service allows anyone attending a job interview to rent a suit for 24 hours for free, rather than purchasing one new.
The manufacturing firm has been focused on its environmental impact for years and created its first sustainability report in 2009.
“We want to hold ourselves accountable with what we do,” Lee said. “The younger generation are now challenging brands and saying, ‘What are your sustainability plans? What are your targets? What are you doing about it?’”
Nike’s goal is to shape a better world, according to the brand’s chief sustainability officer Noel Kinder.
“In a value chain that is global and highly complex, we are focused on systems change and relentless collaboration across our industry and beyond,” he said, adding that Nike is determined to do its part for the planet, alongside other leaders in the industry.
More than 75 per cent of all Nike shoes and apparel contain some recycled material, and the brand is exploring new business models to extend the life of its products.
Nike’s latest circular consumer offering, Nike Refurbished, allows shoppers to return a pair of shoes which will be inspected and refurbished and resold in Nike stores at a lesser price.
By 2030, Nike is committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65 per cent in its owned or operated spaces and by 30 per cent across its extended supply chain.
“At our scale, it’s an ambitious goal, and many of our toughest challenges still lie ahead,” Kinder said. “But with clear targets and clear strategies, ambitious does not have to mean aspirational.”
Patrick Ho, group managing director of Hong Kong-based Fung Group, a global supply chain for consumer goods including trading, retail, logistics and distribution, said the business plans to maximise its resources and leverage innovation and technology to effectively create solutions that will help future-proof the industry.
“Fashion and biodiversity are interlinked, and through ambitious commitments to reduce our collective impacts on nature and shifting to more circular systems, […] we can reverse the trajectory we are on,” said Mari-Claire Daveu, Kering’s chief sustainability officer.
The company reduced its overall environmental impact by 14 per cent between 2015 and 2018 and is on a positive trajectory to reach its 40 per cent reduction target by 2025. It also reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 77 per cent between 2015 and 2018, and is now using 100 per cent renewable energy in over seven countries.
But collaboration with other decision-makers is critical to drive the innovation and solutions needed to create lasting change, Daveu said.