GTP recently met Debbie Moorhouse, Director of the International Society for Sustainable Fashion to get some clarity of one of the fashion industry’s key buzz words – Sustainability.
Debbie explained the Brundtland definition of sustainability is that which “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (1987). This has more recently been defined as having three key elements; environmental sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability. Enviromental and social responsibility are starting to be both understood and incorporated into retailers’ strategies and practices, economic sustainability is less so, Debbie explained that economic sustainability includes both the financial stability of a business and also the long-term economic growth or stability of countries, regions and communities. Economic sustainability involves making sure the business makes a profit, but also that business operations do not create social or environmental issues that would harm the long-term success of the company.
What became clear is that the environmental threat is growing, Debbie put the situation in context spelling out that due to rising consumer spending in countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China clothing production is estimated to reach 160 million tons by 2050 which is more than three times the current demand. In simplistic terms this requires a revolutionary change in the strategy of the industry to sustainability rather than the occasional compromise.
The logical question then is what must happen? 85% of textiles end up in landfill but almost all textiles are reusable or recyclable. Debbie argues that quite often in sustainability, retailers seem to focus on educating consumers but the role of retailers is to take responsibility for the product end of use. There are various approaches for this such as take back schemes, in store recycling, or offering a repair service. Retailers have considerable pre-consumer waste or excess stock and the International Society For Sustainable Fashion developed the Made With Love Global Initiative which supports businesses to reduce waste by donating surplus products to people in need around the world. It is important for manufacturers to understand that creating a circular economy by recycling waste textiles into new materials is a billion dollar industry. GTP often reflects on Bono’s quote ‘capitalism will take more people out of poverty than aid’, Debbie shared details of a report published by the ISSF in 2018 which was about how brands can create a sustainability strategy and featured the fashion brand Edun founded by Ali Hewson and husband Bono. The business is committed to a fair-trade approach, and instead of donating money to provide African aid, Edun create manufacturing jobs in Africa, paying a living wage and is focused on sustainable growth. By 2014 85% of Edun collections were produced in Africa. The fair-trade philosophy provides the consumer with a sense that they can make a difference with every purchase, helping others less fortunate to create a better life for themselves. Edun is a relatively highpriced brand – the big opportunity plus challenge on sustainability will be taken by the likes of Wallmart, Target, Carrefour, H&M, Inditex, Uniqlo, Next and Gap.