Rebuilding Sustainable Fashion Industry After COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic shutdowns have created unprecedented challenges for the fashion industry, including declining consumer spending and disrupting supply chains. This could accelerate the shift to greener and more sustainable supply chains, which will not only be decisive for businesses but will also have an impact on the future of the fashion industry as a whole.

According to Jesse Keyes in 2019, McKinsey identified sustainability as one of the top priorities for the fashion industry. Improving the supply of raw materials through better recycling processes, reducing water consumption and replacing hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives are all measures that can reduce the environmental footprint of the fashion and help the industry survive in the new management scenario.


Jesse Keyes – Economic Value Of The Fashion Industry

For this article, the term ‘fashion industry’ includes a variety of stakeholders throughout the value chain and refers to the production of clothing, leather and footwear from textiles and related goods, and expand the production of raw materials and the design and manufacture of clothing, textiles and leather, accessories and footwear, to their distribution, consumption and disposal ( United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, May 2020 ). The business model of the fashion industry is primarily determined by the seasonality of fashion items, which has driven production and affected the life cycle of fashion items over the decades. The fashion industry has created one of the largest markets for consumer goods, with highly sophisticated value chains of considerable economic importance. Globally, household fashion purchases can be estimated at US $ 1.7 billion based on 2018 consumer prices, according to data from OECD and UNStat. In OECD member countries, where detailed figures are available, fashion is the second-largest consumer goods market after food and beverages.


Environmental Impact Of The Fashion Industry

The point is that such a large industry has a huge impact on the environment, and the fashion industry is considered to be one of the most polluting industries in the world as Jesse Keyes suggested. In addition to its high ecological footprint, the sector makes heavy use of chemicals that are not only dangerous for the environment and humans but also represent a major obstacle to recycling textiles by contaminating purer recycles. 

The increasing global demand for textiles for various end-user applications has made natural fibers increasingly scarce and is a critical cost driver. In response to the challenges of sustainability, and also driven by growing consumer awareness of the impact of clothing production, global brands are looking for better alternatives, including renewable and recycled fibers and more production processes. clean and circular business models.

One of the central aspects of the implementation of circular economy practices in the fashion industry is related to the consumption of raw materials. Clothing manufacturing generates huge amounts of textile waste throughout the supply chain. A study by Reverse Resources shows that more than 25% of materials (and sometimes up to 47%) are released into garments. fabric and clothing factories.

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The recycling and recovery of textile waste generated during manufacturing is best done locally. The “international second-hand clothing trade” is practical, but only if no effective local recycling value chain is available, and then constitutes a preferred alternative to landfill or incineration. Exporting textile waste for recycling abroad is an unsustainable practice due to transport costs and associated CO2 emissions. It is also a missed opportunity to develop the local economy and close the loop for materials in textile-producing countries. This situation is more pronounced in countries where recycling value chains are currently inefficient, poorly organized and reduced to the informal economy.


Shift to Sustainability

In recent years, fashion brands and clothing manufacturers have accelerated their commitment to environmental sustainability, including eliminating hazardous chemicals, reducing CO2 emissions and, most recently, adopting circular economy practices as Jesse Keyes discussed. The global COVID-19 outbreak has exposed the vulnerability of global supply chains, in the sense that countries have restricted international trade, supply chain logistics have been disrupted, and orders have been canceled due to ‘a sudden decrease in demand. The new business scenario is forcing the entire industry to review its strategies and plans.

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