Our relationship with clothes has become short-lived. Declining prices, multiple collections per year and a ‘wear once’ culture means fast fashion is now an epidemic of global proportions. Streamlined supply chains and shorter production times have enabled fashion brands to release new lines faster and faster.

The fast fashion business model is cultivating a society of overconsumption, with an estimated $500+ billion lost every year.

The fast fashion business model is cultivating a society of overconsumption, with an estimated $500+ billion lost every year. In light of global sustainability goals and socio-political movements, fashion brands are under intense pressure to develop new initiatives that cut apparel waste and reduce their environmental impact. Initiatives addressing these challenges focus on the circular economy, disruptive tech, supply chain innovation and sustainability. Fashion brands can no longer rest on their laurels. Survival depends on a reinvention of sorts, to embrace the changes that are taking shape around them.

The opportunities

While unused stock may appear a challenge for retailers, there is also significant opportunity. Producing higher quality clothes and distributing them via new business models, as part of the circular economy, would shift the perception of clothing as a disposable item. The latest initiative from Urban Outfitters will be to launch an online clothing rental service called Nuuly. For $88 per month, customers can pick six items from across the brands UO owns, including Anthropologie and Free People, and swap them for new pieces the following month. Models like this offer attractive alternatives to buying more. Consumers can access a range of high-quality clothing to keep up with the latest trends at a lower cost to them and the environment.

Fashion brands must embrace innovation to tackle the industry’s enormous textile waste problem.

The issue of fabric wastage throughout the supply chain remains a challenge for industry leaders with recycling rates stubbornly low. Fashion brands must embrace innovation to tackle the industry’s enormous textile waste problem. Some companies are already waking up to this realisation and are committed to change in manufacturing. BlockTexx, an Australian startup, focuses on turning discarded clothes into raw, commodity-level plastic through a ‘SOFT’ (separation of fibre technology) process. This process reclaims 98% of resources from cotton and polyester garments, the two most used fabrics. By working with industry partners and other commercial customers for the use of its exclusive technology, initiatives like this aim to maximise the quantities of textile waste which the sector can re-use and save from landfills.

New techniques are also being adopted to predict which products will be needed based on estimated demand. These make supply chains more efficient in the back-end and enable companies to better keep pace with changing consumer demands. Sharecloth, enables retailers to place orders before products are produced through its cloud-based manufacturing solution. This New York based software company is optimising unpredictable demand and eliminating overproduction. These concepts, using highly automated manufacturing space, aim to improve forecasting, and require significantly less energy and materials.

The global view

Sustainable fashion remains high on global leaders’ agenda. Fashion brands are asked to commit to progress on banning the use of controversial or harmful materials, including plastic. Positive signs are appearing. For example, Zara has recently pledged to make all their clothing from 100% sustainable, organic or recycled fabrics by 2025.

Some efforts are being made across the industry, with companies individually and collectively striving to optimise business practices. Despite this, many organisations have seemingly not taken any action, remaining inert to environmental and social considerations.

There is no doubt that the growing importance consumers are placing on sustainability remains a disruptive force. The only way for fashion brands to survive this disruption is to look outside their own walls, and embrace the power of partnerships. Act nimbly, digitally and make the bold decisions that will enable change. It’s the brands that adopt this mindset that will be the winners. The future of fashion is sustainable.