Pressure on brands and retailers to invest in lowering their environmental impact will mount despite weakening economic conditions and a contraction in consumer spending.
The apparel industry’s early interactions with the environmental movement have centered on the use of organic or eco-friendly materials. However, experts said long-term survival will push the industry to move beyond the material level and examine overall business practices. This next evolutionary step will require the industry to recognize that sustainability cannot be achieved without embracing environmentally friendly practices that reduce resource usage.
Booming population growth will make meeting the world’s needs for basics such as food, water and energy a significant challenge over the next 50 years.
During a sustainability conference in Sundance, Utah, hosted by Cotton Incorporated in October, speakers addressed how natural fibers such as cotton and wool would be hard-pressed to meet global demand because of increased competition for land and dwindling resources. Marty Matlock, associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of Arkansas, said the global population is expected to spike 40 percent to 9.25 billion by 2050 compared with the current population of 6.6 billion.
“We’ll need to increase food production by as much as 50 percent in order to feed that 9.25 billion people coming to dinner,” said Matlock.
Finding the land to grow more food or fiber will pose a challenge, as well.
“We’ve cultivated about all of the arable land on the planet already,” said Matlock. “Everything that is left is marginal.”
Several of the industry’s biggest names have already recognized the threat this backdrop presents to their long-term viability. On Nov. 19, Nike, Levi Strauss & Co. and the Timberland Co. were among the founding members of a coalition dubbed Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy, or BICEP. Along with Starbucks and Sun Microsystems, the group aims to spur climate and energy legislation in early 2009.
“At Nike, we know we face a future where global trends include water scarcity, rising energy consumption and severe impacts from climate change,” said Sarah Severn, director of corporate responsibility. “It would not only be environmentally and economically irresponsible to ignore these trends, but it would also be foolish not to prepare our business not only to withstand but also to thrive in a resource-constrained world.”
Nike uses more than 700 factories to manufacture its branded product, Severn said. Footwear accounts for about 60 percent of the brand’s carbon dioxide footprint, while apparel accounts for 8 percent. Nike is working with its factories to improve efficiency in existing plants and to include green building practices in new plants.
“They know it’s smart business to invest in an energy efficiency program,” said Severn.
Ellen Karp, founder and president of consumer research firm Anerca, believes consumers are “on the verge of a significant paradigm shift in textiles and apparel.” She noted that millennial consumers have grown up in an environmental age, with high-profile activists like Al Gore a constant presence. Karp said consumers don’t typically regress once they start making purchasing decisions based on environmental issues. Having a child has been the typical catalyst spurring consumers to become more environmental, and the first areas of focus have generally been food and personal care products.
“The apparel piece really lags behind, particularly because it’s not ingested,” said Karp. “Nobody has made a huge case for [apparel] and it’s partially because we’re so far from the source.”
Once that case is made in a way that resonates strongly with consumers, the apparel industry will have to respond quickly. Karp believes brands and retailers should focus on becoming more transparent about the impact of their products in order to build authentic relationships with their customers. She pointed to brands like Patagonia, Timberland and REI as examples of companies taking the correct approach.
“You have to share, warts and all, with the consumer,” said Karp. “But why is it just the outdoor apparel industry doing this? It needs to become more ubiquitous.”
“My personal philosophy to beauty is paying attention to oneself. I love to be outdoors, lots of fresh air, trying to take care of yourself as best you can. I always notice that comes through,” says Felicity Jones, the global face of @shiseido-owned @cledepeaubeauteus, which launches today. Head to WWD.com to read more about the actress’ love for beauty and how she prepared for her new role in “The Basis of Sex,” playing the young Ruth Bader Ginsburg. #wwdbeauty (📷: @dandoperalski)
For men’s fall 2018, @giuseppezanotti drew on elements from streetwear, sport, biker, combat and rock ‘n’ roll. Pictured here are a pair of shoes from the collection, featuring zippers, rhinestones, and silver hardware. Head to WWD.com to see a roundup of the accessories from Milan’s men’s fall 2018 shows. #wwdfashion (📷: Andrea Delb)
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of @ralphlauren’s snowboarding collection, the brand is mining its archives. The iconic brand is reintroducing vintage styles and dropping new designs for a color capsule that will be available in Ralph Lauren stores and @openingceremony on January 25. The capsule will consist of 10 pieces, including the Snow Beach Pullover, pictured here, which is a collector’s item that rapper Raekwon wore in Wu-Tang Clan’s “Can It Be All So Simple” video. #wwdfashion (📷: Tom Gould)
For @rochasofficial’s pre-fall 2018 collection, creative director Alessandro Dell’Acqua channeled the sophisticated and intriguing Catherine Denevue in the film “Belle de Jour.” Polished collarless coats, midi skirts, suits and ’60s graphic motifs were all featured in the collection, adding a sense of discreet luxury. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com #wwdfashion
“We tried to produce clothing of that couture quality, but the most daunting part was that we only had a matter of days [to do it],” said costume designer Lou Eyrich, who recreated Gianni Versace’s iconic looks for @americancrimestoryfx. Eyrich searched online retailers and vintage shops for original pieces from the design house and for @penelopecruzoficial, who plays Donatella Versace. Head to WWD.com to read how she created the Versace world. #wwdfashion
Only three months after her stellar debut catwalk season, @kaiagerber has inked her first big design collaboration –– with @karllagerfeld. The collection blends Lagerfeld’s Parisian chic aesthetic and the model’s signature West Coast casual style via RTW, accessories, footwear and more. The #KarlLagerfeldxKaia collection will launch in September with a series of events. Get all the details on WWD.com. #wwdnews #wwdfashion
Harrods plans to remove the famous statue of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed from the bottom of the Egyptian escalators and hand it back to Mohamed Al-Fayed. “We are very proud to have played our role in celebrating the lives of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed at Harrods and to have welcomed people from around the world to visit the memorial for the past 20 years,” said Michael Ward, Harrods managing director. “With the announcement of the new official memorial statue to Diana, Princess of Wales at Kensington Palace, we feel that the time is right to return this memorial to Mr. Al Fayed and for the public to be invited to pay their respects at the palace.” More on the news, with reporting by @loreleimarfil, at WWD.com. #wwdnews