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How the fashion industry will need to change in the coming years

As new policies crack down on unsustainable industry practices, fashion is one sector that will be forced to embrace major change. What kind of improvements should companies strive for and what else can we anticipate?

Over the next decade, many business sectors will be forced to undergo considerable changes to reach green targets and build sustainability credentials.

The fashion industry – one of the most ecologically harmful sectors – certainly awaits a significant transformation. Let’s hope so at least, because it is currently not on track to meet the goals set out in the Paris Climate Accord.

It is currently responsible for 10 percent of global carbon emissions and around 20 percent of all wastewater discarded annually. A massive 92 million tons of textile waste is generated thanks to clothing production every year, with 87 percent of this waste sent to landfill or incinerated.

As consumers continue to learn about the severity of the issue, many agree that clothing shouldn’t be harmful to the environment, nor should it be wasteful of some of our planet’s most precious resources.

There are countless ways in which the fashion industry can improve. Let’s look at a few we are likely to see in the coming years.

Starting from the top

There is an immediate need for textile suppliers to reduce their annual carbon emissions and water use.

As a result, the term ‘decarbonisation’ is becoming a buzzword in fashion right now, but achieving it will require a massive overhaul.

A great place to start would be improving energy efficiency at the start – during textile production stages. This can be done be using machinery that requires less energy or those that are connected to electrical grids supplied by renewable energy sources.

Great leaps can also be made by incorporating the use of biofabrics (such as algae and mushrooms), recycled fabrics, and biomaterials like bio-acetate on a wider scale. Ray-Ban is a great example of one company that has successfully adopted bio-acetate to replace the plastic frames of its Warren sunglass model.

Of course, more development of wearable biomaterials is required to improve their longevity and durability. By shifting our reliance away from fossil-fuel-derived textiles and towards more eco-friendly materials, production techniques will improve while costs will be driven down.

It is also clear that textile suppliers must also improve their wastewater management systems. Improper treatment of runoff water from factories is known to pollute surrounding waterways and seep into groundwater, preventing plants from being able to photosynthesise.

By consulting partners in wastewater treatment, textile industries can be educated on what is needed to start recycling and re-using effluent water on production sites. Overall water use can be reduced by using materials that require less washing and dyeing cycles.

When unavoidable, the use of environmentally friendly dyes should be deployed while potent chemical dyes should be sparsely included in collections.

With these changes implemented at the top, brands must stop focusing on producing higher quantities of low-quality items and instead produce fewer items of better quality.

Recent surveys show that a large portion of consumers go out of their way to shop from sustainably made brands and are not deterred by the need to pay a premium for environmentally friendly clothing.

Embracing new technologies

While becoming more sustainable will rely on developing and implementing new kinds of technology across the board to do so, keeping up with the demands of customers’ changing tastes will too.

Opportunities to attract customers and keep them engaged will be the sole focus of brands in the coming years. This doesn’t just include having a strong social media presence or Instagrammable packaging, either.

With Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR) quickly being integrated into our everyday lives, fashion companies will be looking for ways to incorporate them into the shopping experience.

These can include technology that enables customers to attend fashion shows and try on incoming products in virtual reality. It would also be interesting for customers to use VR to take ‘tours’ of brand’s factories, as customers begin to take a stronger interest in how their clothing is made.

Making use of AI, brands can match customers with items that match their skin tone, body type, and offer recommendations based on individual’s personal style.

There is even talk of embracing customisability in the fashion industry, with those arguing for a made-to-order or made-to-measure policy saying it would reduce consumption, improve clothing quality, and prevent overproduction of identical products for mass sale.

This would help reduce the amount of deadstock that companies send to landfill – a subject which brings us nicely into our final area of change.

Leaning into gender-fluidity

In recent years, there’s been a lot of frustration over the lack of sizing consistency across brands – and sometimes even within them.

There’s a strong possible solution to this problem, which simultaneously answers another popular trend in fashion right now, where customers are increasingly looking for clothing that is gender-neutral or gender-fluid.

As a woman who will prefer the fit of a men’s t-shirt over the fitted style of women’s tees, I would agree that it would be great if more clothing wasn’t so gender-focused but instead were primarily focused on tailoring to different body types.

Many designers have tapped into this trend already. Rihanna was even featured in Louis Vuitton’s recent ‘menswear’ campaign, sporting a gender-neutral button-up shirt and trousers.

Leaning into gender-neutral clothing answers many of the above problems, too. Having one collection for all, just in different sizes, will reduce the amount of clothing produced and prevent ending up with large amounts of deadstock.

Of course, changes to the fashion industry will need a multi-faceted approach. These are just a few ideas to reduce its carbon footprint, along with many others we’ve outlined on Thred before.

It will be interesting to see which brands adopt these changes or risk being left behind due to the environmental policy revolution that is sure to take place in years to come.