Rapid Changes Required for Sustainability in Fashion

Speed to market is affecting the fashion and footwear industries.    The use of tweets, Instagram, and social media has accelerated the fashion industry making it challenging to keep pace with new trends. 

Previously, we published an article called “Measuring Impact in the Textile Supply Chain.”

We are seeing new designs every day using new synthetic materials that are hazardous to the environment and new technologies in manufacturing that is equally as harmful.  These products can be coined “unhealthy fashion.”

With the rapid growth rate, it is harder to stay sustainable.  Many companies are looking at ways to become more environmentally friendly.  But at what cost to the end consumer?  How transparent is the product supply chain from seed (fiber) to finished product?


The textile and apparel industry is known for its labor-intensity, which is outsourced to developing countries like Southeast Asia.

The textile industry is closely linked to the agriculture industry because of the need for raw materials such as jute and cotton. These are accessible to the textile industry and are supported by high crop subsidies. 

For more than three decades China has been the leading nation in the textile and apparel industry. There was a slight downfall during the 2008/9 recession.  China’s market fell from 38.6 % in 2015 to 31.3% in 2018.  

Major causes were rising labor costs and increases in property values.    As well, the appreciation of the national currency (Yuan) did not help.   These issues declined global purchasing from China.  

But, China still has one of the most efficient textile industries in the world.   However, many companies are starting to shift to Southern countries like India, Vietnam, and Bangladesh.

Sustainable fashion

Sustainable fashion is a philosophy that promotes social and environmental responsibility.

Many in the fashion industries often see it as an impediment to creativity. The need to be original and creative can encourage individuality at the expense of team cooperation.  This makes it more challenging to incorporate sustainability into everyday business practices.

Fashion is about looks, imagination, and personality. It is about fantasy, not function.  There is a disconnection between fashion houses and the artistic vision; it is difficult to determine what consumers are looking for.

Even though fashion manufacturers have a team devoted to sustainability, the outcome can sometimes seem insufficient to create change.  To succeed, sustainability has to be baked-in every stage throughout the company.  Fashion leaders will need to appreciate that this can be fashion’s future.  

Mark Carney former governor of both the Bank of England and the Bank of Canada famously warned industries that they need to accommodate or ‘fail to exist.’ The issue is how fast they will react.

Brands must be clear about their SDG’s (sustainable development goals).  They will have to develop a strong point of view and apply this throughout the operation. Sustainability has to be handled holistically (from seasonality and sourcing into customer communications).   


It is still the case that some brands are focusing more on bulk production rather than new trends, techniques, resources, and quality.  The falling standards of the fashion industry are an indication to take a step back and reflect on how to return to the highest standards.

The best way to return to these high standards is to adopt sustainable development techniques. At first, sustainability will rarely be the buy driver.  But over time with the many improvements discussed in this article customers are most likely to choose the sustainable option.

Author: Jeffrey Clark

A management professional with 25 years global experience working with fortune 500 and speciality brands, specializing in lean manufacturing, product, supply chain management, procurement, sourcing, and operations. Proven proactive leadership, vision, creative, and successful strategic business skills to drive revenue and profit growth in highly competitive domestic and global markets. A strong relationship builder, functions effectively as an integral member of a cohesive senior executive team. Proven ability to source, identify and capitalize on emerging trends and niche market opportunities.