How Slow Fashion Is Fast-Tracking Sustainability

Alina Gross

Today’s consumers, especially millennials, are increasingly concerned and influenced by companies’ records and initiatives around sustainability. Whether it is due to following #sinnfluencers on social media or the growing understanding that climate change is a real and near threat to humans, it has manifested in the fashion industry with a new trend towards “slow fashion.”

Now more than ever, consumers are curious about where their clothes were made and under what conditions. The slow fashion movement promises to be the opposite of the fast fashion trend (inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends) by delivering sustainably procured and produced clothing to mindful consumers. Instead of never-ending offerings due to rapidly changing trends, slow fashion items are designed to be sustainable, functional, durable, and stylish.

A sustainable fashion product is made in an environmentally and socially friendly manner along the supply chain, from the initial design of sustainable products using ethically sourced raw materials, through production using sustainable manufacturing processes, and to delivery through green distribution and retailing channels.

First, as I explained in “Sustainable Design: The Key To Unlocking A Sustainable Future,” design determines the ecological footprint of the whole product lifecycle. Fashion designers can help significantly reduce the environmental impact of products by changing the way they design their clothes to take into account their environmental impact early in the product design process.

Eco-material production is fundamental to a sustainable fashion supply chain. Cotton, as a renewable resource, is the main material for sustainable apparel production. However, chemicals and pesticides are largely used in traditional ways of growing cotton. Sustainable fashion products often use organic fabrics, which are produced using less water and fewer harmful chemicals. Organic cotton is grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers and can reduce the negative impact on the environment.

Apparel manufacturing often takes place in countries with low labor costs. However, in those countries, there is often less awareness of the environment and human rights. Therefore, it is important to promote the importance of fair working conditions and environmental performance, especially when working with suppliers around the world.

Producing carbon emissions is inevitable in distribution. However, by designing a more efficient transportation system, carbon emissions in distribution can be minimized. For example, sustainable product design can make container shipping less harmful to the environment.

Some retail brands have already launched clothing collection initiatives to promote sustainable concepts in retailing. For example, ethics-minded consumers can return old apparel products and can get a coupon for their next purchase. Then, the collected used apparel and textiles are then recycled or reused optimally according to their condition. For example, in an upcycling process, some textiles and fabrics are reprocessed to create commercial products.

According to a Greenpeace survey in 2015, every fifth garment produced is never worn. This equals 1 billion unworn garments; if you include rarely worn items, you get 2 billion “wardrobe corpses.” Many people sort clothes out of their closets within a year to keep up with the latest trends.

In my opinion, this is the outcome of fast fashion. If more clothing businesses would follow slow fashion and more people would reflect it in their buying habits, we can take a big step toward a world run better.

Download the IDC report “Leveraging Your Intelligent Digital Supply Chain” to find out how an end-to-end digital supply chain – from design and planning to manufacturing, logistics, and operations – helps businesses increase sustainability.

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This article originally appeared on Forbes SAP BrandVoice.

Alina Gross

About Alina Gross

Alina Gross holds a BA in international business and is currently deepening her knowledge by adding an MA in international marketing management. As a working student at SAP she focuses on marketing and project management topics within the field of supply chain, especially around content marketing, event management and social media.