Driving Sustainability In The Fashion Industry

Frank Omare

The fashion has always considered itself to be unique: We live in a world of fast fashion where people want to buy what they see, wear it, and throw it away, and it ends up in a landfill. A real challenge that all luxury brands have grappled with is the belief is that it is better to destroy the product rather than sell it more cheaply.

I was fortunate to be invited to speak at the World Law Form on Fashion Sustainability in Paris in January. It was a great opportunity to share perspectives with top leaders in fashion, environmental sustainability, business, and human rights and discuss the prospect of creating a better future.

Many questions surround the idea of sustainability in fashion, which makes issues concerning the industry’s impact difficult to scale. For example:

  • 8 to 10% of the global greenhouse gas emissions come from the fashion industry, which is more than the aviation and maritime shipping industries combined.
  • Nearly 60% of all clothing produced ends up in incinerators or landfills within years of being made.
  • 4% of global waste is from the fashion industry.

This data comes from reputable sources but is open to challenge. Regardless of the exact numbers, collaboration and increased transparency are critical to improving the sustainability of fashion supply chains. To become sustainable in the long run, the fashion industry must improve its industry practices. Some ways to do so include:

  • Eliminate fast-fashion practices that contribute to water pollution, chemical waste, carbon emissions, and the creation of landfill waste.
  • Measure the progress of sustainability efforts against specific goals and avoid “token sustainability initiatives” that promote sustainability without taking real action.
  • Utilize circular economy principles in the supply chain, including improvements in technology and programs for recycling/upcycling materials (instead of destroying unsold merchandise) and increasing transparency in manufacturing processes.

Fortunately, there are signs that fashion organizations are rethinking the role and value of their brands, such as:

  • Burberry announced recently it would end the practice of destroying “unsaleable” products.
  • Timberland will source leather from “regeneratively grazed cows” in the United States as part of efforts to create a sustainable supply chain.
  • From growing cotton to dyeing and finishing, it takes over 9,000 liters of water just to make one pair of jeans. However, Levi’s Water<Less collection uses up to 96% less water and, to date, Levi’s has saved 1.8 billion liters of water.

The fashion industry needs to self-regulate and set a baseline for its environmental footprint. Technology can play a role by providing transparency across the global supply chain. The industry needs to invest in technology to get accurate data that brings clarity so it can move forward. This will bridge gaps with current data so that realistic targets can be set for the industry and individual organizations.

Learn more about “How Slow Fashion Is Fast-Tracking Sustainability.”

Frank Omare

About Frank Omare

Frank Omare brings over 20 years of combined senior line management and "Big 4" consulting experience in procurement and supply chain. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (FCIPS). Frank has a proven track record of developing transformational change programs and engaging the hearts and minds of people at all levels in the organization. With SAP Ariba, which offers the world’s largest cloud-based network for business commerce, Frank leverages his experience to collaborate with customers to help them to understand the benefits of leading-edge solutions that address complex business issues. Going beyond the financial benefits, Frank's work helps customers understand the value of digital transformation and to prioritize sustainability as part of their organization’s values.