From the sourcing of textiles, the dyes and manufacturing processes, to packaging and transport, there are a lot of carbon emissions, harmful chemicals and wastewater pollution involved in the production of apparel. In 2019, Forbes stated that “worldwide, approximately 17 billion items are being returned yearly. This totals to 4.7 million metric tons of CO2 emitted yearly” for returns alone. Following a global pandemic and a boom in eCommerce, this number has no doubt significantly increased. Living in a culture of fast fashion and free returns only exacerbates these habits, encouraging people to overbuy and then send items back that don’t suit them or don’t fit. Statista reported clothing (88%) and shoes (44%) as the most returned products in 2021, in part because there is still no standard sizing across all brands, leaving consumers to guess what sizes might fit best.
Added to this challenge, society has transformed over the last centuries, from a culture that treasures items until they can no longer be mended to a culture of mass consumption, discarding items and buying new whenever we see fit. Taking the Christmas holiday in Great Britain as an example, it has become trendy to wear garish jumpers during the holiday season. But a Hubbub report stated that in the UK, 25% of Christmas jumpers are thrown away, while a third of people under the age of 35 buy a new festive jumper every year. That means that at best, jumpers are only worn a few times during the holidays and then never again. Across the pond, the average US consumer throws away 81.5lbs of clothes every year.
Overall, the fashion industry is responsible for about 20% of global wastewater and is the second biggest carbon emissions generator. If this fast-fashion trend continues as it has, the wastage is expected to surge to 134 million tonnes a year by the end of the decade. The apparel industry needs all the tools, motivation and regulatory framework it can get to reverse this trend.
It is more important than ever for brands and their supply chains to make more sustainable choices. So here are a few suggestions for this holiday season:
Whatever your plans for 2023, consider integrating some or all of these sustainability measures. Failure to actively improve one’s sustainability poses a great risk to a brand’s reputation and is a threat to suppliers who may lose business if they can’t keep up with the wave of transformation that is already starting to take hold.
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