03 Jul Sustainability in the UK fashion industry, a new challenge for retailers
Fashion brands are taking actions towards eco-responsible and ethical retailing. As customers care about where products come from and how they are produced, they want to tackle environmental issues and set new targets. This month, B.D.C. focuses on this new retail trend.
Fashion retailers become cautious regarding materials:
In May, many retailers and fashion brands have already turned their back on mohair after animal rights organisation, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), had denounced numerous cases of animal cruelty.
This month, Asos introduced major updates to its animal welfare policy. It will stop stocking all goods made from silk, mohair and cashmere. The only leather and lambswool products that will be produced and sold will come from biproducts from the meat industry. The new policy states that “Asos firmly believes it is not acceptable for animals to suffer in the name of fashion or cosmetics”.
In addition, consumers’ more conscious purchase habits are urging retailers to offer more ecological products or sustainable collections. Marks & Spencer aims to expand sustainability to every product by placing an eco or ethical quality, aligned with its “Plan A 2025”. M&S plans to reach several goals that focus on three pillars: wellbeing, community and planet. The retailer is already using 77% of eco-cotton (grown in a way to help farmers to use less pesticides and water). They also promise to raise the bar up to 100% by 2020.
Finally, the family-owned Spanish label Mango has long championed positive environmental impact via its Committed campaign. Falling under its larger Take Action programme, the Mango Committed initiative places environmental impact at the forefront of its business model. This capsule offering has led the way for some time, and now it feels more pertinent than ever. By 2022, Mango aims to have 50% of its cotton originating from sustainable sources. More realistic or slower than M&S?
Customers become increasingly environmentally-conscious:
Retailers have understood that they need to lead an environmentally responsible industry. By taking actions, they also hope to attract sustainability-focused shoppers.
Indeed, customers are making more conscious choices when shopping. They pay closer attention to their environmental impact and are increasingly asking for more transparency. In 2018, over 2.5 million people worldwide participated in the non-profit global movement Fashion Revolution through events or social medias… Over 113,000 posts included the hashtag #whomademyclothes.
The fashion industry has arguably grown into one of the most polluting, wasteful and energy-intensive industries. Its supply chains are so fragmented, vast and distant that many retailers are unaware of how fabrics are made, and who runs the factories that supply them.
Corporate transparency is the first step towards setting responsible and universal standards:
Fashion Revolution have ranked 150 fashion companies according to their public disclosure of sustainable policy and commitments, governance and traceability. The annual index saw an increase of 5% of the overall transparency across the industry. However, only ten brands scored above 50%. Better than last year, 37% of the brands and retailers are publishing the list of their manufacturers (against 32% in 2017 and 12% in 2016). Most importantly, only one brand, which is ASOS, disclosed its raw material suppliers.
In this regard, companies can use specific tools to make more transparent and ethical procurement decisions. Transparency One is one of them. The start-up helps mapping the entire supply chain and lists all suppliers from sources to stores. It tracks compliance and manage social responsibility risks, resulting in better information and leading to stronger consumer trust.
In addition, Transparency One has collaborated with Blippar, AR key provider in Europe, in order to offer an end-to-end solution that allows shoppers to check the quality and origins of products simply by scanning an item via the Blippar app. Some initiatives have been powered by Blippar, Transparency-One and Carrefour in the food industry. When shoppers scan products they can access quality certificates, test results, location details and images of the relevant farm, as well as nutritional information. This provides full supply-chain transparency from farm to customers.
Retailers are going towards a more responsible and eco-friendly business to attract compassionate customers. They now have to look for new alternative production methods and materials. In early-2018, Adidas released a new sneakers line made from fibres recycled from plastic wastes, in collaboration with the environmental organisation Parley for the Oceans. Yet, brands often set actions in a long-term perspective, whereas they might need to act quicker to meet the ever-changing customers’ demands.
Written by Anne de Joly, Consultant at B.D.C. UK