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Image: Global Fashion Agenda

The pace of sustainability progress in the fashion industry has slowed by one third in the past year, alone, according to a recent report from the Global Fashion Agenda, Boston Consulting Group, and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. The parties’ assessment of the fashion industry’s environmental and social performance, as put forth in their annual Pulse of the Fashion Industry report, reveals that the fashion industry and its sustainability-centric efforts are “not moving fast enough to counterbalance the harmful impact of the fashion industry’s rapid growth.”

“As detailed in the 2019 findings, the pace of positive change does not match the projected growth of the fashion industry,” the report asserts. To be exact, “Projections suggest that by 2030 the global apparel and footwear industry’s [output] will have grown by 81 percent to 102 million tons,” which amounts to “an unprecedented strain on planetary resources.” 

The fashion industry’s occupants have, by the report’s standards, “made some progress toward better social and environmental performance over the past year,” but the vast majority of the change is coming not from continued efforts by larger companies. Instead, it is mostly coming from brands that are just setting out to implement base-line sustainability efforts. This leaves a broadening gap by in terms of the efforts of established brands, which are failing to build upon their foundational efforts to “figure out how to scale disruptive business models and harness innovative technologies.”

With this in mind, Morten Lehmann, the chief sustainability officer at the Copenhagen-based Global Fashion Agenda, says that “the whole industry [needs] to join the race and accelerate change now. Scaling existing solutions will depend on leadership from brands, paired with a need for “cooperation among policy makers and stakeholders across the entire value chain.”

In terms of consumers, the Pulse reports asserts that awareness of the need to adopt more sustainable shopping habits is growing, and “more than a third of surveyed consumers reported that they have switched from their preferred brand to another for reasons related to responsible practices.” Nonetheless, progress is relatively slow on this front, as well, as “sustainability is still far from being a key consideration in purchasing decisions.”

As TFL has reported in the past, widespread media attention has been paid to the consumption patterns of millennials – individuals born between the early 1980’s and 2000 – and their tendency to be more tapped into social causes and their willingness to participate in activism than many of the generations before them, including a desire to buy from brands whose social and environmental practices are responsible and trustworthy. Yet, this has not proven to be a quick fix, particularly as the consumption of fast, cheap, disposable fashion continues to grow.

While millennials very well may be extremely taken with the idea of shopping sustainably, price remains the road block for many.