Stitching the Future: A Deep Dive into Sustainable Fashion (Part-I)

Sustainable fashion, alternatively known as eco-fashion, is a burgeoning sector in the global textile market, embodying principles of environmental consciousness and ethical sourcing. The proliferation of sustainable fashion addresses the pressing need to mitigate the significant environmental impacts and unethical labour practices associated with the conventional fashion industry.

Sustainable fashion is a broad paradigm that encompasses several environmentally friendly and ethical practices. These include:

  • Utilizing eco-friendly materials, including organic cotton, recycled polyester, and biodegradable textiles
  • Adopting ethical labour practices that safeguard workers’ rights, promote fair wages, and strictly prohibit child labour.
  • Promoting a circular economy by endorsing clothing recycling, upcycling, and durable fashion designs.
  • Encouraging transparency in supply chains to enable informed consumer decisions.

The global sustainable fashion market is burgeoning. In 2021, the market was valued at approximately $7 billion. With a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.1% from 2021 to 2028, the market is predicted to double, reaching an estimated $15 billion by 2028.

The major forces driving this growth are increased consumer awareness about sustainability, technological advancements in textile production, and a regulatory push towards eco-friendly practices. There are certain country-specific case studies to understand better how various nations are achieving net zero in the fashion industry worldwide. Such case studies are:

a. Case Study I: United Kingdom

In the UK, the government’s Environmental Audit Committee has taken steps to probe the fashion industry’s practices and has held big brands accountable for their actions.

A standout UK brand in sustainable fashion is Stella McCartney, long recognized for its commitment to being a responsible, honest, and modern company. This brand is vegetarian, uses organic and recycled materials wherever possible, and is committed to reducing its environmental impact by aiming for a zero-waste approach in its stores and offices by 2025.

b. Case Study II: Sweden

Sweden is a pioneer in achieving sustainable development. The Swedish brand H&M, for example, launched a garment collecting initiative in 2013 as part of its sustainability strategy to close the loop in fashion. By 2030, H&M aims only to use recycled or sustainably sourced materials.

Furthermore, the company plans to be climate positive throughout their value chain by 2040, reducing more greenhouse gas emissions than its value chain emits.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) states that the fashion industry emits about 10% of global CO2 emissions due to its long supply chains and energy-intensive production. Transitioning towards more sustainable practices in the fashion industry could significantly cut down these emissions.

According to the National Defence Defence Council, producing clothes with recycled polyester instead of virgin polyester can reduce carbon emissions by 40%. Similarly, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggests switching to renewable resources in textile production could save 93 million tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2030.

The Emergence of Ethical and Sustainable Brands

Brands are increasingly recognizing the importance of integrating sustainability into their business models. Some of the notable players include:

  • Patagonia: This brand is known for its environmental and social consciousness. It uses recycled materials in 68% of its product line and pledges to be carbon neutral by 2025.
  • Eileen Fisher: This brand is a pioneer in using organic and sustainable fibres and aims to be 100% sustainable by 2030. They have a unique take-back program whereby customers can return their used Eileen Fisher clothes for a discount on their next purchase. These clothes are then cleaned, repaired if necessary, and resold, thus extending their lifespan.
  • Stella McCartney: An early adopter of sustainable fashion, this brand has championed responsible and modern practices since its launch in 2001. They’ve been exploring and investing in various sustainable materials, including mushroom leather and plant-based biodegradable stretch denim.

Companies that have an edge and maintain a sustainable fashion model and create a brand image that embraces sustainability have ventured into “The second-hand market”, which is expected to double in the next five years, reaching $77 billion by 2025, according to a report by ThredUp. The rise of resale platforms like Depop and ThredUp has made buying second-hand clothes more accessible and trendy.

Rental services like Rent the Runway and Le Tote allow users to rent clothes for a fraction of the retail price, providing a sustainable alternative to fast fashion and reducing clothing waste.

In addition to the second-hand market, multiple “High-profile Collaborations” are becoming increasingly popular to raise the profile of sustainable fashion. Some of such collaborations are:

a. Adidas x Parley for the Oceans: This ongoing collaboration creates shoes and sportswear made from plastic waste intercepted before it reaches the oceans. By 2020, Adidas produced 15 million pairs of shoes with Parley Ocean Plastic.

b. H&M x Lee: In 2021, H&M and Lee launched a denim collection focusing on sustainability with organic, recycled and water-conscious materials and details.

Finally, the Brands are adopting advanced technologies like blockchain to enhance supply chain transparency. Everledger, for example, uses blockchain technology to create a secure and permanent digital record of a garment’s origin, characteristics, and ownership history.

Consumers are increasingly expecting transparency from brands. Many brands are becoming more open about their manufacturing processes, labour conditions, and environmental impacts. The Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index highlights brands leading in transparency, with H&M, C&A, and Adidas scoring the highest in the 2020 report.

These trends highlight the changing fabric of the fashion industry and signify a shift in consumer consciousness towards more sustainable and ethically produced garments.


The fashion industry is stepping up in a world increasingly aware of our environment and our choices’ impact. Sustainability in fashion has gone from being a ‘niche trend’ to a ‘must-have’, redefining style for the better. But what does sustainable fashion indeed mean? What is the scale of the industry? How are current trends shaping it, and what do we anticipate for the future?

Innovation in Materials

The future of sustainable fashion lies in the continuous innovation of materials. For instance:

– Leather alternatives: Mushroom, pineapple, and apple leather are promising sustainable alternatives to traditional leather. For example, MycoWorks, a company creating leather from mycelium (mushroom roots), raised $45 million in funding in 2020, signalling the market potential.

– Lab-grown materials: Bolt Threads’ Microsilk is a bioengineered silk made with yeast, sugar, and DNA, created without the environmental cost of traditional silk production.

– Recycled fabrics: There’s growing interest in developing high-quality fabrics from recycled materials. A study in the Journal of Cleaner Production found that recycled cotton can reduce water and energy consumption by up to 20% compared to virgin cotton.

Digital and Physical Fashion Convergence

The emergence of digital fashion could reduce the demand for physical production, reducing waste and emissions. According to a report by Ordre, if physical samples were digitized, the fashion industry could save up to $30 billion annually, reduce carbon emissions by up to 2.4 million tons, and save nearly 70 billion litres of water.

Increased Localization

Localization reduces transportation-related emissions and supports local economies. For instance, the U.S.-based brand Reformation has localized its manufacturing in Los Angeles and operates a sustainable sewing factory.

Role in Net Zero Emissions

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the fashion industry currently contributes to approximately 10% of global carbon emissions and 20% of global wastewater. The adoption of sustainable practices in fashion has the potential to reduce these figures significantly.

Material impact: According to the National Resources Defence Council, if the fashion industry swapped new polyester for recycled polyester, it could see a net decrease of up to 40% in carbon emissions.

Circular economy: The Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggests that circularity could decrease waste by up to 70% by 2030 and reduce emissions from material production by 40%.

Energy usage: If the fashion industry used renewable energy in its production, it could achieve a 77% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, according to Quantis.

Sustainable fashion has an essential role to play in achieving global net-zero emissions. As we tread this path, a paradigm shift in production practices, innovation in materials, and a change in consumption patterns are necessary. With these changes, sustainable fashion can significantly contribute to a greener and more sustainable future.

To Be Continued…

PS: Image Credits to the Creators

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