‘Sustainability’ is the eco buzzword of 2019; a handful of brands & retailers are proving that it’s not just hype

With more awareness than ever of the effects of human behaviour on the health of our planet, how are the retail and fashion industries trying to make a positive difference?

2018 saw a huge change in public awareness of the negative impact that single use plastic has on our ecosystem; David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II revealed floating plastic islands in the middle of the ocean, and appalled Britons began to shift towards a plastic-free way of life. UK supermarkets have already made huge reductions in plastic packaging and continue to do so, with all major brands committing to the UK Plastics Pact in April 2018, seeing pledges like Aldi’s reduction of 50% of packaging by 2025 and Waitrose removing all black plastic packaging by the end of 2019.

This progress is all great news for our struggling planet, but in 2019 we are focused far beyond just the reduction of plastic straws and to-go cups. Minimising plastic usage is now viewed as just one tiny part of a much bigger problem we need to solve: sustainability. As the latest focus among the eco-aware, brands and retailers truly looking to make a positive difference need to go beyond switching their plastic bags for a biodegradable alternative and address their sourcing, production, and distribution techniques in line with their environmental impact.

When it comes to clothing, consumer attitudes are shifting away from caring only about fashion and towards an acknowledgement of whether their clothes are negatively affecting climate change and pollution, or using any number of damaging processes which are killing the planet. There is even consideration given to the distance travelled and the weight of packaging contributing to fuel emissions and our own carbon footprints. What we consider important when buying a pair of shoes is changing rapidly; if brands and retailers wish to stay in favour, they need to respond to this attitude change and address their own sustainability.

How is the fashion industry addressing the sustainability problem?

The damaging atmospheric nature of fuel emissions has long been widely understood, and recent years have seen a large number of brands jump on the ‘carbon neutral’ bandwagon, with many pledging to have no carbon footprint by 2050 (i.e. removing as much carbon from the atmosphere as they release into it). Some brands have already achieved this status; LA based fashion brand, Reformation, have been carbon neutral since 2015, and describe it as “one of the easiest things [they] do to be sustainable.” They even sell “Climate Credits” online, aiming to encourage their clientele to offset some of the carbon they emit “just by being alive”.

For some brands, simply reducing or removing their negative impact is not enough. With the newly understood threats to the planet and a heightened awareness of human impact, a handful of brands are taking sustainability to new levels, aiming to give back more than they take, ensuring that their effect on the environment is actually positive.

One such company is Spanish footwear brand Flamingo’s Life, who believe we need to do much, much more than we are currently in order to prevent further environmental damage, stating that “the current economy model is coming to an end, and its place is taken by the circular economy. We should give back to the planet what we have taken away from it.” In practice, this means that each of their collections of sneakers addresses an environmental issue of human creation and aims to remedy it, be that by planting trees or cleaning the ocean.

Flamingo’s Life use recycled and recyclable materials wherever possible, from plastic bottles and rubber in their shoes, to cardboard in their packaging. They also avoid using materials which are known to damage the planet, choosing chrome-free metal eyelets for shoelaces. Everything in their company mission aims to give back more than they take, and they utilise their website and highly followed social media channels to loudly broadcast their ethics and values, raising awareness for their cause.

Fortunately, they are not unique in using sustainable materials in their products, with several influential global brands beginning to focus heavily on their own environmental impact. adidas have recently announced a new trainer which is designed never to be thrown away: the Futurecraft Loop is made entirely from Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU), meaning that when you are ready to get rid of your shoes, you can simply send them back to adidas who will break them down and remake them into a new pair with no waste, and no need for chemicals or adhesive.

Clothing manufacturers may be beginning to change their stance on environmental issues, but the fashion industry goes far beyond just the brands making the clothing, with retail platforms forming a huge part of how we consume products. With such an enormous influence on purchasing habits, online retailers also need to focus on the promotion of sustainable clothing, and ensure that their own shipping methods are eco-friendly too. Thankfully there are a few who have already started making these changes, with European giants Zalando championing those products and brands who focus on eco-friendly fashion.

Zalando already have a Sustainable Fashion section, and are planning to grow this further in 2019, along with making it highly visible to their consumers. Their dedicated landing page explains the importance of sustainable fashion to the retailer: “sustainability is being considerate of our planet and the people in it.” Importantly, Zalando have a focus on providing consumers with sustainable fashion at affordable prices, taking the luxury price tag away from being eco-conscious, with sustainable jeans from as little as £30!

The digital age, and in particular social media, has created a landscape in which brands and their beliefs are entirely visible to consumers, meaning that brands who wish to survive in the digital age need to develop clear, positive opinions on global issues for their audiences to align with. With public opinion more focused on our environmental impact than ever, brands and retailers who aim to be a part of the solution, not the problem, will continue to win favour with their clientele. Moreover, those who ensure that sustainable fashion is accessible to the masses, rather than just the elite, will continue to thrive and make a positive impact!