Catwalk worthy: Trying to improve the fashion life cycle

As London Fashion Week draws to an end, Aegon's analysts explore sustainable practices in the textiles industry

It’s never been cheaper to be fashionable, but the problem is items don’t stay fashionable for very long, and social media influencers encourage a “wear it once” culture.

Fast fashion is cheap for a reason – it often relies on the use of cheap synthetic materials that have profound negative impacts on the environment, and low paid, mistreated workers. But research tells us that consumers are increasingly willing to pay more for sustainable goods. And we believe consumers are becoming more aware of what sustainable indicators to look for when they are shopping.

Perhaps the most important question for customers and investors concerned about sustainability and fashion is; how well does a company understand its supply chain?

See also: – How investors can access fashion with a conscience

Does the company understand where the raw materials are being sourced? The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) for example, estimates that only 20% of the cotton grown in the world is done so in a way that protects the farmers and the environment (its very water intensive). In the same way we see coffee or confectionary companies engaging with the farmers who supply the raw material, does the clothing company do the same?

Moving up the supply chain to production; where are the clothes produced? The race for low cost labour is actually shifting production out of China and into Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar and other countries with poorer working conditions and environmental standards. It is important to understand how the company deals with issues surrounding child labour and working conditions. Do they audit suppliers and what standards are they held to? Do they personally visit where the production takes place?

Onto the product; is the end product recyclable? The majority of textiles used in supply chains are synthetics like polyester. Whilst they are cheaper, they are harder to recycle and generate the plastic microfibers that end up in oceans. Some firms are introducing take-back schemes that help reduce the vast quantity of waste we currently see.     

And finally, is the company signatory to any initiatives trying to improve the fashion life cycle? Examples include the Better Cotton Initiative, Microfibre Consortium, Ellen MacArthur Foundation or the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action.

Leading the charge

Today, more and more brands are launching sustainability initiatives, but there remains a stark gap between the leaders and laggards. There is a lot of work yet to be done across the industry, including increased investment in new technologies that help to mitigate the harmful processes in production, and that allow products to be effectively recycled at the end of life stage. In addition, regulatory engagement will be necessary to encourage a more circular model across the industry.

Companies that don’t think about sustainability today are likely to lose out if they cannot keep up with this sustainable trend. Stronger disclosures around the “what” they are making, and “how” it was made are not just welcomed, they will be necessary to succeed.

See also: – Fast fashion in funds peddled as responsible investments

One company we like is Kornit Digital who create sustainable fashion product technology, providing solutions to the wasteful ways of traditional textile manufacturing. Typically, garment manufacturing is an extremely water-intensive process. A particularly shocking statistic is that the dyeing, printing and finishing stages of garment manufacturing accounts for roughly 20% of global wastewater – that’s the equivalent of five trillion litres or two million Olympic-sized swimming pools every year. Worse, often that wastewater is not treated to remove pollutants before being disposed of.

We are particularly excited about Kornit from both an investment and a sustainability perspective. Their digital printing solutions utilise a 100% water-free process, with no pre-treatment, steaming or washing required. Their NeoPigment printing inks are non-hazardous, non-toxic and biodegradable.

Kornit’s solution really is catwalk worthy.

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Natalie Kenway

Natalie is global head of ESG insight for ESG Clarity and has been an investment journalist for 16 years. She won Editor of the Year at the Aviva Investors Sustainability Media Awards 2021, and was Winner...