Russell Waite and Julia Warrander, of Affinity Private Wealth, look at the environmental risks associated with being a dedicated follower of fashion
THE Business of Fashion is recognised around the world for its authoritative, analytical point of view on the $2.5 trillion global fashion industry.
According to its website, the mission is simple: build fashion’s global membership community to open, inform and connect the industry. Serving members in more than 125 countries, BoF combines independent, thought-provoking journalism with practical business advice, alongside online learning with an agenda to power positive change in fashion and the wider world.
For an ecoJersey magazine focused on World Oceans Day, we found ourselves using the resources of BoF for two reasons. The first related to reviewing their biography of Julie Wainwright; the second was to reflect on the BoF Sustainability Index. The two are connected.
In 2011, Julie Wainwright had an idea, setting about creating an online marketplace for high-end fashion brands, but with a twist: all the items she would help to sell would be second-hand.
Inspired when she watched a friend spend ‘$5,000 in 20 minutes’ in the consignment section of a store, Wainwright decided to establish an online e-commerce portal, which customers could trust completely, for pre-owned luxury and high-end designer goods.
The business this entrepreneur founded, The RealReal, provides an end-to-end service to simplify the luxury consignment process. More particularly, for buyers, The RealReal offers access to a vast, yet curated, supply of pre-owned luxury goods, while instilling trust in the buying process with rigorous authentication. The firm has proved a pioneer in pivoting the luxury fashion industry towards the circular economy, a system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources.
Notwithstanding this innovation, luxury fashion has less of a sustainability issue to address than its cousin, the fast-fashion sector. When it comes to buying clothes, we are spoilt for choice. Gone are the days when we only bought new garments as the weather changed.
Today, clothes shopping is as much about expressing our individual style and tracking trends, as it is about dressing for the elements. The apparel sector has undergone a rapid transformation in recent times, shifting from the traditional two seasonal collections a year to rapid-response supply chains that reproduce catwalk favourites, combined with the constant refreshment of product lines to compete for customers.
A study examining New York Fashion Week found that fast-fashion brands were able to ‘deliver interpretations of designs to retail before the actual designer collections that inspired them’.
All this choice, however, has come at a cost by radically affecting the market for fabrics. Natural materials like cotton – that are grown, not made – can only be produced in quantities permitted by Mother Nature. As a consequence, apparel manufacturers have increasingly turned to synthetic materials that can be produced at much higher volumes.
Unfortunately, a significant problem arises whenever these garments are washed. Microfibres are released into waterways, eventually finding their way into oceans and, ultimately, our food chain as they are ingested by marine life. Add to this the detrimental impact of dyes and chemical treatments commonly applied during the manufacture of clothes and it is increasingly obvious why the world of fashion is under increasing pressure to change a number of its unsustainable practices.
This brings us full circle to the BoF Sustainability Index, which tracks whether the industry really is making the progress required to avoid its highly detrimental influence on the environment and also satisfy broader social imperatives.
The inaugural 2021 report applies a proprietary methodology to measure the progress of the five-largest public companies by annual revenue in 2019 in three distinct fashion industry verticals – luxury, high street (fast) and sportswear.
The index incorporates more than 5,000 data points, examining each company using 338 metrics across six categories – see infographic – to measure performance against 16 ambitious environmental and social targets set by the BoF in consultation with a sustainability council of respected global experts. The index is intended to reflect a framework for the transformational change required to align fashion’s business practices with global climate and sustainable development goals over the next decade and beyond.
A dedicated follower of fashion – no longer?
The global apparel industry produces an estimated 80 billion garments every year. A study undertaken by Barnardo’s, the UK charity, found that garments were worn approximately seven times, on average, before being thrown away. A similar study in China suggests this number is closer to three.
In Jersey, the fisheries industry is an important contributor to our island’s prosperity in terms of local jobs and revenues from exports. This is clearly at risk without a change in the clothes-buying habits of millions of consumers, everywhere. Closer to home, for those determined to wear their clothes loud, but never square, just take time to think of the potential environmental costs associated with being a dedicated follower of fashion.