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We Need to Rethink Fashion’s Current Growth Model

By Samantha Dersarkissian

For the last half a century, the fashion industry has relied on a linear supply chain. With this model, growing profit through garment sales means brands must ramp up production. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, clothing consumption doubled between 2000 and 2015, and wears per garment decreased by 40%

While fashion companies are trying to be more sustainable, they haven’t addressed the main issue: rampant growth in the production of new garments makes the current fashion model unsustainable.

To meet customer demand without increasing manufacturing, brands need to rethink their current growth model. Branded recommerce is the most brand-centric obvious solution. Brands that sell their products through resale programs can reduce new production and reintroduce pre-owned branded products into their supply. This shift benefits shoppers and brands as it allows growth in sales without an increase in carbon emissions. Simply put, brands should ask themselves- Why sell an item once when you can sell it multiple times?

Why Fashion Needs a New Growth Model

The impact the fashion industry has on the environment is huge. A 2019 report from the UNEP finds the fashion industry creates about 8-10% of global carbon emissions. A 2020 report from the Princeton Climate Initiative finds emissions attributed to the fashion industry are likely to increase by 50% if brands stick with the current growth model.  Fashion is expected to account for 20% of the 2040 CO2 budget. [McKinsey… need to find the source]

The solution to fashion’s sustainability issue lies in an overhaul of the entire growth model, which includes addressing overproduction and textile waste.

Textile Production Drinks Up Our Water Supply

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, fashion textile production uses 93 billion cubic meters of water annually. The impact of this level of production is felt in the communities of dry regions where clothing is manufactured.

In addition to water consumption, 20% of global wastewater is caused by dyeing and finishing clothing. The harmful chemicals used in these processes tend to find their way into waterways. Due to the chemicals used in the process, the water supply often can’t be treated to become drinkable after it’s polluted.

If fashion brands stick to the current growth model, it would mean an ever-increasing need for textile manufacturing. This model is not sustainable as it simultaneously decreases the total amount of usable water while increasing the demand.

Fast Fashion Capitalizes on Novelty at the Expense of Quality

In the 1990s, fast fashion companies like Zara, H&M, and Forever 21 reshaped fashion seasons from four to 52-micro seasons. More fashion seasons required brands to design and manufacture new clothing lines faster, all while sacrificing quality for quantity.

Shoppers, ever driven by the dopamine rush of something affordable and novel, responded to this trend by buying more items of clothing, more frequently. Brands have continued to reinvest in low-quality, low-durability garments creating a vicious cycle of unsustainable supply and demand.

Brand Owned Resale Programs Is the Obvious Solution

While there may be no quick fixes, resale as a channel is an obvious solution for brands committed to meeting the climate change mitigation goals laid out in the 2015 Paris Accords.

Resale as a channel reintroduces pre-worn branded products into a brand’s supply chain.  By giving these pre-worn garments a new life, brands can continue to profit from their products over time. This more sustainable model allows for business growth without relying solely on an increase in production.

While retailers have expressed concerns that resale could cannibalize primary sales, new studies published disprove those fears. According to Women’s Wear Daily, 60% of shoppers have discovered a brand through secondhand shopping. The survey suggests that branded resale can introduce shoppers to a brand at a lower price point, which may then lead to primary sales.

The bottom line is, that resale as a channel pumps the brakes on shopper and shareholder demands for ever-increasing production while allowing a brand continued growth. Reducing production supports global efforts to reduce carbon emissions and water pollution. This creates an overall net positive from a corporate social responsibility perspective.

The future of customer closets looks more fluid as resale becomes a popular way to shop. The only roadblock for brands to create a circular shopping experience is architecture and logistics.

Companies such as Trove, have created end-to-end item intelligence technology that optimizes every step of the circular journey. Trove’s product transforms complex logistics into a joyful customer experience, adding to brand equity without increasing carbon emissions.

We believe creating a more inclusive, less wasteful business model is possible. Let us show you how we can help your brand enter a new era of conscious commerce. The seeds of a sustainable future must be planted today.