Fashion is the second most-polluting industry in the world. It uses 25% of the world’s chemicals and more water than every other industry except agriculture. It also employs large numbers of underpaid workers or forced labour.
In Latin America, the fashion industry is worth about USD 160 billion with Brazil and Mexico the largest markets followed by rapidly-growing Colombia and Peru. The opportunity for sustainable development to apply across the entire sector is huge, enabled by new technologies, materials and better working practices.
A trend specialist at WGSN, a fashion forecasting business, sees a growing global trend towards sustainable fashion, “It is definitely coming. Inditex [the owner of Zara] has made a commitment to be sustainable by 2023 but so far all they have done is force their suppliers to certify their sustainability. If this is done properly it is a significant cost to the suppliers. If it is not done properly then it is pointless. Zara’s other option is to pass the cost onto the customer but they are worried the consumer won’t care enough to pay more.”
A senior director at Levi’s believes there is a compromise to be made, “There must be a balance, part will be absorbed by the company and part by the consumer, it will be a win win commitment for both parties. For some clients it will cost more than others, but it will really be a next step that will be taken in the market, there has to be a smooth transition and the consumer must be educated so that they value these efforts and can pay more.”
“There must be a balance, part will be absorbed by the company and part by the consumer, it will be a win win commitment for both parties.”
Senior director, Levi’s, Latin America
The former CEO of an Andean fashion retailer believes companies must do a better job of marketing the benefits of sustainability, “Brands must match and emphasise what their customers value most and sustainability is becoming more important to consumers around the world. Also, brands must be careful, there is so much information out there that if they try to cut corners they will be caught and that is the end.”
An ESG-focused strategy consultant believes the industry must change, quickly, “Our analysis shows that neglecting the fashion industry’s environmental and social impact will ultimately have a detrimental impact on business growth and profits. Furthermore, sustainable stocks are currently growing on average by 4% per year versus 1% for less sustainable stocks.”
“Our analysis shows that neglecting the fashion industry’s environmental and social impact will ultimately have a detrimental impact on business growth and profits.”
ESG-focused strategy consultant, Mexico
If the industry is to clean up its act, then a new model of production and consumption must be struck with a reset of priorities on both sides. This will involve a revaluation of the consumer’s perception of the product, identity and culture of the company. It will also need better transparency and traceability to develop trust between the brand and the consumer. Not easy!