Sustainable Fashion – The World’s New Sustainable Fashion Trend

From climate change awareness to more labels embracing resale, here are some ways the fashion industry can strive towards a greener future this year.

It is obvious that 2021 must be the year when fashion escalates its response to the climate problem. Despite much discussion about sustainability in recent years, a 2020 report by the Global Fashion Agenda and management consultants McKinsey found that the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions—which already account for up to 10% of total global emissions—are on track to rise by a third, to a shocking 2.7 billion tonnes per year, by 2030.

While there has been a recent rush of environmental initiatives, brands must now rapidly follow through on their commitments to reduce carbon emissions. “This year, there’s a great focus on what those corporations are actually doing,” says Maxine Bédat, executive director of the New Standard Institute think group. “That necessitates brand transparency and accountability.”

Nonetheless, there have been some encouraging advances that we expect to see more of this year, whether it’s the upcycling trend that dominated the runway during SS21 or the creation of revolutionary new materials and technologies due to hit the market. “It’s about scaling and accelerating progress—brands need to invest in [making a good] impact,” Céline Semaan, founder and CEO of the Slow Factory Foundation, says of the action she wants to see this year.

The good news is that many of the solutions are already available. “The obstacles are understood, the solutions are available—there is a real prospect of making these significant transformations [within the sector],” Bédat continues. With Teeanime, let’s take a look at seven significant sustainability issues that could move the sector forward in 2021.

1. Regenerative agriculture

Given the massive CO2 emissions produced by the fashion industry, an increasing number of brands, including Eileen Fisher and Patagonia, are looking for natural solutions to remove carbon from the atmosphere, such as adopting regenerative farming practices—a method of farming that does not involve tilling but grows a diverse range of crops to help put nutrients back into the soil. Indeed, eco-conscious designer Mara Hoffman just launched a line of Climate Beneficial knitwear that is carbon negative due to regeneration procedures. More collaboration in this area is expected in the coming months as a result of a new project from the California-based non-profit Fibershed.

2. Climate positivity

The growing interest in regenerative agriculture is part of a larger climate-positivity movement, which examines how fashion can genuinely have a positive impact on the environment, rather than just limiting its negative effects.

Exciting innovations in this field include AirCarbon, a California-based firm that creates carbon-negative leather by extracting methane and carbon from the atmosphere, imitating a natural process found in microbes in our seas. Algae is another material to keep an eye on, with Canadian-Iranian designer Roya Aghighi and London-based research studio Post Carbon Lab investigating the use of living algae in clothing that can photosynthesise (and hence absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) as you wear it.

3. Biodiversity

With one million species facing extinction, biodiversity, or the diversity of animal and plant life on Earth, is expected to be a top priority this year. Fashion contributes significantly to global biodiversity loss through land use (for example, cotton farming and livestock breeding), deforestation (caused by viscose production), water pollution (from textile dyeing and microplastics), and waste (92 million tons of textile waste end up in landfill each year).

Kering, the parent company of Gucci, unveiled its biodiversity strategy in June 2020, with the goal of having a net positive impact on biodiversity by 2025. Keep an eye out for similar pledges from other corporations to coincide with the UN Biodiversity Summit, which will be place in China in May.

4. Circular thinking

Circularity, which is when materials are used over and over again in an industry, is a trend that won’t end in 2021. New recycling technologies, like the H&M-backed Green Machine, which claims it can separate and recycle polyester and cotton blends on a large scale, are likely to be scaled up (something that would be a potential gamechanger, given the amount of polycotton textiles on the market). The Global Fashion Agenda says that brands only met 64% of their circularity goals for 2020, so there is still a long way to go before fashion is truly circular.

5. Brands embracing resale

One part of a circular business model is reselling, which has been booming thanks to sites like The RealReal, Vestiaire Collective, and Depop (vintage obsessive Bella Hadid is the ultimate poster-girl here). Luxury brands are trying to cash in on this trend more and more. In October, Gucci announced a new partnership with The RealReal. This year, more companies are likely to take ownership of the resale of their clothes, and online luxury retailers like Farfetch are likely to start selling used clothes.

6. Bio-based materials

In the past few years, there have been a lot of new bio-based materials on the market, from rose petal silk to cactus leather. What’s the next step? Increasing the size of these technologies so that they can be used instead of fabrics that are worse for the environment. Already, more money is being put into this area. For example, the popular loungewear brand Pangaia just announced a partnership with the materials science company Kintra to create a bio-based alternative to polyester that can be broken down completely by nature.

7. Social impact

The epidemic has brought attention to the mistreatment of garment workers, so brands will need to do more in this area. Brands are under growing pressure to reveal information about their suppliers and the steps they’re doing to maintain ethical working conditions and fair salaries as public concern about these issues rises. It’s possible that other businesses will follow Chloé’s lead now that it has announced it will apply for B Corp accreditation, which evaluates a company’s social and environmental performance. Chloé is now led by new creative director Gabriela Hearst.