Emerging Business Opportunities in Sustainable Fashion


TreeWear - Responsible Clothing

Author: Shilpa Basavaraj

Today’s consumers are increasingly rejecting ‘fast fashion’ by buying quality clothes over quantity and making eco-friendly purchases. Evidently, the global fashion industry is trying to act more responsibly for the sake of the planet and future generations.

Sustainable fashion is an emerging global movement that enables a positive change in the fashion industry towards greater ecological health and social justice. Sustainable fashion is more than just creating an eco-friendly fashion product; it is the complete process right from the cultivation of raw material to the end of the lifecycle of a fashion product.

It addresses the large carbon footprint created by the global fashion industry, air pollution, enormous water consumption and water pollution, worker health and social impact on the millions working in this industry globally.

Defining Sustainable Fashion

Sustainable fashion aims to create a perfect balance in the design, manufacture and use of clothes that ensures a clean environment, regenerates cultivation in the most natural manner, uplifts healthy and fair wage livelihoods, and finally when discarded, it biodegrades beautifully into mother nature easily.

This research paper studies the different concepts of sustainable fashion that have evolved in the fashion industry over the last few decades. Some of these concepts include:

  • Ethical fashion
  • Fair Trade
  • Recycled Fashion
  • Slow Fashion
  • Circular fashion
  • Traceability fashion

Harmful Impacts of Fast Fashion

  • The global fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water every year — enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people.
  • Around 20% of sewage water worldwide comes from fabric dyeing and treatment industries.
  • Nearly 87% of cloth waste is incinerated or disposed of in a landfill.
  • The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Approximately 1.7 billion tons of CO2 is used by the fashion industry
  • Every year, half a million tons of plastic microfibers are dumped into the ocean, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. The danger? Microfibers cannot be extracted from sea water and they can spread throughout the food chain.

Why is Sustainable Fashion Important to Planet Earth?

Sustainable fashion uses regenerative fibers, recycled fibers, that require less energy and also very less or no chemicals in the manufacturing process from the cultivation stage till finished goods, thus reducing the carbon footprint at every stage.

Chemical-free dyeing, finishing and printing process methods are the new future of sustainable fashion.  Renewable energy utilization at all stages of manufacturing right from cultivation to fiber extraction, spinning, weaving, dyeing, finishing, printing that can prevent the depletion of fossil fuels.

Global Ethical Fashion Market

The global ethical fashion market is expected to grow from $4.67 billion in 2020 to $5.84 billion in 2021 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.1%. The growth is mainly due to the companies resuming their operations and adapting to the new normal while recovering from the COVID-19 impact, which had earlier led to restrictive containment measures involving social distancing, remote working, and the closure of commercial activities that resulted in operational challenges. This market is expected to reach $8.3 billion in 2025 at 9% CAGR.

Rating Sustainable Fashion Brands

There are some basic parameters that act as guidelines for understanding the process of sustainable fashion and make the right choices as consumers or as business owners:

  1. People – Consider the impact on workers across the supply chain. Understand the brand’s policies and practices on child labour, forced labour, freedom of association, safety measures towards labour, living wages, sexual harassment policy gender quality & working conditions.
  2. Planet – How the brand uses its resources efficiently, manages waste, makes it a zero-waste system, policies to address energy usage and how carbon emissions are offset, water management, discharge of hazardous chemicals, its policy on disposal of microfiber, etc.
  3. Animals– Policy of a brand to handle fur, feathers, exotic animal skin and hair. Policy against ‘mulesing’. If there can be alternatives that the brand can opt for instead of hurting animals in the process.
  4. Transparency – If a brand can be transparent in the supply chain of how the product has been manufactured this gives the consumers all the information and they will surely have a good feel and loyalty towards such brands, where they feel they are being positive in giving back to the environment by purchasing this sustainable brand.

Prospects for Sustainable Fashion Businesses

The world is moving towards new concepts in sustainable fashion and many people from non-textile backgrounds are eager to join in this growing movement. Here are a few ideas for start-ups in sustainable fashion:

  • Resale (second-hand/pre-loved fashion) – Re-selling of used fashion is catching up big time in Western countries, this is a huge sustainable business opportunity in this sector that can save the environment. Average Indian consumers feel second-hand clothing is meant for the poor, but this mentality needs to change because there can be innovative business models that can be created for this.
  • Rentals – Fashion rental business is a highly lucrative sustainable prospect. If people can just hire a wedding dress or short dresses for an occasion, it makes sense for them as well as the environment. Imagine having a huge wardrobe where you can just use any fashion items just once and it does not occupy space in your house nor will you be spending huge amounts, this is possible with renting clothes.
  • Repair and Refurbish– A business that can provide the service to repair and refurbish vintage and old clothes to become a more valuable piece that enhances your style and makes a great statement, this idea is a very good sustainable fashion business prospect.
This is an excerpt from a detailed research study conducted by our sustainable 
fashion expert Shilpa Basavaraj. As a fashion industry veteran, she has studied 
the industry's evolution towards a more sustainable garment production method. 
To access the detailed research report, please mail us at info@ecoideaz.com

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