This article first appeared on Fashion United
Consumers want fashion companies to be purpose-driven
Following the pandemic, and the subsequent revision and evolution of many societal values, consumers increasingly expect fashion companies to be purpose-driven, support social initiatives and reduce their environmental footprint, as the climate change emergency makes headlines. Diversity, inclusivity and equality are at the top of the agenda.
Reducing companies’ environmental footprint is also becoming an imperative with consumers increasingly worried about climate change and the global waste problem, and more people are embracing the plant-based trend and opting for recycled alternatives in the goods they use in their daily lives, including fashion items.
Consumers Buying from Purpose-Driven Brands by Income Bracket, 2022Source: Euromonitor International Voice of the Consumer: Lifestyles Survey, 2022
The pressure to up one’s green commitments grows not only from the demand side, but also from regulators
We are now starting to see governments seeking to tackle the fashion industry’s overproduction crisis, commissioning task forces and drafting new laws to set out rules and enforcement systems that will force a change within business models and consumer habits in the years to come.
The EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles presented at the Commission on 30 March 2022, with ambitions that by 2030, textile products placed on the EU market are all recyclable and durable. It also sets out proposals that aim to change the way clothing and textiles are designed, produced, purchased and managed at end-of-life, as well as what is communicated to consumers. Proposed measures include new carbon taxes, banning the destruction of unsold textiles, setting mandatory minimums for the inclusion of recycled fibres in textiles, and making brands responsible for ensuring their production takes place in full respect of social rights.
Despite grey areas, the EU strategy could reverberate through global value chains, as international brands willing to continue selling in the EU will have to set up their processes and operations accordingly and are likely to adopt similar practices in other regions.
The new sustainability imperative drives fashion’s plant-based material innovations
This growing sustainability imperative is a driver behind a surge in B Corp certifications, initiatives for greater inclusion and diversity, the redesign of supply chains, but also, behind product and material innovations, such as new eco-friendly plant-based and recycled fibres.
While the plant-based trend first emerged in the food industry and remains most mature in that sector, Euromonitor’s Voice of the Industry Sustainability Survey shows that the plant-based trend is also becoming a hot priority in the fashion industry, with 46% respondents in apparel and footwear planning to launch products with vegan, vegetarian or plant-based claims in the near future.
Interesting recent plant-based innovations include adidas’s partnership with Finnish manufacturer Spinnova to release the TERREX HS, a hiking mid-layer pullover made entirely from plant-based fibres, while Japanese start-up Spiber produces vegan silk and wool out of “brewed protein”, and has collaborated on various collections with The North Face in Japan.
Eco-friendly leather alternatives have never been so hot
Leather alternative innovations are not new. Fashion players have used leather alternatives for their bags, luggage and footwear products for years, with adidas x Stella McCartney pioneering vegan trainers, or Nike and Hugo Boss using Pinatex, a natural leather alternative made from pineapple leaf fibres, in some of their collections before the pandemic outbreak.
However, since the COVID-19 crisis, the pace of innovation has accelerated significantly and there is also a clear shift away from plastic-based alternatives towards biomaterials, due to the growing pressures from both consumers and regulators. Supply-chain disruptions and the ever rising costs of raw materials, fuelled by all-time high inflation, are further forcing fashion players to explore non-traditional materials.
This has led to an abundance of innovations in plant-based textile fibres and, in particular, in leather alternatives in the past few months. For example, Hermès has announced a partnership with MycoWorks on mushroom leather handbags, while Italian luxury sneaker brand Golden Goose and Coronet opened a joint R&D lab for eco-leather sneakers in Erba, Como in March 2022. This is the first eco-platform to develop “Made in Italy” leather alternatives and the partnership's first sneaker, the unisex Yatay 1B, is already available for sale.
More mainstream brands are also involved, with H&M, for example, announcing in 2021 a partnership on its concept sustainable collections called Innovation Stories, with Mexican start-up Desserto that produces a vegan-friendly, non-plastic leather alternative made of organic cactus plants. The company has garnered attention since then and put Mexico on the map for sustainable fashion.
The way forward: The plant-based trend here to stay
In future, we expect to see a flurry of eco-friendly biomaterial innovations that will not only allow vegan/vegetarian or cruelty-free claims, but also chemical-free and plastic-free claims. This does not only resonate well with a growing number of consumers but will also help companies achieve their ESG goals – whether these targets are led voluntarily or set out by law. Those brands able to design collections made of biodegradable materials or materials made from waste will be particularly well positioned to succeed in a market environment pushing for more circularity in the fashion industry.
For further insight, read our briefings, World Market for Apparel and Footwear, Environmental Sustainability Regulation: A Cross-Industry View, and The Evolution of Plant-Based: Eating and Beyond