Sustainability in retail is no longer a choice

With the volume of noise being recently made around fast fashion's jaw-dropping impact on the environment, many people are still shocked to learn that the fashion industry is the second largest polluter on earth - only after oil. We know that with the rise of fast fashion, the disposable nature of consumers has a direct impact on how quickly brands turn around new products in order to keep up with demand. However, with the need to keep costs low, these brands, of course, seek out shortcuts to reduce processes, meaning suppliers or manufacturers may not be up to standard, which in turn creates a negative social and environmental impact on our planet. With the launch of the UAE Vision 2021, which expresses a sustainable environment and infrastructure as one of the core priorities to the agenda, just talking about sustainability is no longer enough. It is high time that action is put into place to adjust thoughts on sustainability in all industries, and more importantly how we as consumers can support the change, especially when it comes to fashion. Unfortunately, the amount of sustainable retailers in the world is worryingly low, which is why businesses must step up their game to go in the same direction as other industries leading the way in this initiative.

When we think of pollution, we think of chemicals in water, foreign toxins in the air and the overuse of plastic. However, we do not necessarily realize that the clothing we wear has a direct correlation to all of these pollutants. The fashion industry is a complicated business and the process goes through a variety of different suppliers and manufacturers and with all these middlemen, making sure pieces are developed in a sustainable manner is considered both time-consuming and costly. However, it is a process that fashion companies must start integrating into their long-term plans, with both high street to designer brands responsible for the movement to provide a positive impact on the environment. With brands such as H&M, Zara, and Primark, each has already started paving the way for ethical operations and working to produce sustainable garments, while Adidas has announced that it plans to eliminate the use of virgin plastics in its products by 2024. Stella McCartney is one of a small number of designers that have taken sustainability to the runway with an active effort to keep the brand green by handpicking environmentally friendly materials and consciously choosing the network of collaborators the brand works with.

Almost every part of the fashion process has a more sustainable alternative. Instead of using plastic buttons, organic corozo - derived from the Tagua tree - is not only biodegradable but is also durable and scratch resistant. Choosing wooden hangers over plastic as well as a biodegradable garment or retail bags are also just a few small steps that can improve environmental impact. When it comes to textiles and the materials used for clothing, organic and recycled cotton, as well as Tencel, coming from the pulp of the eucalyptus tree, are comfortable, cool and light alternatives over the standard materials used in the industry. A recent study found that over 65 percent of consumers under the age of 35 choose brands based on their ethical practices. With the growing demand and expectation from customers, the fashion industry is (luckily) increasingly under pressure to make a difference in its practices. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the consumer to continue this pressure to ensure more sustainable approaches are made within the fashion industry and for brands as a whole to react accordingly.

Matthew Watt