Sustainability in Fashion - The emerging trend

By: Ritu Agarawal, Digital Transformation Leader from Fashion Industry

Ritu Agarawal is a seasoned digital transformation leader with a remarkable track record of 20+ years encompassing diverse industries. With over a decade of experience in driving E-commerce and online adoption, Ritu has been at the forefront of revolutionizing the fashion industry. Her expertise lies in optimizing merchandising and pricing strategies to ensure profitability at both unit and macro levels.

In a recent conversation with the Women Entrepreneurs Review Magazine, Ritu expressed her thoughts on the current state of sustainability in the fashion industry, highlighting challenges in adopting sustainable practices and waste management.

How would you describe the current state of sustainability in the fashion industry? What are some key challenges that the fashion industry faces regarding adopting sustainable practices and efficient waste management?

Globally fashion industry is the 3rd largest polluter of the planet. The immense use of natural resources and textile waste from large scale production followed by rapid changes in fast fashion and eventual dumping of excessive clothing into landfills is a growing concern. Each year upto 92 million tons of garments end up in landfills in addition to the 42 million tons of Plastic waste generated during production.

The responsibility for controlling it lies both, with the manufacturers and the consumers. While sustainable production practices are being imposed by governments and adopted by manufacturers there is also a growing sensitivity towards environmental impact and sustainable clothing among the consumers.

As per public surveys, compared to last decade we buy 60% more clothes and repeat them 50% lesser than we used to. Hence, the biggest challenge is encouraging mindful shopping and optimal utilization of garments among the consumers. This could be via multiple avenues such as:

  • creatively using the same piece of garment in multiple ways to create varied looks
  • renting of occasional wear clothes
  • thrifting
  • cloth donation drives
  • repurposing the garment

With the gradual shift towards Slow Timeless Fashion, the new age mantra would be to re-wear with pride. Versatility and creativity in styling the same garment for multiple diverse outfits could be an upcoming trend.

How can sustainability be enhanced in the fashion industry, particularly through social media, to minimize environmental impact, with a focus on consumer behaviour?

With respect to consumer behaviour, the fashion industry is heavily influenced by the film fraternity and celebrity influencers. They play a quintessential role in shaping our society.

The social media today is rife with gym looks, airport looks, party pictures and so on. If the influencers are motivated or incentivized to endorse sustainable culture of re-wearing their clothes with pride, repurposing certain garments, sharing garments, thrifting etc the practice would certainly percolate among the larger audience.

While most actors follow these practices in private for economic or social reasons they seldom speak about it publicly. The good news is, now few new generation actors such as Suhana Khan and Jahanvi Kapoor; speak up about it and occasionally repeat outfits at significant events, which is applaud worthy.

Additionally, I feel the ecosystem to support sustainable practices in our society is still evolving; thrift stores, rental services, fashion styling services for an ordinary person are still rare and difficult to find. Fostering these facilities will definitely encourage higher adaptability among the consumers.

Social media platforms play a pivotal role in shaping consumer perceptions. How can digital strategies leverage social media’s reach to promote sustainable practices and educate consumers about eco-friendly fashion choices?

In the field of fashion, social media in general, Instagram in specific, strongly influences the consumer’s perception.

To promote sustainable practices we must firstly, encourage the million+Instagram influencers whom the consumers emulate to create content on:

  1. Environmental impact of fast fashion and sustainable fashion practices
  2. Eradicating the stigma around outfit repeats and second - hand purchases
  3. Upcycling their garments into different items

Secondly, fashion brands could play a leading role in publishing educational content to:

  1. Build understanding on the raw material and production processes. This would help explain the environmental impact and justify the incremental prices, just as in the organic food industry
  2. Guides for customers on how they could ensure longevity of the garment through best practices for storage, wash care, etc; as is done in electronics industry

How are innovative strategies revolutionizing ethical fashion in response to challenges, and how do upcycling techniques promote sustainability by giving new life to materials, with a focus on communicating these efforts effectively through social media?

Upcycling of garments was an age-old technique used by our grandmothers. We have all seen the bright patch work blankets hand-stitched from different garments, bags made from old sarees and so on. Not only were they beautiful and trendy but repurposing the piece to give it is a fresh new start is an excellent creative booster and an economically and environmentally effective practice.

Few consumers today are able to exercise it due to lack of time, resources or awareness. Some efforts are being made by manufacturers to reuse textile and plastic waste to create new products. Implementation of industrial practices for it are in early stages, due to lack of standardization, high degree of interdependencies and lack of cost effectiveness. However, over next decade this would be an emerging trend.

We could draw some lessons from electronics industry to build models of buybacks and refurbished sales to increase the life of the product or systematically dismantle products to reuse items such as zippers, buttons etc.

How are organizations fostering inclusivity in fashion? What barriers hinder the full integration of these practices into fashion industry operations?

By definition, inclusivity refers to catering to people of all shapes, sizes and colour. Most brands today make conscious efforts in providing options across the spectrum. The market today caters to sizes ranging from XXS to 4XL and sometimes 5XL; although with diminishing varieties for the edge sizes. We also have flourishing brands only for plus sizes.

On the digital front there is a surge in portrayal of garments on models in different complexions and plus sizes. As a society, we are progressively swaying towards greater self-acceptance and embracing our individuality rather than gauging against somegeneric traditional yardstick of beauty and fashion. Millennials today are open minded, experimental and expressive in their preferences. The likes of Nancy Tyagi and other influencers whosestyles are celebrated at global events serve as a huge inspiration.

Afterall, fashion is meant to uplift one’s spirits and confidence along with preserving our planet.