Pop and R&B artist Rihanna Fenty ("Rihanna") recently broke historical records, announcing her brand “Fenty” as a new line within the Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVHM) organization. This is the first new line in 30 years from LVHM, in addition to being the first woman and first woman of color within the lineup.
The Fenty empire is known for inclusiveness for all women, as shown through the collaboration with Savage, releasing a lingerie line for all women of size and color. The Savage X Fenty line states their mission is “to celebrate fearless individuality and broaden the definition of what is beautiful.” Rihanna also mentioned that “I want to make people look and feel good, and have fun playing around with different styles.” The inclusiveness of the brand is highlighted in a big variety of sizes, from XS to 3XL. The addition of Fenty to LVHM shows large signs of change in the luxury clothing market, known for being exclusively dominated by wealthy Caucasian men.
A Changing Industry
While the fashion industry is still experiencing continuous growth, McKinsey estimates that 2019 “will be a year of awakening” for the fashion industry. Recent major changes in the fashion industry have already started, including Burberry’s announcement to stop burning it’s unsold goods, and brands from H&M to Gucci announcing their ban on cashmere, citing environmental harm.
Despite these fashion changes, McKinsey estimates fashion industries are expected to shrink in 2019. The decline is based on the changing environment and changes in customer demand within the industry, including radical transparency among supply chains and more sustainable practices along the production line. This challenges clothing manufacturers to further question their identity and traditional sources of success.
To address these challenges, Fashion Revolution, a British organization aiming to combine all kinds of individual instances from the industry, such as designers, academics, policymakers, brands, retailers, etc., made it their mission to change the way that clothes are sourced, produced and consumed. The end goal is to create a safer environment for both people and planet. In the last years, they have especially focused on their campaign of “Who made my clothes”, which is striving for more transparency within the supply chains from producers.
(Source: Fashion Revolution: https://www.fashionrevolution.org/about/get-involved/retailer/brands/)
But the Change Isn't Fast Enough
The focus on using recycled and organic materials, with a focus and commitment on carbon emission reductions, water use, and fair wages has almost come to a near halt in 2018. With a prior focus on addressing linear methods of production, the need for change in the fashion industry hasn’t kept up to the fast-fashion clothing industry, Bloomberg reports. The fashion industry is so focused on profit that 92 million tons of solid waste from fashion was dumped into landfills each year, according to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit.
The industry really needs to pick up the pace. Brands are improving at a slower rate and at the same time we’re seeing a huge production increase.
- Morten Lehmann, the Chief Sustainability Officer at Global Fashion Agenda
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) stated that carbon emissions from the fast fashion industry are higher than the emissions of all international flights and maritime shipping combined . It is said that many companies also burn their excess stock to prevent selling at discounts and keep prices up. This has been reported from fast-fashion company H&M to Nike to premium brands Burberry and Louis Vuitton.
While Nike and H&M are trying to find new ways to reduce their carbon print, such as PET recycled materials and woven “Flyknit” uppers to reduce cutting and stitching waste (Nike) and recycled and organic cotton usage (H&M), the efforts are still too small – especially when considering how big these companies are.
Creating a Sustainable Fashion Industry Isn't a Quick Fix
In 1998, Nike began their collaboration to better their sustainability practices with The Natural Step, developing their “North Star” vision for sustainability.
With leadership from Nike’s Director of Corporate Responsibility Horizons and the General Manager of Nike Considered, Nike and The Natural Step developed a project that would lead to transformative change in the organization and further position the company as a leader in sustainable product innovation.
- The Natural Step International
Sustainability is increasingly seen as a selling point for customers, showing that customers are willing to pay more for brands that have a less negative impact on the planet. The easy question of whether “less negative impact” is actually good enough stays of course.
Sustainability is continually proving to be a selling point which increases loyalty and brand image of any organization when genuinely performed. Brand reputation is important internally as well as externally. If a company has a respected reputation it is easier to increase customers as well as new partnerships. What seems to be one of the most important factors nowadays to increase brand reputation is sustainability and the actions a company does to increase it.
Nielsen (a global measurement and data analytics company) polled 30,000 consumers in 60 countries and asked them to indicate what factors had the most influence on their purchasing habits of a wide range of products. … 66% of respondents say they’re willing to pay more for products and services that come from companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impact… - Sustainable Brands
In general there has been a big uprising for more sustainable brands from big conglomerates. One large example is Unilever, who is launching reusable containers with Loop and has started to develop new methods to lower clothing waste . While developing present companies to higher standards, the organization also focuses on well established brands within the field of sustainability, such as Pukka Herbs .
The Future of Fashion
Where the fashion industry is growing to meet physical demands, the customers demand for products that consider their social and environmental impact is a continual demand and ever-present precedent. Brands expecting to remain in the market long-term will need to focus on only on current demands, but also sustainable sourcing practices and behaviors.