Fashion’s Next Major Battlefield: Sustainability

Megan Collins is seen outside the Tommy Hilfiger show wearing an Everlane top, Guess skirt and Knockaround sunglasses during New York Fashion Week: Men's S/S 2016 on July 15, 2015 in New York City.
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 15: Megan Collins is seen outside the Tommy Hilfiger show wearing an Everlane top, Guess skirt and Knockaround sunglasses during New York Fashion Week: Men's S/S 2016 on July 15, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images)
Daniel Zuchnik—Getty Images

Sustainability will be the next major battlefield where fashion brands will compete for millennials.

Unfortunately, the fashion industry is not providing enough sustainable choices that are also accessible, affordable, and offer great value—three of the most important criteria for 95% of millennials.

Ignoring this base will cost brands both money and relevance. According to 2018’s The State of Fashion report by McKinsey and the Business of Fashion, “66% of global millennials are willing to spend more on brands that are sustainable.” (Zilingo utilizes McKinsey’s consulting services.)

Smart brands are moving towards sustainability. Everlane, which has built its reputation around sustainability, is a prime example of a company selling basic items like white T-shirts at three times the competitive retail price. Fashion e-commerce platforms Asos and Zalando just made momentous changes to their user experience, offering pages on their website where customers can find products made by manufacturers and brands using sustainable business practices.

Most fashion brands cannot create a fully sustainable business given the current fragmentation of the global supply chain. If they want to succeed, sustainable and responsible manufacturing must be economically viable for all players. (Zilingo is a technology platform that helps businesses manage their supply chains, leveraging sustainable practices to make the fashion supply chain more efficient and thereby economically viable.)

For a majority of the world’s fashion brands, manufacturing is extremely fragmented and inefficient. The production of cotton needed for one T-shirt involves 2,700 liters of water, with outdated technology and dozens of intermediaries and agents adding time to the procurement calendar. In an industry that enjoys massive economies of scale, only the largest businesses have the luxury of a fast, efficient supply chain that can respond to the younger generations’ rising demand for responsibly produced fashion. 

One of the other issues faced by the industry is the large amount of greenhouse gas and waste it creates. “The [fashion] industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and is responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions—more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined,” according to the UN Environment Assembly. And alarmingly, about $500 billion worth of unsold clothes annually are discarded into landfills instead of being recycled. With artificial intelligence and analytics integrated into the value chain, we could better predict future trends and enable manufacturers and brands to produce on-trend products in the right quantities and reduce waste. 

The impact of technology and innovation joining forces with fashion could be unprecedented. It can simplify and democratize the fashion supply chain by giving more brands access to sustainable, transparent, and responsible manufacturing options. At the same time, better software and more efficient services can enable factories to scale more rapidly to meet global demand.

We know that this industry, which is polluting our planet and exploiting our people, will have to change. With tech, innovation, and capital we can enable that change for businesses faster and more transparently than ever before. 

Ankiti Bose is the co-founder and CEO of Zilingo. She has no connections or associations with any of the companies mentioned, unless otherwise noted.

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