Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The fashion industry is one of the most energy-intensive and polluting industries in the world today. The industry accounts for no less than 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 20% of wastewater pollution. Additionally, the fashion industry uses about as much energy as shipping and aviation combined.
These issues are not limited to the apparel industry alone. However, the ever-changing nature of fashion, where consumers are coaxed and cajoled into buying the latest seasonal trends, makes the fashion industry a tad more problematic.
Issues facing the industry go beyond its carbon footprint; the global disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic also gave rise to new consumer behaviors in many retail sectors, including fashion. A rapidly accelerating transformation of the digital economy, coupled with increasing concern around fair pay, inclusivity and humane working conditions, means that the industry needs to go beyond the tenuous measures introduced pre-pandemic if it is to remain relevant in this changing world.
For this reason, there is a need for the industry to make concerted efforts towards becoming more sustainable, more eco-friendly and more adaptable to consumer trends and sentiments.
Let’s take a look at some fashion projects that we feel are playing significant roles in the definitive transformation of the industry towards a newer, more sustainable model.
Patagonia is not exactly a new name in fashion circles. However, it gains a spot in this article purely because of its trailblazing leadership in the move away from harmful and unsustainable practices in the industry. The California-based apparel company emerged as one of the earliest proponents of environmental ethics in fashion.
Not only was Patagonia among the first to adopt the use of recycled materials in garment manufacturing, but it was also one of the first to commit to labor ethics. In addition to using sustainable materials, the company also runs a service that helps customers repair their clothes instead of buying brand-new items.
The company also started the Wornwear brand, a second-hand clothing outlet, to take advantage of Patagonia gear’s durability and encourage people to recycle their clothing.
Overall, very few fashion retailers embody the ideals of sustainability, ethical labor and fair trade practices better than Patagonia.
Sourcing playground is an online business-to-business (B2B) sourcing platform created to link fashion companies with sustainable garment manufacturers.
With sustainability being the new buzzword in fashion circles and the noose by which many brands stand to be hanged, Sourcing Playground plays a critical role in helping fashion companies make responsible sourcing decisions.
According to the company’s founder and CEO, Heather Williams, Sourcing Playground’s mission is to reduce fashion’s harmful impact by giving brands the tools to connect with sustainable producers.
Verified sustainable manufacturers endeavor to reduce wastage and chemical costs by effectively harnessing resources during the production process. The cost savings from this practice can then be passed on to fashion retailers and their customers.
By leveraging Sourcing Playground’s cutting-edge technology, fashion companies can source smarter, optimize their supply bases, improve sustainability and gain unique market insights.
UPTY is a large online preloved clothing store selling like-new clothing items for up to 90% off estimated retail prices. At the heart of UPTY’s operation is the genuine desire to significantly reduce the fashion industry’s carbon footprint by leveraging the circular fashion economy and promoting the philosophy of reducing, reusing and recycling.
Based in Tallinn, Estonia, the company was founded in 2020 by Dimitri Nogin, Sergei Brek and Valentin Savchenko. UPTY’s primary catchment area is the wider Baltic region. However, after a recent successful pre-seed investment round that saw UPTY raise 650,000 euros, the company is now poised to scale up its operations and expand beyond Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
The company hopes to eventually raise about 3 million euros, with which it plans to commence operations in Germany, Poland, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland. UPTY has also recently acquired a Finnish circular fashion startup called Rekki with over 30,000 customers to continue its rapid expansion across the Nordic region.
Fashion-conscious people can find value in clothing items they no longer use by reselling them on the UPTY platform. The reselling process is pretty simple and involves only three easy steps:
Order a free UPTY clean out bag.
Put all of your unused clothing items into the clean out bag.
Send the clean out bag back to UPTY using a parcel service.
Once UPTY receives the clothes, they are put through a series of rigorous quality checks. After the checks are completed, the accepted apparel is measured, priced, photographed and listed on the UPTY website. After an item is sold, UPTY sends the seller an agreed-upon portion of the listing price.
UPTY prides itself on selling only authentic, high-quality used clothes. The platform has a zero-tolerance policy on knock-offs.
Similar to UPTY, ThredUP is one of the biggest online thrift shops for women’s and children’s clothing. The store holds like-new and gently used apparel ranging from generic brands like Old Navy to nicer, more upmarket labels like Free People, Lululemon, Banana Republic and Anthropology.
The company has spent the last decade building its marketplace and infrastructure to take advantage of the estimated $50 billion resale economy.
So far, ThredUP has redistributed more than 100 million clothing items across the United States. Almost 15,000 new items are added to the store daily, with like-new items often selling for up to 90% off.
Buying secondhand clothing is more sustainable than buying brand new items, and on ThredUP, you can get top fashion brands for a fraction of the price. Any item on the platform that remains unsold is usually repurposed or recycled.
ThredUP now intends to leverage its accumulated experience and its proprietary retail-as-a-service (RaaS) platform to power resale for the wider fashion industry. In this way, the company hopes to play a leading role in making fashion more sustainable.
Fast fashion has caused untold damage to the planet and society, especially to low-income communities working in sweatshops littered across the developing world. But a new rise in consciousness among consumers means that the industry will have to develop newer and more sustainable models to remain relevant in a fast-changing global digital economy.