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The Fashion Industry – An Urgent Call From The Current Linear Model To A Circular Model Transition

Written by: Ismael Gonzalez, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Ismael Gonzalez

Fashion is the second-largest global polluter industry after the oil industry, accounting for ~5-10% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (more than those globally emitted by all international flights and maritime shipping combined), 20% of industrial water pollution globally attributable to the dyeing and treatment of textiles, and relies mainly upon non-renewable resources (98 million tonnes per year) generating 73% of those resources in waste ending in landfills or incinerated, resulting in an increase carbon footprint and energy and raw material losses (Ellen MacArthur, 2017). Like most industries, fashion has relied on a linear economic model to become one of the engines of global development and one of the largest consumer industries. The broad fashion supply chain management, located mainly in Southeast Asian countries, has focused on maximising efficiencies to achieve high production volumes at lower costs and prices to generate high margins and profits for the industry.

Butterfly infographic

Moreover, due to the fast pace of consumption created by fashion, based on those low costs and prices, the industry mainly operates in the linear model. This fast-consumption model increases the waste challenges of the industry, not just in the production phase but in the pre-consumption process with the clothing sales in the different online and offline channels with defective, damaged and unsold products, and in the post-consumption process with the unwanted clothing by consumers due to being damaged or out of fashion. Fashion logistics, overproduction generated by sales forecasting errors, and overconsumption created by harmonised consumer behaviour have created a sustainable gap in the industry.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2017), clothing utilisation (the average time consumers wear a garment until it ceases to be used) has globally decreased by 36% in this century, with China leading the decrease by 70%, creating a loss in value of USD 460 billion for consumers in clothes thrown away. Following the analysis of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (A new textile economy: Redesigning fashion’s future 2017, p. 18) report, with data sourced by Euromonitor International on apparel and footwear global sales in 2016, the volume of clothes sold doubled between 2000-15 (50bn units to 100bn units). This number of units represents a total volume of ~50 million tonnes. If the estimated growth follows as expected, 160 million tonnes of clothes could be reached globally by 2050, mainly driven by demand from Asian and emerging markets.

Another critical point to be considered in the industry supply change sustainability is related to the social factor. The global textile, clothing, leather and footwear (TCLF) supply chain employed more than 70 million people in 2022 on geographically dispersed production. It provided employment opportunities worldwide, especially to millions of young women (International Labour Organization). The tragedy at the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dakha, with 1135 casualties and thousands of life-changing injuries occurred in 2013, put the focus on the industry supply chain and was a breaking point for the fashion industry to the closed eyes of what happened in its manufacturing value chain (ILO, 2023b). Besides the lessons learned in the aftermath of this tragedy and the measures put in place by the most relevant actors of the industry with their manufacturers in the improvement of the working conditions of the supply chain employees, different academic studies, environmental practitioners, and regulators have identified the need for more sustainable practices in the supply chain of the industry.

Further evidence of the fashion industry's poor sustainability performance was presented in the "Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2019" report, co-developed by the Boston Consulting Group and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition(SAC). Although some improvements were made compared to previous years, the overall results were still disappointing. The report emphasised the urgent need for fashion companies to implement sustainable solutions faster to mitigate the industry's rapid growth's negative environmental and social impacts (Global Fashion Agenda, 2020).

Several factors, such as budget constraints, reduced financial support by brands and governments to implement necessary technology, and low environmental managerial commitment with the lack of knowledge of ecological professionalism, are crucial constraints for sustainability improvement in the supply chain. Besides this reality, many reputable fashion brands have worked in a coordinated way under several organisations (e.g., Zero Discharged of Hazardous Chemicals group – ZDHC, Apparel & Footwear International Restricted Substances Management Working Group – AFIRM) to support and improve supply chain sustainability, as those brands share multiple apparel and footwear manufacturers.

It seems evident from these reports that the fashion industry's current efforts to implement sustainable practices are inadequate. The industry must prioritise adopting sustainable solutions, including using environmentally friendly materials, responsible production processes, ethical labour practices and other sustainable practices that involve

the implementation of the Circular Economy model. There seems to be consensus among academics, environmentalists, government officials, regulators, and other stakeholders that substantial transformations are imperative. For the industry to sustain its relevance and contribute to the global economy, it must adopt a sustainable approach encompassing all facets of the value chain. Achieving sustainability through implementing the Circular Economy model in the fashion industry requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders, both upstream and downstream of the fashion value chain.

At Retail Consulting & Advisory Services, we work for a Sustainable Future of Retail, helping Fashion and Sporting goods brands create sustainable strategies that support their transition to a “Green Business”.

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Ismael Gonzalez Brainz Magazine

Ismael Gonzalez, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Ismael Gonzalez is a highly qualified Consultant, Advisor and ‘agent of change’ with extensive experience enhancing global corporate retail and distribution businesses. He is a former Executive of Miss Sixty and Adidas, with expertise in the fashion and sporting goods industry, where he has worked for 20 years driving strategic and structural change combining innovation, resilience and a hands-on proven playbook. In 2021, he founded Retail Consulting & Advisory Services Ltd., a boutique consulting firm. As Managing Director of the firm, he works alongside other retail professionals with the mission to help retail organisations progress toward a digital, experiential and sustainable future.



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