Sustainable Fabrics: The Next Step in Championing Circular Fashion

August 13, 2021
Sustainable Fabrics: The Next Step in Championing Circular Fashion

The sustainability standard is an ever-moving target for fashion retailers as they endeavor to claim a stake in the apparel market. And, with the public knowledge that the fashion industry accounts for 5% of greenhouse emissions globally, retailers have had to adapt at speed to consider both luxury upcycling and eco-friendly fast fashion solutions.

These solutions need to start at the fabric source. Why? Well, packaging, swing tags, and store elements aside – the majority of fashion’s carbon emissions come from raw material production, with no aspect playing a more prominent role than synthetic fabrics. The better news is, that by establishing a circular fashion economy, the industry can contribute to tackling 45% of these emissions.

Creating a circular fashion economy is based on three principles: design without waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems. With the advent of this model, and increased consumer demand for brand transparency on green initiatives, there has been a significant uprising in the trade for sustainable fabrics. With Omnilytics fashion insights, brands are able to align their sustainability strategy with market intelligence concerning the rise in products made from sustainable fabrics. These include Better Cotton, Organic Cotton, Recycled Materials, Hemp, Lyocell and TENCEL™️, a branded lyocell fibers solution created by Lenzing.

With Omnilytics fashion insights, brands are able to align their sustainability strategy with market intelligence concerning the rise in products made from sustainable fabrics. These include Better Cotton, Organic Cotton, Recycled Materials, Hemp, Lyocell and TENCEL™️, a branded lyocell fibers solution created by Lenzing.

According to an Edelman study, consumers want to trust brands to do what’s right by way of, 1, the brand’s product, 2, the customers of the brand and 3, for society. Sustainability, particularly sustainable fabrics, is essential to building consumer trust and inevitably buyer retention.

Long before sustainability was a major retail strategy, Lenzing blazed the trail for the eco-conscious by favoring sustainable technologies. Lenzing’s TENCEL™️ fiber is made from botanic products derived from renewable sources. These natural fibres are then processed with resource-conserving technologies.

TENCEL™️’s sustainability compares favorably when compared with conventionally grown cotton, as the eucalyptus farming that produces the raw materials for TENCEL™️, doesn’t require the spraying of potential pollutants. This patented fiber is completely biodegradable, and to implement its own circular manufacturing process, Lenzing is currently taking action for TENCEL™️ fiber to have net-zero emissions by 2050.

The road ahead

While fiber producers like Lenzing have long-ingrained sustainable practices to enable brands like Patagonia and Reformation to support an eco-friendly ethos, many fast fashion and luxury brands, from H&M to Burberry, have recognised the significant journey ahead to meet their targets.

Ulrika Nordvall Bardh, circular economy lead at H&M Group, told Vogue Business, “We completely agree that much more progress is needed. The pace we had in the past 10 years, for example, cannot be the pace for the next decade.”

With more than 60% of the world’s textiles being used for clothing, fast fashion has played a detrimental role in the impact of synthetic fabric on the environment. Low-cost clothing turned around quickly to mimic the latest luxury fashion trends, meaning costly emissions are required to power rapid design, patterning, manufacturing and delivery.

According to Changing Markets, disposability is key to the environmental impact, with clothing brands admitting it only takes ten washes before a poorly made item begins to show signs of wear and tear.

Brands on the bandwagon

Reformation has long been a front-runner for sustainable fibers, including TENCEL™️, recycled cotton and deadstock fibres. The brand intertwined its efforts with its marketing messaging, adding Sustainability Reports into its CRM circulation to give its customers a transparent view of the brand’s progress and goals.

Outdoor and athleisure brand, Patagonia, sought to reduce energy use and emissions during its manufacturing processes long before sustainability became one of fashion’s biggest drawcards. Using TENCEL™️ fiber in a number of categories, and as one of the early adopters of organic cotton, Patagonia has continued to innovate with collections made from fabrics like recycled nylon, regenerative cotton and hemp.

International retail giants Uniqlo and Zara have additionally joined the sustainable fibers movement over the last few years. Uniqlo as part of their pledge, use raw cotton made with finite resources and energy for their cotton shirting ranges. Meanwhile, Zara has made the commitment for 100% of its viscose fabrics to be sustainable by 2023, and 100% of its cotton, linen and polyester fabrics to be sustainable by 2025.

After the deadstock PR disaster, Burberry has renewed its goals, pledging to be climate positive by 2040 and reducing supply chain emissions by 46% by 2030.

Sustainable fabrics vs. trend demand

It’s no secret the pandemic has heightened the awareness for sustainable fashion while influencing the types of clothing people wore during lockdown. So, how can brands meet consumer demand at pace, as well as integrate sustainable fabrics into their ranges? 

Demand 1: The Circular Market

Fashion and luxury resale market is expected to grow to US$65 billion by 2024, with many retailers facing the pressure to offer a resale or archive category, and to be visible on resale platforms. J Brand’s sister brand with a major denim category, Madewell, has opted for TENCEL™️ Denim to be at the heart of their denim offerings, as well as several other categories. Madewell completes the customer journey with a resale category, enabling customers to return their goods for subsequent purchase. The same can be said for Mara Hoffman, who is at the forefront of luxury eco-friendly practices, crafting a significant number of pieces from TENCEL™️  fiber and giving customers the option to sell their previous purchases on the brand’s website.

Demand 2: Comfortable Dressing

A dominant theme across SS21 collections, the relaxed and oversized silhouettes are already trending and continue to be popular in the mass market. As validated by data, clothes that allow the transition from lounging at home to jumping on video calls are seeing a significant increase in intake and demand. The challenge is for brands to achieve luxurious-feeling fabrics that tick the sustainable fabric box.

In Kim Jones’ Fendi collection he pointed out the ethical abundance of shearling; the sheep and lamb by-product, and explained that his choice stemmed from two questions, “a) What does the customer want and b) What can we do ethically?” Luxury brands like Chloe, Coach and Chanel opted for shearling iterations of their iconic fall designs, cementing it as a major trend for the coming year.  Fibers like TENCEL™️, silk, wool, organic cotton and linen offer themselves to the WFH trends of now; soft tailoring, hand-knitted sweaters, wide-leg denim, silk trousers and dresses, and relaxed-fitting pantsuits.

Demand 3: Activewear

With the activewear market accounting for 40% of all online sales last year, there is an ongoing focus on sustainably sourced technical fabrics that brands need to keep up with.

Australian activewear brand NAGNATA, is at the forefront of keeping up with industry demand, adopting a seasonless offering crafted from Merino wool, organic cotton and recycled fabrics, and working towards removing virgin synthetics from their product.

A number of brands are using Econyl, a fabric constructed with regenerated nylon, and is designed to perform exactly the same as brand new nylon. TENCEL™️ is another solution of branded fibers which can be considered for activewear, as the cellulosic fibers are naturally structured to manage the transportation of moisture.

Key Takeaways

For brands and retailers looking to build consumer trust with their sustainable efforts, they must champion a long-term strategy that adheres to the principles of a circular economy: design without waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems.

The highest performing brands in this area pledge their commitments to combine all facets of the business; from the production cycle to resale category offerings, and fostered through marketing channels and CRM.

By acquiring competitor and product analyses, brands can choose the right sustainable materials to uphold the quality of their products, and compete in the demand-driven market. Ultimately, brands and retailers should be able to communicate their goals, their milestones, and their sustainable material choices authentically to their customers – to increase loyalty and drive growth.

About the Author

Before her current fashion content writer role at Omnilytics, Aqilah Zailan was already decoding trends in the retail space. She now produces articles for Omnilytics’ blog and continues to keep a keen eye on shifting trends in the fashion industry.