Posted on




New data from Drapers reveals that there is still “a significant level of confusion” surrounding sustainable and ethical fashion among shoppers. Consumers say they want to do the right thing but are faced with the uncertainty of how to make the ‘sustainable’ decision.

This ambiguity is reflected in the fashion industry itself, with no blueprint for what true sustainability looks like, no global understanding of best practice and no centralised leadership, how is the sector meant to define and lead on what it means to be sustainable?


According to sustainability fashion forum Global Fashion Agenda (GFA), up to 73% of the world’s clothing                                                        ends up in landfill and less than
1% of materials used to produce clothing are recycled into new clothing.

The number of times clothes are worn has been reduced by a third, compared to the early 2000’s and total clothing sales are expected to reach 160 million tonnes in 2050, says the GFA.

Fashion retailers are selling more clothes than ever, and consumers are wearing them less than ever.

By 2050 the equivalent of three planets may be needed to provide the natural resources required to maintain current levels of consumption, of which fashion is a major contributor, says the UN. The fashion industry is in crisis.

The average consumer today buys 60% more pieces of clothing than they did 15 years ago, and each item is kept half as long.


Fashion Revolution’s 2021 Transparency Index, which rates 250 of the biggest apparel brands on their supply chain disclosures each year, found only 14% published the annual quantity of products produced. 

When it came to circularity schemes, 27% offered a recycling program, 18% offer product repairs and 14% had alternative business models such as renting and reselling in place.

If the fashion industry continues on its current trajectory, it will also miss its 2030 carbon emissions reduction target, set in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, by 50% warns the GFA.

4 billion items of apparel were bought in the UK alone in 2019, according to the British Fashion Council.

It is clear that the industry must act fast and it must act now, but what can be done to make a difference?

More than $500 bn (£366 bn) of value is lost every year in the fashion industry due to the lack of recycling and reselling, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

According to The British Fashion Council’s (BFC) Institute of Positive Fashion (IPF) Circular Fashion Ecosystem Report, which was published in September, we need to reduce the volume of new physical clothing both being produced and bought, which requires a huge step change in behaviour from both fashion retailers and consumers alike.

In its report, the industry body has called for a complete overhaul of fashion retail and consumption. It is appealing for fashion brands to reduce the demand for new clothes by 50%, and for consumers to halve their annual purchases of new clothes, replacing them with pre-owned, rented or repaired outfits. 

Changing manufacturing methods can only do so much - it is clear that too much fashion is being produced and thrown away, and very little of it is recycled. 


According to Drapers new ‘Sustainability and the Consumer 2021’ study, 75% of consumers think about sustainability at least part of the time when they shop for fashion. 

Consumers want fashion to be more sustainable, but they do not always feel able to make a sustainable choice at the point of purchase. The scale and complexity of the whole topic means that consumers don’t fully understand the issues around sustainability and how it is quantified.

Nearly four-fifths (77%) of those surveyed said that they find it difficult to research or understand sustainability claims, so improving people’s understanding of sustainability, in relation to fashion, is going to be critical if the industry is to reverse its impact on the environment.

In its report, Drapers asked consumers what the most important aspects of sustainable fashion are for them. Fair pay for workers throughout the supply chain came out top: with 60% of shoppers highlighting it as important, and recycled materials and the circular economy came in second, with 54% of shoppers flagging it as important. 

Consumers say they want to see more leadership from fashion brands and retailers: to target over production, educate and guide by clearly labelling products and materials; to adopt sustainable materials and technologies; to facilitate closed-loop recycling opportunities; increase transparency of the materials used and how they can be repaired, upcycled or recycled; and ultimately sell garments that are designed for longevity and circularity. But it is clear a lot more needs to be done.

For fashion shoppers, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing to become more sustainable. Consumers can consider a balanced approach when it comes to purchasing. For example, buying some pieces from Zara but buying staples from a circular fashion label that can fully quantify how much recycled fibre is in every garment and therefore how much fibre has been prevented from going to landfill. Consumers can all do something now, which in itself will make an enormous difference.

7 ways fashion consumers can make an impact now, says the GFA:

1. Treasure what you own to extend the longevity of your clothing.

2. Borrow don’t buy – if you need something for a one-off occasion rent it or borrow from a friend.

3. Resell clothes so they get a second life (a resold dress reduces its CO2 impact by 79%).

4. Repair clothes if they break.

5. Recycle garments beyond repair – do not throw them out!

6. Shop less and buy smarter by shopping vintage, second-hand and circular fashion labels.

7. Make it last – invest in high quality and timeless pieces.

Brought to you by London W11, the world’s first circular cashmere brand.