Estimates are that around 10 per cent of global emissions are caused by the clothing industry. Kara Pecknold, Vice President of Regenerative Design at global creative consultancy frog, muses on the future of fashion during an ecological crisis.
When it comes to fashion, styles may change, but the environmental impact of the garments we buy will last far beyond any trend.
Fashion brands have the opportunity – and responsibility – to reduce their impact on the environment. A regenerative mindset can lead to clothing that makes both a statement and a difference. This involves creating sustainable products, launching innovative service models and pivoting toward values-driven communications strategies.
The opportunity ahead is to imbue deeper meaning into clothing design by marrying the hard truths about climate science with creativity.
According to the UN, the fashion industry is responsible for about 10 per cent of global emissions. From fast fashion to luxury lines, fashion has long sold the value of accumulating as many items as possible, contributing to its association with waste. The IPCC calls this status consumption.
Yet, clothing is essential and fashion is a vehicle for self-expression. The opportunity ahead is to imbue deeper meaning into clothing design by marrying the hard truths about climate science with creativity.
And the fashion industry is not alone in this ambition. Across all sectors, we see the urgent need for creative and regenerative solutions to the climate crisis. At frog our clients come to us not only looking to improve customer experience and grow their businesses, but also to reduce their contribution to the environmental and societal ills that affect us all.
Regenerative design is the art and science of giving back more than you take.
Regenerative design goes beyond sustainability to reckon with the real impact of business. With roots in agriculture and architecture, this approach aims to build structures, organisations and systems for society that are in line with the needs of the natural world. In short, regenerative design is the art and science of giving back more than you take. For any organisation, there are some straightforward methods for experimentation.
Getting around to circular strategies
Circular strategies are designed to reduce as much as waste as possible. For fashion, this means manufacturing items that last longer, give new life to old materials (through recycling and reuse), and close the loop between purchasing, wearing and discarding.
Primark is aiming to fight the trappings of fast fashion.
Primark is the latest example of a company producing durable clothing lines with its new circular product collection, which is based on principles established by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The chain aims to fight the trappings of fast fashion – and in turn play the long game with customer loyalty.
Patagonia is also pioneering circular strategies with a focus on making clothing last through its Worn Wear program. Touting the message “Keep your gear going,” customers can trade in their old garments for refurbished ones. This is a response to the 85 per cent of clothing that is destroyed – contributing to greenhouse emissions in the process – or ends up in landfills.
Patagonia's Worn Wear initiative encourages consumers to trade in and buy the brand's used clothing – and to fix garments they have.
Help customers reap what they sew
The pandemic refuelled interest in maker culture. From baking bread to DIY crafts, lockdown encouraged many to learn a new skill or spend time on creative pursuits. In a post-pandemic world, fashion can build on this trend, building dedicated communities around making, refurbishing, trading and upcycling.
To fight the negative impacts of fashion, clothing brands are seeing success by forming new partnerships with retailers and manufacturers that put reducing impact first.
Imagine, for instance, a textiles brand partnering with retailers to influence more sustainable making behaviours. Collaborating with influential designers could help encourage consumers to love what they make for as long as possible, driving deeper relationships with brands
Form collaborations that matter
When brands work together, they amplify their reach and demonstrate their values. To fight the negative impacts of fashion, clothing brands are seeing success by collaborating not just with other exclusive lines but forming new partnerships with retailers and manufacturers that put reducing impact first.
More than an ethical matter alone, greenwashing alienates consumers and catches the eye of regulators... Selling sustainability must be based in science and radical transparency about supply chains, manufacturing methods and social impact.
Take H&M’s collaboration with Berlin-based startup Made of Air. Made of Air’s carbon-negative materials permanently trap carbon from the atmosphere and have been used to create everything from sunglasses to jewellery. Through communicating the value of “creating beauty from waste,” H&M can help customers look at their purchases in a new, more meaningful light.
Fight the pitfalls of greenwashing
Of course, selling sustainability must be based in science and radical transparency about supply chains, manufacturing methods and social impact. More than an ethical matter alone, greenwashing alienates consumers and catches the eye of regulators. The EU’s Corporate Sustainability Directive is cracking down on greenwashers, mandating that brands reveal the true data behind their impact. In some cases, the EU will charge sizeable fines and threaten legal action against those who overstep with their communication strategies.
Embrace a regenerative mindset
Taking action toward sustainability, while an important step, is not enough. And it’s no easy feat. To challenge the status quo and make lasting change, it’s time to shift toward a regenerative design approach that acknowledges our dependency on a healthy planet.
It’s about expanding toward a broad, holistic lens on how to craft products, services and experiences – and telling the stories that clue customers into the benefits of more meaningful purchases.