Founder and Material Futurist at biov8tion.
We asked sustainability consultant Sophie Mather to give us an industry perspective, based on her experience helping textile manufacturers, retailers and brands focus on pressing sustainable challenges.
What are the key pressures for your industry/ your clients in terms of sustainability?
The clothing industry has been under increasing pressure for the last 15+ years, both in regard to social and environmental challenges. My focus has been in addressing more environmental issues associated with the production of fabrics for clothing manufacturing. The sustainability agenda has changed considerably over that time, and although it started out very much around providing organic and fair trade cotton, today the agenda is very much based around:
- Waste - circular approaches to minimise waste and maximising raw material resources.
- Water - water use, and water effluent to ensure clean water is prioritised in the communities where materials are manufactured.
- Climate change – minimising the impact of the ways that we use our raw materials and production methods .
Where do those pressures come from: consumers, competitors, retailers, shareholders or politicians?
Ultimately the pressure to make change comes from policy and legislation at country, regional and global level. In addition to this, the industry receives a huge amount of pressure from environmental activists who want industry to clean up its manufacturing processes.
There are niche pockets where pressure comes from the consumer, but this tends to be more within the outdoor sector where consumers witness first-hand the effects of production on the environment.
What challenges does your industry face specifically in terms of meeting the growing sustainability agenda?
The biggest challenge and white elephant in the room is the increasing consumption by consumers. The clothing industry has become another throw away industry and while that trend continues, the industry is under increased pressure that no amount of innovation can solve.
Over the years we have seen how the consumer can become responsible in regard to plastic bag usage, and more recently single use plastics in general, but there is no option other than providing the consumer with the information they need to support responsible consumption of clothing.
We can and are doing our part in cleaning up the industry, but the consumer needs to pay a fair price for clothing to support more sustainable manufacturing methods, and consume consciously to ultimately enable the clothing industry to be more sustainable.
Which kinds of areas are your clients focusing on in terms of sustainability programmes?
The brands and retailers I work with have teams and resources focusing on sustainability at all levels. From working with the suppliers and developing product, to distribution and consumer-facing communication.
This is no longer a niche area on selected company agendas, but a main way of conducting business within our industry.
Do manufacturers in your industry have any formal/ informal means of working together to agree standards/ find solutions?
Since I have been working in this area, I have seen brands work to ‘solve’ issues alone, but due to the complexities of what needs to be done, we are now working with a truly collaborative industry.
The industry is very different today and I am increasingly amazed about how collaborative it is. We have come a very long way as an industry as far as how we work, with a portfolio of tools to support decision making. Today most of these tools are industry facing, but I see a future where we engage the consumer more with these so they can make conscious buying decisions.
In an ideal world, what you would you like to see happening in your industry to solve current climate and sustainability issues?
With the consumer interest in this area, I believe now is the time to empower the consumer to think and behave differently. This will need to be a joint commitment by consumer and brand, but what excites me is the array of new business models that are starting to come through that will enable consumers to update their wardrobes in new ways such as leasing, sharing and moving away from ownership models - such as we have seen with platforms like Spotify to stream music and Airbnb to share properties.
The near-term future is exciting and fresh, and I am looking forward to seeing how it can shape a more sustainable future for fashion.