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Taking a Closer Look at Retail Sustainability

5 MINUTE READ | April 22, 2019

Taking a Closer Look at Retail Sustainability

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Amy Robinson

Amy Robinson has written this article. More details coming soon.

It’s here, friends. Earth Day is a worldwide demonstration of environmental protection that started in 1970 when millions of people began protesting the negative impacts of 150+ years of industrial development. The growing problem of smog, pesticides, and other pollutants caused people to become more aware of the need to better protect and preserve the environment. Now, people use this day to celebrate sustainability, fight pollution and contribute to environmental protection initiatives. In celebration of today, we’re taking a closer look at retail sustainability and what consumers and brands are doing to protect the Earth.

The fashion industry is one of the leaders in creating waste and pollution due to the harsh chemicals needed to make the fabric and textiles, the amount of water used, and unwanted clothes that end up in landfills. Fast fashion is especially wasteful because once something is considered “last season,” it is rendered useless and tossed out. So much so that roughly 10.5 million tons of MSW textiles ended up in landfills according to data collected by the EPA. Synthetic materials used in some textiles could take hundreds of years to decompose.

It has long been debated that fast fashion is dying, but people are actually buying more these days, but it’s a different type of clothing than you might expect. Now more than ever, consumers are getting back to the basics; buying pieces that can be worn more frequently and layered with other ‘basics’ clothing or paying special attention to eco-friendly, locally-sourced, and sustainable products.

For example, rather than buying shirts that are trendy — we all remember the popcorn shirts — consumer’s prefer buying shirts that can be paired with several different outfits for years to come and are made from organic cotton or more eco-friendly materials.

Despite the headway made by global brands pledging for cleaner and more sustainable practices, consumers are still rapidly buying clothing (that may be more sustainable than fast fashion), but as the climate continues to worsen and consumers have easier access to more clothing brands to choose from, there’s a lot more we can do to alter our shopping behavior to make better choices for the planet.

One way to contribute is choosing products that are locally made or uses more eco-friendly materials, such as hemp or organic cotton.

According to a report by the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), 93 percent of global consumers expect more from the brands they use to support social and environmental issues. So, it is no surprise that brands are hopping on the sustainability train and those that don’t are being left behind. With consumers doing more research than ever before buying, it means that brands can’t just ‘greenwash.’

Greenwashing, or promises of taking steps toward environment-friendly practices without implementing any real action into their supply chain, is causing brands to be less transparent about how they are supporting conservation or fighting climate change, and at the same time, lose customers. A recent study from Label Insight showed that 73% of consumers would be willing to pay more for a product that offers complete supply chain transparency.

Luckily, some brands are on the bleeding edge and doing their part to become more eco-friendly by implementing sustainability policies and pledging profits and human capital to environmental causes. Eighty fashion companies took the Destination Zero pledge through Greenpeace in a commitment to cut hazardous chemicals from their clothing production by 2020. Even fast fashion giant H&M made the pledge and has since made headway — they even offer customers the option of dropping off unwanted clothing for a 15% discount in stores. Brands like Patagonia offer clothing repair to help your favorite items last even longer.

We are seeing more retailers create less trendy and more longevity-focused products. For example, Madewell had their Better than Basics campaign designed to include more staple pieces that are easily paired with others, and serve as great go-to items. With more people opting for the Marie Kondo method (if it doesn’t make you happy, ditch it), who wouldn’t want more products that look and feel good, and are better for the environment?

Progress towards a more sustainable fashion industry has been made, but we have a long way to go. As a consumer, there are many things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint such as recycling unwanted clothing items, purchasing items that are meant to last for a longer period of time, purchasing from eco-conscious brands as well as opting for second-hand clothing. Head down to your favorite thrift store to buy that great popcorn shirt for that 90s party coming up rather than buying it online! There are many ways consumers, as well as brands, can do their part.

If you want to learn more about what you can do to implement more sustainable practice into your own shopping habits, click here to find out more.

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