Looking back at the year 2022 in light of the sustainability efforts of the textile and apparel industry, two topics stood out: textile recycling and greenwashing. In view of the growing mountains of discarded clothing and textiles, more has to be done in the area of textile-to-textile recycling so that no virgin materials are used. Efforts to this end were made throughout the year.
Greenwashing also took center stage - that is, the portrayal of actions, projects or initiatives as “green” when they are not. This could be done to cover up doing “business as usual” or often simply out of ignorance. 2022 has shown that the industry can no longer get away with half-hearted efforts and is now also legally liable.
As in previous years, FashionUnited has put together the best efforts by brands and retailers. Here is a quick overview, month-by-month, to review the sustainability highlights of 2022.
In January, FashionUnited presented five sustainable shoe brands as well as an initiative for recycling underwear. Global sustainability initiative Fashion for Good introduced its “D(r)ye Factory of the Future” project, which aims to accelerate the transition from wet to dry processing. Brands such as Adidas, Canada Goose and Pronovia also made their presence felt this month.
February was all about the hunt for alternative, sustainable materials but also brands’ and retailers’ efforts to offer more sustainable collections and stores. New brands simply start sustainably like the womenswear labels that FashionUnited presented. Resale sites also popped up as well as various partnerships. Last but not least, there is a trend among young people to make their clothes at home rather than buying fast fashion.
March saw a number of initiatives that addressed the industry's actual sustainability efforts and their impact on the environment. Innovation was at the forefront of a few initiatives and brands and retailers stepped up their efforts on circularity and transparency, for example Frame, Miomojo and Parade.
On 22nd April, the world celebrated another Earth Day, which is intended to encourage a general appreciation of nature and a rethinking of our consumer behaviour. The fashion industry also timed some initiatives accordingly, such as the publication of impact tools (Parade, Vestiaire Collective) and new, more sustainable collections or efforts by brands and retailers. A study looked critically at how sustainable the footwear industry is, while a new report stated that retailers are not on track to meet sustainability targets. The MaterialDistrict show in the first week of April uncovered the possibilities of human waste in textile production. Otherwise, recyclable products and new resale platforms were also hot this month.
Just as spring brought a renewal in the natural world, sustainable initiatives also enlivened the fashion industry, which were numerous and varied this month. Changes need to be achieved, for example, through next generation and pioneering materials, and the constantly expanding resale market, which will more than double by 2026.
FashionUnited visited C&A’s new flagship factory where jeans are produced competitively (thanks to automation), fair (made in EU) and sustainably (denim fabric made from organic cotton) in the heart of Germany. Innovations were also shown by the H&M Foundation with garments that absorb CO2 from the air and Stella McCartney with the first commercial luxury bag made from Mycel.
As the year progresses, there is one buzz word that keeps cropping up every month - greenwashing. Nobody wants to do it yet somebody is doing it as an industry watchdog recently revealed that fashion brands account for a quarter of all greenwashing complaints. At Shoptalk Europe 2022 at the beginning of the month, British designer Anya Hindmarch took a regenerative approach and said that sustainability starts with common sense while an article investigated how the future of fashion should be designed in collaboration with nature.
There was no sign of a summer slump in terms of sustainability, on the contrary: in July, several studies were published that provided us with plenty of reading material during the hot days, for example on the ubiquitous topic of greenwashing, but also on textile recycling and consumption. On brand and resale side, there was quite some activity too, and long-awaited fashion fairs took place in a physical format again.
August and September were eventful months in terms of more sustainable fashion. In the area of shoes, there were ground-breaking innovations such as a sneaker made out of rubber and plant oils and one out of carbon emissions. This was also the time to go all out to save the environment - while the owner of one outdoor giant gave away his company to do so, a state legislator pledged 10 million US dollars. But that is not all - Swedish recycling company Renewcell started the first commercial textile-to-textile recycling plant while others looked at recycling polycotton.
Much was happening in October in terms of sustainable efforts in the textile and apparel industry -- from regenerative cotton farming for denim and more sustainable materials to circular approaches. A new report revealed that the resale market tripled in just two years and an international sustainable design project brought together different European schools.
As in previous years, November was all about Black Friday and discount battles. However, more and more brands and retailers are refusing to participate in this glorification of consumption at the expense of the environment. Instead, they are focusing on long-lasting, sustainable basics, taking back clothes or not selling them at all or simply boycotting Black Friday.
November also saw the first Made in Bangladesh Week, which made sustainability a central theme alongside safety and cooperation. FashionUnited attended the Sustainable Leadership Award, which was jointly organised by the BGMEA and GIZ for the third time and awarded to 18 sustainable factories in Bangladesh.
The Global Fashion Agenda launched a new film series on sustainability, while a new report shows increased emissions from the fashion industry in 2022. Another one found that consumers from countries including the UK, US, Germany, and Japan need to reduce their carbon footprint from fashion consumption to align the fashion industry with the 1.5°C temperature target of the Paris Agreement.
In December, in addition to exciting industry collaborations and the announcement of upcoming trade fairs with a sustainability focus, there were studies to read again that examined, among other things, fashion's growth surpassing sustainability efforts, according to a new report by Wrap. Thus, it was more than timely when the Institut Français de la Mode (IFM) invited the industry to “rethink fashion” and maybe reboot in its annual seminar. Vestiaire Collective co-founder Sophie Hersan pondered how Gen Z enters luxury consumerism with secondhand.