The greening of the apparel industry is a significant and evolving trend that is likely to affect every facet of this enormous global industry. Under both internal and external pressure to reduce the environmental impact of growing, processing, treating and dyeing fibers and to eliminate exploitation and inequities in labor practices, textile and apparel companies are eager to show consumers a new, sustainable approach to fashion without sacrificing style or profit.
At the consumer and retail level, this trend is evident in a growing number of designers, manufacturers and marketers making sustainable claims. “Sustainable apparel” is an umbrella concept that includes some or all of these practices:
Use of certified organic natural fibers (wool, cotton, linen)
Use of highly renewable fibers (bamboo, soy)
Use of low-impact synthetic or recycled fibers
Use of non-toxic or reduced-toxicity fiber processes and treatments
Use of low-impact or natural dyes
Design and color choices aimed at longevity rather than planned obsolescence
Fair trade, ethical labor practices, and elimination of child labor and other exploitation
Reduced energy use throughout the product life cycle
Minimal or environmentally appropriate packaging
Consumer awareness, grown through the organic foods movement (and more recently, the local foods drive) and other health and environmental concerns, is creating a heightened sensitivity to all dimensions of ethical production. As a result, companies must avoid “greenwashing” and create transparent, consistent and substantive sustainability and social responsibility initiatives. However, lack of standards and regulation, and a proliferation of claims and labels, leaves room for very broad interpretations of sustainable apparel.
In this environment, manufacturers and marketers of all kinds -- tiny boutiques to huge mass-market chains, low-end to high-end pricing, brand identities including yoga clothing, infant clothes, glamorous designer fashions, menswear, outerwear - are seeking to identify themselves as sustainability minded and authentic. Wal-Mart is the largest purchaser of certified organic cotton, but many emerging designers are also aiming in the same direction. There is pressure on the supply chain, and pressure to quickly develop new technologies and systems that will demonstrate an environmentally and socially conscious commitment.
Though sales figures are hard to pinpoint in this rapidly growing and emerging market, the report quantifies international figures. The report also estimates the growth of the market and identifies both opportunities and challenges for existing and new market entries.