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6 Transformative Trends That Will Define the Future of Sustainable Fashion in 2024

Updated: Jan 24

By: Dikeledi Alocia Ngakane - Dustee Creations

Sustainable fashion

In 2023, the fashion industry's approach towards sustainability portrayed a complex and somewhat paradoxical scenario. On the one hand, the industry acknowledged the pressing need to implement sustainable practices and duly recognized the significance of its sustainability commitments. It admitted that fundamental changes were required and that emerging technologies and tools had immense potential to minimize the industry's ecological and social impact.

Despite many available solutions, many brands remained hesitant to fully commit to pilot projects, capsule collections, and low-risk initiatives. This reluctance stemmed from several factors, including the perceived risk of new technologies, the cost of implementing sustainable solutions, uncertainties about their effectiveness, and a wait-and-watch approach, hoping that other companies would test the waters first.

Although practical tools were readily available for a sustainable transition, many companies preferred to observe outcomes and challenges from afar before committing themselves. This cautious stance of letting others lead the way in adopting new practices led to a lack of commitment from many companies.

Numerous sustainability solutions, although promising, necessitated long-term commitments from brands to scale up their operations and meet demand. Unfortunately, only a handful were willing to take the risk and serve as the vanguards.

Consequently, the transition towards sustainability in the industry during 2023 was less decisive and slower than it could have been. Despite industry leaders' predictions of it being the breakout year, several brands opted for low-risk commitments that did not fundamentally challenge the existing business model or disrupt their established market strategies.

Taking Risks to Bring About Significant Change in Sustainable Fashion

As we kick off the new year, the fashion industry faces a crucial moment in balancing sustainability with innovation. Old ways won't open new doors, and the fashion industry is under increasing pressure to take meaningful action on climate change.

There's a lot of buzz around the idea that more brands will emerge as pioneers in 2024, embracing fresh ideas and bold leadership and setting a new standard for social and environmental responsibility in fashion. These brands will be essential in directing the industry towards fundamental transformation.

In the upcoming year, we will highlight the main themes that will mold the future of sustainable fashion.

Authentically cooperative alliances to expand next-generation materials

So, in 2024, the fashion industry will focus more on new materials that are better for the environment. They want to use materials that don't need as many resources, follow the rules about the environment, and make people happy because they are sustainable.

Biofluff got $2.5 million to make their plant-based fur better. Spiber also made a collection using Brewed ProteinTM, which is super innovative. They got a lot of money and worked with others to create new things. But using these new materials with the old clothes-making methods still needs to be more accessible.

Brands often get stuck in a rut, trying out new materials, but need help fitting them into their supply chains because material producers have limitations. However, if material innovators want to grow their operations and satisfy market demand, brands must commit to a more extended period.

Take the case of bolt threads, for instance. They're known for their Mylo mycelium material, and even big brands like Adidas, Stella McCartney, and Kering showed interest and supported them. However, Bolt Threads needed help to keep up with the demand because it took a lot of work to scale up production due to financial constraints. So they had to pause production.

Looking ahead to 2024, we might see brands working together more to use fancy new materials in their products. Regulations and what customers want will push them in this direction. Instead of just making short-term or limited collections, we could see more long-term partnerships between brands and material innovators. This will help them plan things better and avoid problems with new materials.

Unveiling the Truth: Authorities Ramp Up Efforts to Combat Misleading Green Claims

Companies are under increased scrutiny regarding their ecological claims as global concerns about environmental sustainability continue to mount. In 2023, several major brands, including H&M and Nike, were subject to legal challenges over allegations of misleading sustainability claims. This has underscored the importance of providing consumers with accurate and substantiated information as they increasingly demand transparency and verifiable data about a product's environmental impact.

As the regulatory landscape for sustainable marketing continues to evolve, particularly under the leadership of the European Union, companies must ensure that their environmental claims meet the highest standards of transparency and factual accuracy. In this changing environment, businesses that prioritize and communicate their genuine commitment to sustainability will be well-positioned to succeed.

As policymakers increasingly focus on developing standards that affect consumer industries, particularly fashion, we can expect more strict rules to crack down on misleading environmental claims and greenwashing in 2024. Customers will also likely expect more extensive verification of sustainable efforts and penalize firms that fail to provide.

We can expect a higher level of responsibility when more strict regulations arise. Brands will likely become more cautious in their marketing methods in 2024, focusing on substantiating and credible environmental claims. As a result of this transformation, consistent industry definitions for environmental words may be developed and used, enhancing consumer and industry understanding and trust.

Empowering Garment Workers: How Their Activism is Holding Brands Accountable

In 2023, there was a boom in garment worker protests worldwide, with Bangladesh taking the lead.

Thousands of garment workers came to the streets to demand higher salaries after the government announced an increase in the minimum wage, which, according to garment workers and labor rights organizations, fell well short of a livable wage. The government's stance hardened as the protests intensified, echoing the workers' growing despair and frustration. Between October and November, almost 100 garment workers and labor activists were imprisoned. Tragically, four people were killed, and countless more were injured during these rallies, while thousands of workers, including those from big fashion business suppliers, faced blanket accusations.

Ethical fashion trade associations, encompassing more than 2,500 global brands, suppliers, and retailers, responded by writing to Bangladesh's Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, to propose a collaborative approach to bringing wages into line with international labor standards and reevaluating the minimum wage.

As a show of support, eight US Representatives—among them Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—wrote an open letter to the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) highlighting the vital role that AAFA member companies play in actively advocating for living wages for garment workers given their significant influence in Bangladesh. The letter specifically urged US brands to support the workers' demand for a minimum salary of 23,000 BDT ($208 monthly).

Beyond just wages, the letter demanded that violence against workers stop, that the wage-setting process be improved, that long-term sourcing relationships be guaranteed, and that brands effectively use their influence to ensure that workers receive fair remuneration, among other crucial demands.

The solidarity extended beyond Bangladesh alone, encompassing various regions. In 2023, activists and labor advocates worldwide intensified their efforts through social media campaigns, innovative hoaxes, and targeted demonstrations at events to confront global fashion brands and hold them responsible for safeguarding the well-being and rights of workers in their supply chains.

As we enter 2024, this momentum remains solid and unwavering. Labor advocates and garment workers are joining forces more than ever to address the unequal power dynamics within the fashion industry and advocate for comprehensive transformation.

US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand recently reintroduced the Fabric Act, a significant legislative effort to protect the rights of garment workers and promote domestic manufacturing. The bill includes provisions such as a $50 million support program for domestic garment manufacturing and prohibiting payment schemes that exploit workers. One of its main goals is to hold brands accountable for the labor practices of their manufacturing partners.

If the Fabric Act is passed, it could serve as a model for similar legislation worldwide. This could lead to a global policy shift, with more governments implementing regulations to safeguard garment workers' rights.

As a result of increased legislation and activism, there may be a stronger focus on transparency within the fashion industry. Brands might be compelled to provide more information about their supply chains, including where and how garments are made. This growing awareness and consumer demand for ethical considerations will push brands to prioritize sustainability efforts and adopt responsible production methods. Additionally, they may invest in technologies that enable greater transparency in their supply chains.

Purchasing Transparency-Supporting Technologies

In 2023, the fashion industry showed a strong interest in Digital Product passports (DPPs) and QR codes. Introducing new regulations, such as the EU's Digital Product Passport legislation, was primarily responsible for this. This shift towards DPPs and QR codes brings about greater transparency, sustainability, and the adoption of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR holds manufacturers accountable for the environmental impact of their products throughout their entire lifecycle.

The integration of these digital tools into the fashion sector has multiple benefits. Firstly, it allows brands to accurately track each product from its manufacturing stage to its end-of-life. This traceability helps identify areas where the supply chain can improve efficiency and sustainability. "It also plays a crucial role in preventing the circulation of counterfeit products and ensuring the authenticity of genuine ones."

DPPs facilitate the exchange of information between manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, and recyclers. This shared transparency ensures that everyone in the supply chain can access consistent information, promoting collaboration and coordination. It also helps maintain uniform quality standards and ethical practices in the industry.

For consumers, scanning a QR code provides access to a product's digital passport, which contains reliable information about its origins, materials, environmental impact, and ethical considerations. When companies are transparent about their products, it helps us make better choices that match our values and environmental concerns. So, when we know more about the products we buy, we can choose ones that align with our beliefs.

In addition to transparency, DPPs are vital in transitioning the industry towards a circular economy. Detailed information about materials and manufacturing processes enables individuals to make informed decisions about recycling or repurposing products at the end of their lifecycle. Correctly handling materials play a vital role in enhancing the efficiency of the recycling process.

Focus on Repairs

The apparel retail industry witnessed tremendous growth in the resale segment in 2023, with no indications of slowing down.

Throughout the year, numerous brands introduced e-commerce initiatives, viewing them as opportunities for economic gain and environmental benefits. However, the impact of these resale programs on sustainability varies. The critical factor in determining a program's environmental effectiveness lies in its structure and ability to redirect revenue streams from manufacturing new products to reselling existing ones. Unfortunately, many of the current resale programs in the fashion industry primarily focus on selling new products rather than shifting revenue from recent product sales to servicing and selling existing products among multiple owners.

Beyond simply reselling used goods, a circular economy should emphasize extending the life of these products via upkeep and repairs. Even though resale and take-back programs are growing, people rarely repair clothing because of the high costs and time constraints. And logistical challenges; additionally, the fashion industry's current linear business model discourages brands from offering repairs because it is more profitable to sell new products; and finally, there is a discrepancy between the expectations of consumers regarding the quality, cost, and timeliness of repairs versus the actual results, which further complicates the transition to a sustainable, repair-oriented strategy.

By 2024, we must enforce more stringent laws to tackle deceptive sustainability claims. Companies that promote new products as sustainable to attract consumers should not be allowed to get away with such gimmicks. For brands to genuinely prioritize sustainability in their resale initiatives, they should adopt a different strategy. Rather than only encouraging consumers to purchase new products to engage them, they should also focus on lowering the demand for new production, which can be achieved by providing repair and maintenance services.

In 2024, people may view resale programs that predominantly promote buying new products as marketing strategies instead of authentic sustainability efforts.

Regulators are likely to tighten regulations and actively combat misleading sustainability claims.

Brands that prioritize sustainability in their resale initiatives must reconsider their strategy.

They should focus on reducing the need for new production by incorporating repair and maintenance services rather than encouraging new purchases to attract customers.

As more and more people start to care about what they buy, it's become essential for companies to show that they care, too. If a company wants to win customers, it must be committed to sustainability and responsible consumption. In this context, investing in repair services can be a strategic decision for businesses, helping build an accountable reputation and fostering deeper customer connections. In a competitive landscape where loyalty and trust are essential, incorporating repair services into business operations can be a valuable way to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and responsible business practices.

In 2024, the fashion industry will make significant progress and innovate. It will leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to revolutionize supply chain management and design creativity. The fashion ecosystem will embed sustainability in every layer, and six significant themes will significantly influence the industry.

Another essential aspect to watch out for is the industry's growing commitment to biodiversity and regenerative practices. The shift in focus is moving away from merely reducing harm to actively fostering environmental healing and regeneration.

At this crucial moment, the fashion industry has a significant opportunity to shape a better, more sustainable future. The decisions and innovations made in 2024 will shape the future of sustainable fashion.

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