Sustainable fashion is becoming a household topic—perhaps because we are moving further towards the point of no return. The fashion industry is the one of the largest contributor to environmental pollution, and the public was beginning to acknowledge it.
Not only is the general public more aware of the urgency to develop a sustainable way-of-living, the fashion industry itself has also positioned sustainability in the foreground. Last year, at Shanghai Fashion Week 2018, Yehyehyeh founder Shaway Yeh hosted the open forum “Can Fashion be Sustainable?”, featuring key players of sustainable fashion development, such as Caroline Chalmer of Global Fashion Agenda.
Firms are also increasingly involved in developing more sustainable business models. Several brands have already come up with sustainability-centric plans for the future. The Kering group and LVMH, for example, are two behemoths of the luxury fashion industry, and both of them have vowed to commit to reducing the negative impacts of the industry.
Only just a few days ago, 32 companies signed the G7 Fashion Pact, which aims to stop climate change, protect biodiversity, and the oceans. Although this is undoubtedly a big step towards a more sustainable fashion industry, this pact also shows one significant problem: the brands and companies signing onto the project are predominantly Western. In fact, only one company—Ruyi Company—is based in Asia
Shandong Ruyi is one such company to begin placing emphasis on sustainable production. Ruyi is a textile and clothing company in Jining, and is one of the largest-
scale suppliers of cotton in the world. Recently, they made reducing carbon emissions one of their core principles, which is especially significant given that cotton production accounts for a significant amount of energy consumption and carbon emissions.
Specific steps that they have taken include eliminating all processes that creates a large amount of pollutants, uses a large amount of energy, as well as cutting out all processes that are not cost-effective. They have also pledged to adhere to a supply chain that utilises “green” methods, from design to production, for example, a new method that allows cotton production to be more efficient and effective.
However, Shandong Ruyi’s focus on sustainability is a rarity within most non-Western companies. In fact, apart from this, many sustainability initiatives are also not new to criticism. In the past, several companies have been criticised for “greenwashing”—using words such as “sustainability” or “go green” as buzzwords to promote their business without having any concrete plans for implementation.
This particular issue, however, revealed underlying problems that prevent non-Western companies (in particular, companies based in developing countries} from participating in such initiatives. For many developing countries, environmental preservation is a much lower priority than economic development. China has only recently begun to pay more attention to environmental conservation.
Perhaps this is partly due to the economic concerns of adopting more environmentally friendly strategies. Of course, this is a very valid concern. After all, corporations are birthed with the purpose of making profit. However, it should not go unmentioned that corporations are also under obligations to minimise their damage to the environment. The good news is that these two principles are not mutually exclusive.
In fact, it could be argued that the need to fulfill sustainability requirements encourages innovation. Ruyi’s forays into sustainable production led to the invention of a new process, which allowed a shorter production time while simultaneously reducing the raw materials and energy being used. This, in turn, leads to a reduction in cost, therefore potentially increasing profitability.
Apart from brands shifting their values to become more sustainable, certain brands have emerged, such as JNBY’s clothing line REVERB. REVERB produces clothing—mainly carrying athleisure wear—only from sustainable sources such as PET (microplastics). This gradual shift is perhaps the beginning of a new chapter, where environmental conservation has finally become a goal that the whole world is working towards.