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Insight into sustainable fashion

A report co-authored by two Cambridge Judge Business School alumni looks at the promise and challenges of sustainable fashion.

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Olabisi Adesida

The “Sustainable Fashion Blueprint 2018“, co-authored by Diane Albouy and Olabisi Adesida who are both alumni of the Cambridge MBA class of 2016, reviews consumer perception of the fashion industry, as well as the roles of businesses and consumers in promoting sustainability in fashion.

The report was produced in collaboration with sustainable fashion marketplace, Mamoq, during Diane and Olabisi’s MBA programme at Cambridge Judge, as part of the Social Innovation Special Interest Group student initiative. Mamoq is currently on one of the Cambridge Social Ventures programmes run by the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation.

The first part of the report is an overview of the fashion industry – or in other words the Textile, Clothing, Leather and Footwear (TCLF) sector – which in 2016 was worth one trillion euros globally. If it were a country, this sector would be the seventh-largest economy, just behind the UK and France and it employs around 300 million workers. At the same time, the TCLF sector is the second-most polluting industry, as it requires huge resources of water and land.

Diane Albouy

According to the Mamoq Fashion Survey, which was conducted for the report, consumers identified barriers to sustainable fashion such as high price, insufficient visibility or customer knowledge and limited style. While the top three criteria for purchasing clothing were fit, price and style, sustainability deemed important by 57 per cent of consumers.

The report says sustainability is gaining traction in the fashion world as more consumers are leading a change in shopping habits – particularly Millennials and Generation Zs (roughly, people born between the early 1980’s to early 2000’s). But the concept of sustainable fashion is still unclear as it can mean different things to different people.

The founders of Mamoq, Madeline Petrow and Lenny Leemann, define “sustainable fashion” as “the design, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of apparel with respect and consideration for the health and longevity of our natural environment, and the welfare of the animals and humans involved.”

So, what can companies do to become more sustainable in the fashion world?

The report suggests six initiatives:

  1. Apply recycling and circular economy principles.
  2. Build business that gives back to society and nature.
  3. Produce apparel that will last longer.
  4. Optimise the use of resources, both human and natural.
  5. Revamp the supply chain.
  6. Push boundaries by using new technologies such as 3D printing and artificial intelligence.

Among the biggest challenges for companies seeking sustainability are staying power and impact on profit. “In order to implement sustainable fashion principles, incumbents will need to make long-term commitments and investments while new entrants will face high barriers to entry and scalability challenges,” the report says. Despite this, sustainable fashion principles “will help businesses upgrade their operating models to address industry challenges and cater to powerful, informed consumers.”

The report emphasises that both companies and consumers have roles to play in sustainable fashion.
For companies, co-authors Diane and Olabisi suggest dedicating resources to create and implement sustainable principles, committing to transparency, and encouraging sustainable initiatives. Consumers aiming to make a difference can take such steps as taking care of clothes, recycling and doing research about brands before buying.

The authors said:

Partnering with Mamoq was a unique opportunity to revisit an industry that has a pivotal role in our society as a key employer, an engine for economic growth and a catalyst for consumers to express their own personality. We started the report as we were interested in exploring the potential of sustainability in minimising the challenges of the fashion industry and the role of businesses and consumers in implementing sustainable principles.

Diane and Olabisi hope this report will encourage people to further explore sustainable fashion for themselves and act as a foundation in their self-guided learning and future shopping habits.