Fashion Sustainability Trends in the 2020's - Benjamin Bellwether

Sustainability Trends in the 2020’s

A Bellwether Insight

Photo: Thomas Richter
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Sustainability is going to be what every single fashion business is talking about over the next few years. Companies won’t only be focused on whether your company is eco-friendly or if you have guidelines for workplace safety, but also the big question: will your company be around in 10 years? Here are the big fashion sustainability trends in the 2020’s we see happening so you can stay ahead of the curve.


It’s up to the brands

While consumers are increasingly saying they want sustainability, they aren’t actually buying that way. According to the Global Fashion Agenda’s Pulse Survey, across 5 countries, 75% of consumers view sustainability as extremely or very important, but only 16% consider sustainability when making a purchase.

We believe education is a big part of why a consumer doesn’t buy sustainable. Simply not knowing the impacts, and having fear that they don’t know much about sustainability, is pushing them to just buy a previous unsustainable purchase. We must also remember that the consumer is not Chief of Operations at the companies they shop either. It’s impossible for a consumer to know, much less control, the sustainability practices of a company outside of simple boycotts to influence the basics of supply and demand.

So, what does this mean? That brands have a moral obligation to become more transparent and institute sustainable business practices to benefit and inform the consumer. A company controls their budgets, supply chains and impacts; and, owns the levers to make real change. We understand that consumers want sustainability, shouldn’t we make it easy for them to buy it? Wouldn’t that make our products inherently more valuable?

Download the full resource guide to Fashion Sustainability Trends in the 2020’s.

The consumer reckoning

We are entering into an era of people confronting the effects of their actions. If a person turns a blind eye to one thing, another person suffers. In fashion, this becomes an all-important concept. If we pay $9 for a t-shirt…how can everyone make a living wage? How can we ensure the environment is cared for?

As we see more and more consequences of climate change, consumers will be educated on the impacts of how we buy and how we shape public policy to protect people who are affected by climate change. The cultural education around race, gender and income inequalities will fuel the need for people to start buying smarter.

What will this mean? That consumers will need to pay higher prices, do more research about buying while not actually buying as much, and be OK with that. The truth is that a $9 t-shirt does not cover the costs of paying our entire supply chain workforce a living wage, ensuring that our environmental impacts are reduced or offset, supporting a government-run recycling program for apparel or giving money back to charities that service our communities.

In order to build in the cost of true sustainability, consumers will have to pay more for better quality garments; and, be prepared to repair, reuse or recycle them in a way that extends the lifecycle.

We will move back to ‘whole’ fabrics

While this trend is probably not going to come to fruition until the end of the 2020’s, we see consumers understanding that a “whole” fabric (like 100% cotton or 100% recycled polyester) will be the better way to buy. This trend will come out of increased recycling regulation and community-driven recycling programs surrounding apparel and footwear.

With our current technology, it’s very difficult (in many cases impossible) to completely recycle a garment. The reason for this is the fiber blends that we have used over the past few decades. NPR reported 80% of garments purchased in the US contained elastane (spandex/Lycra), but elastane is 0% recyclable at the post-consumer stage. We use many fiber blends in a single garment, including cotton, nylon, polyester and more; but, we can’t actually recycle each component of the blend effectively.

The easiest way to recycle is to use 100% of a particular fiber in a fabric, so it can easily be broken down to either virgin or ‘recycled’ fibers. Given this fact, we will see a rise in innovative materials like merino wool for activewear or an even bigger increase in rPET from recycled plastic waste.
It will most likely be years before we see large scale innovation in recycling fiber blends, especially spandex, so consumers and brand alike will need to buy accordingly in the short term.

Download the full resource guide to Fashion Sustainability Trends in the 2020’s.

An increase in service jobs

The biggest trend that will fuel our sustainability as a society, and thus as businesses, will be the shift of people going into service jobs. Service jobs provide infrastructure and support for people to live their lives as well as companies to build products.

The benefits of service jobs for the average person is immense. First, it improves emotional intelligence, or the way we understand ourselves and the people around us; which, other than leading to an overall better society, is proven to help people succeed more quickly in their careers.

Secondly, it leads to increased problem solving capabilities and a large amount of transferable skills, so a person can more easily shift into a different line of work (which we know is happening more and more in the Millennial generation). Third, public interest jobs often come with better work/life balance, benefits, part-time opportunities and more positive work cultures.

We will first see consumers going into service jobs, but then companies will follow suit and start to use their products as a service. Innovative companies like Tesla are already envisioning this. They plan on providing Tesla customers with the option of using their vehicle as an auto-driving taxi while not in use, creating passive income for the vehicle owner and a huge amount of value within Tesla’s products. By focusing on how we can all help service the greater society will create a huge amount of inherent sustainability and value within our lives and the products that support it.

Chinese manufacturing will be left behind

Another trend that will coming to fruition towards the end of the 2020’s will be China’s new position within the apparel and footwear manufacturing matrix. We have already seen larger companies, who have traditionally been dependent on China, move their manufacturing to countries with lower duty rates and cheaper labor. Not to mention the growing concern over the Chinese government’s economic and political actions.

But, it’s important to realize that this doesn’t mean China won’t have a stake. One of the buzzworthy growth areas the fashion industry has seen is in Africa, where China has been investing money to grow manufacturing. While China’s manufacturing may be on the out, their investment in other areas of the world will still bring them monetary rewards.

The bigger trend here is that companies will be moving to a regional manufacturing strategy with quicker lead times, better duty rates and more personal relationships with their supply chain. Given that transparency and traceability will be a big focus of sustainability in the 2020’s, a regional strategy will ensure a company can efficiently track and deliver products, and know exactly where they came from and who handled them.

Download the full resource guide to Fashion Sustainability Trends in the 2020’s.