The latest edition of Expo Riva Show, held this past 18 November, offered a panorama onto the five leading strategies of sustainability that we can expect to see put into action over the next 2-3 years in terms of product, material, and brand development, while allowing companies to remain competitive in the footwear and leather goods market. Explaining these strategies was Ailis Swords-McDonnell – Trend Expert at WGSN Mindset. 

Brands

The pandemic was a kind of ‘wake-up call’ with consumers developing an awareness about the impact of their purchasing habits on the environment, while also representing an opportunity for the industry and businesses to make changes in the system that are aimed at creating a more sustainable and inclusive future. To this end, brands are focusing on their own business models and their own business practices.

Made to Order (MTO), where the product process begins only after the order has been received from the customer, is without a doubt a starting point for many luxury brands in their orientation towards a more sustainable future. It is a concept that was then subsequently adopted by numerous brands belonging to various categories and different price ranges. Made to Order, in fact, is not limited to the waste associated with impulsive purchasing, but also involves consumers in the production process, helping to channel their emotions during the phase of purchasing.

Among the key strategies of sustainability in the fashion industry, we find circularity, which is connected to concepts like the reuse, recycling, and rental of clothing, practices that seem to be increasingly popular in the fashion industry. One example is the Nona Source programme launched this past April by the LVMH group, a B2B platform that allows designers and brands to purchase inventory fabrics and warehouse remnants in order to give life to new clothing. At the same time, clothing can be collected, cleaned, and put back out onto the market in a scope of circularity, or, if they are not recyclable, can be used in other areas besides fashion and can even be transformed, for example, into bona fide works of art.

Another concept set into motion by the pandemic among consumers was ‘Selling less and Curating More’, so producing less with the aim of achieving slow economic growth: Vivienne Westwood, for example, reduced the volume of its ready-to-wear business from 37% to 55% for bags and by 58% for shoes.

Consumers are also increasingly attentive to the transparency of the blockchain and the risk of greenwashing. In the fashion industry, however, this transparency is still in its embryonic stage, with only 31% of the 62 leading international retailers providing information on their production sites. This lack of transparency along the supply chain sees less pressure put on fashion brands to act with greater awareness for a more sustainable supply chain. It is instead important to provide information on production, with complete transparency, also in the B2B sphere.

Materials

The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, but scientific progress made with regards to materials, in recent times, has taken huge steps forward in creating sustainable alternatives to the most polluting materials, above all in light of consumers who are increasingly attentive to the use, by brands, of materials that are sustainable ‘from top to bottom’. Recycle and Reuse are concepts also applied to the science of materials and fabrics, with, for example, companies like Recover that reuse material discards from production to create new fabrics, or realities that recycle materials obtained from products like airbags or car seats and car interiors to then create garments. Another alternative are innovative fabrics like Re-Nylon, the Prada project based on the use of ECONYL® regenerated nylon, obtained from a process of recycling plastic waste recovered from fishing nets, the oceans, textile fibre scraps, etc., with the possibility of recycling indefinitely without affecting the quality. Another road that brands can go down is that of Carbon Capture Technology, which allows them to capture air pollution particles and convert them into ink, or Compostable Materials that allow fabrics and inks to be made from algae, plants and mushrooms. Top brands like Hermes or Stella McCartney are rethinking some of their classic items, replacing leather with materials derived from mycelium, while materials created from plants include Pynatex, which is obtained from the leaves of pineapples, and used by Paul Smith, among others, in the brand’s footwear. Mycelium also has great potential in replacing plastic-based foams or can be used as a sustainable alternative to plastic packaging.

Shipping

In the era of e-commerce, the sustainability of shipments is as important as the product itself. There’s a need to rethink the packaging of materials, shipments methods, and supply chain systems, while also looking to practices of reuse and recycling. In fact, the pandemic, which was responsible for accelerating the growth of e-commerce, is also responsible for contributing to an increased use of disposable plastic packaging, most of which is not recyclable. The first way to reduce the impact of packaging is to simply reduce the amount of packaging materials used (which also leads to reduced costs and reduced packaging weight), or use reusable or returnable packaging, as in the case of RePack, a reality that supplies 150 brands and e-tailers with packaging that is returnable and water-free.

There are then alternative materials available for packaging like recycled plastics, biodegradable plastics, and bioplastics or bio-cardboard. Finally, it is important to provide a clear and sincere message on the origins and packaging process to avoid greenwashing.

There should likewise be a focus on using shipment solutions with low greenhouse gas emissions, maybe even through partners that use biofuel transport. Brands must rethink their shipment methods in a scope of carbon neutrality and circularity, collaborating with innovators in the transportation and logistics industry to create systems that are increasingly zero impact.

Accordingly, the 5 key points are: Degrowth, Circularity, Radical Transparency, Reuse and Innovation, and Sustainable Shipments.