Sustainability is undoubtedly one of the most cutting-edge and hotly debated themes of the moment also in fashion. An extensive and multifaceted issue, it is often difficult to approach since the tendency is to stop at the most superficial level. Accordingly, we thought it was best to start from the data and approach this theme through the analysis of an interesting study commissioned by UniCredit to Nomisma, which was presented this past December by Silvia Zucconi, Head of Business Intelligence at Nomisma, as the third meeting in a cycle of meetings dedicated to fashion entitled “The age of new Visions” by Pitti Immagine & UniCredit.

The study shines the spotlight on the most important and leading trend that emerged from the Post-Covid worldwide scenario, which is to say, in general, the outbreak of the pandemic increased the awareness of the population towards environmental issues. In fact, 70% of the population appears more aware than it was in the past to mankind’s impact on the environment, while 76% has even expressed a similar level of concern for the environment and individual health. Especially alarming to those polled is the quality of the air (72%), followed by the management and scarcity of water (23%). Our country is in line with this generalised context, with 1 out of 4 Italians considering it a priority to take action against climatic change. Likewise interesting to note is how 65% of Italians believe it is businesses that should adopt sustainable production models that are attentive to the environment.

In the Post-Covid era, Italian citizens seem to be more active, and some might even say more ‘activist’ on the issue of environmental protection. Compared to the pre-Covid era, the percentage of Italian shoppers increasing their sustainable and eco-friendly purchases from the start of the pandemic is equal to 27%, the highest percentage recorded among countries that include the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, and the USA. Likewise, the number of shoppers purchasing from stores promoting sustainable products has increased by 21%, while there has been a 23% upswing in purchasing products with hygienic and safe packaging, and a 20% rise in purchases from businesses that respect worker rights and safety.

Sustainability accordingly becomes an increasingly important driver factor, insomuch that it has already clearly influenced purchasing preferences for next year. 67% of European citizens consider the sourcing of sustainable materials to be a determining factor, while 40% look with favour upon brands that are committed to overcoming the crisis generated by Covid-19 through social and sanitary action, and 20% of European citizens intend to support fashion companies in the European Union by increasing their purchases of local apparel, footwear, and accessories.

As far as Italy is concerned, over the next 12 months, 46% of Italians will consider it important, or especially important, to purchase clothing, footwear, and accessories produced with methods that respect the environment and ensure the well-being of animals. There is a preference to orient purchases towards fewer products of higher quality, which are destined to last for more than one season, and for this reason there is a willingness to also pay a higher price (37% of Italians).

Italy and the rest of Europe are accordingly heading towards a green society and the fashion industry is being called upon to do its part in this pathway. 87% of those polled declared that they would like companies from the fashion and luxury industry to work in a sustainable way for the environment – both in the proposal of products/services, and in the productive processes adopted. 78% of Italians would like to know the origin of the raw materials used in the production of the clothing, footwear, and accessories they purchase, while 72% would like to be informed about the environmental impact connected to productive processes (CO2 emissions, water footprint, etc.).

It must be said that Italy, even before the outbreak of the pandemic, was already moving towards a more sustainable production and green economy to the extent that during period between 1990 and 2018, greenhouse emissions produced by the manufacturing industry in Italy fell by 40 percent. By 2018, 77% of fashion industry businesses (textile, apparel, and leather items) with 3 or more employees had already enacted a mission of environmental sustainability and/or of social responsibility and/or safety.

Among the common actions in support of sustainability is the Fashion Pact, signed in 2019 during G7, which represents a global coalition of companies in the fashion and textile industry (ready-to-wear, sport, lifestyle, and luxury), including their suppliers and distributors, all committed to achieving a series of common goals focused on three key areas: stopping global warming, restoring biodiversity, and protecting the oceans. Today, the Fashion Pact counts 60 companies among its signatories coming from 14 countries worldwide, for a total of 200 brands, representing a third of the total fashion industry.

There is then the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), the biggest alliance for sustainable production with apparel, footwear, and textile brands, which today counts 250 members from 35 countries, for a combined revenue of over 750 billion dollars. Among the most important initiatives undertaken by the coalition is the activation and development of the HIGG INDEX, which provides a global panorama onto the performance of different companies in terms of sustainability.  

Among the fashion realities that have had the spotlights turned on them for some time now in the fight to achieve a more sustainable production, there are without a doubt the Fast Fashion chains, which by 2025, are committed to using 80% renewable energy resources in their stores, logistics centres and offices, and 100% in their sustainable cotton, linen, and polyester garments. By 2040, the Fast Fashion chains have also set themselves the goal of reducing their CO2 and greenhouse emissions by 40%.

Having said this, the so-called ‘Covid effect’ has led to an acceleration of these trends already underway with the focus moving to sustainability as a priority for future strategies and an economic recovery. According to a study conducted by Nomisma this past October on Italian fashion firms, the healthcare emergency is responsible for 29% of these businesses either starting to adopt or accelerating on their adoption of strategies for the sustainability of products and/or productive processes, while it resulted in 20% updating their supply chain by using local/national suppliers, and 18% adopting ethical and socially sustainable strategies like equal employment opportunities.

Future prospects accordingly point to sustainability as a fundamental lever in relaunching fashion firms, which must be followed up by an organic strategy that includes the adoption of sustainable productive processes, raw materials, and consumer models. Thus, the key words of relaunching will increasingly be circular economy, near-shoring, Made in Italy, effective communication, green packaging, certified productions, flexible models, and eco-friendly materials.

Accompanying sector companies on this journey are certain measures adopted by the Government and the Recovery Fund, with 20% of resources allocated to eco-friendly conversions, tax breaks for green investments, the transportation Bonus (for bicycles and car incentives), and the Green New Deal Fund that will invest 4.24 billion over the next 3 years.