Can the fashion industry become sustainable? When Hubbub launched four years ago we selected the fashion industry as one of the four areas where we wanted to deliver positive change. This has been our hardest challenge and is the sector where it has been difficult to make a difference at scale. Over the four years awareness that change is needed has increased but major break throughs seem a way off. Here are five things we have learned. 1) Addiction to fast fashion is growing The fashion industry is speeding up. Traditional clothing seasons are being replaced with a continuous desire to have the latest catwalk look as soon as possible. Social media is playing a role in this growing pace. Polling from Hubbub discovered that 1 in 6 young people would not feel comfortable wearing the same clothes again if they had been seen wearing them on social media. The ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ approach is the basis of the fast fashion retail model. Until a new way of doing business is found it is hard to see change occurring. Some retailers are saying the right things about sustainability but Hubbub has found it incredibly difficult to get them to translate these ambitions to their retail outlets where every bit of space is dedicated to selling product. 2) People find it difficult to pass on clothing that has an emotional attachment Hubbub discovered that many parents find it difficult handing on outgrown baby and children clothing with which they have an emotional attachment. Taking these items to a charity shop feels too impersonal. Working with mothercare, the #GiftABundle campaign sought to overcome this by bringing parents together to create beautiful gift bundles that they knew would find a welcome recipient with a local family. Parents wrote messages on the gift bundles sharing their memories about the piece of clothing and passing on their hope that it would find a good new home. This more personalised and social form of giving has proved highly effective. This year 6,055 bundles of clothing were gifted by mothercare customers amounting to 52,000 items of clothing. These bundles have been distributed to 43 local groups, charities and organisations who pass them onto local families who can benefit from them. 3) The environmental impact of the fashion industry is hidden The fashion industry is built on glamour, creativity, celebrity and excitement. It is not in the interest of the industry to break this veneer to reveal the significant environmental and social impact it creates. Hubbub has sought to encourage young people to question what lies behind the image the fashion industry portrays. Our Faux magazine included contributions from many young people seeking to debunk messages pushed out by the industry - many of which are leading to added insecurity around body image. 4) There is a lack of awareness about fabrics There is a lack of understanding about the environmental impact of different fabrics. Hubbub’s latest vlog has sought to provide a simple guide to help consumers understand the pros and cons of their fashion choices. In the next few weeks we will be launching a major awareness campaign highlighting how our clothing is contributing to plastic microfibres in our oceans. We hope that tapping into the plastics debate will encourage people to think about what they buy and persuade them to take more care of their clothing so they last longer. 5) There is no circular model for most fabrics The ultimate challenge that the industry faces is that currently there is no circular model for most fabrics. Clothing that is collected via stores or charity shops is usually passed onto developing countries. The approach squashes local industry and ultimately provides the countries with an added waste disposal problem often dealt with by an inadequate infrastructure. With more lower quality fabric being produced this model is simply not sustainable and East African countries are saying enough is enough threatening to ban the import of discarded clothing. The fashion industry clearly faces significant structural challenges in the move towards becoming more sustainable so are there any causes for optimism? There are probably five reasons for hope: Iconic industry leaders such as Stella McCartney have realised the need for changing and are leading the charge with the backing of top-end brands such as Kerring. There is more collaboration between the industry lead by organisations like the C&A Foundation and the Ellen McArthur Foundation. More research is being undertaken into fabrics that could be part of the circular economy. The industry is highly creative and we could see emergence of break-through brands with innovative new business models that are more sustainable. Consumer awareness is growing and is likely to increase as more people become aware that common fabrics contain plastics that are ending up in our oceans. These drivers for change will not make an instant impact, but Hubbub is hopeful that in a further four years time we will be able to point to some more significant indicators that the fashion industry is becoming more sustainable. Image: John Paul De Quay as featured in FAUX.