London Fashion Week: the companies leading the way towards sustainable fashion

As fashion week is wrapping up in New York and buyers and editors set their sites on London for this coming weekend, I couldn’t help but notice the number of ‘statement’ shows this year.

Rebecca Minkoff featured the ‘working Mum’ – a fashion week first – featuring model Mara Martin breastfeeding her daughter Aria. Another New York fashion week ‘first’ on the Lule et Gigi runway was Daisy-May Demetre – the first double amputee child. (Daisy-May did the catwalk at the London Fashion Week on behalf of River Island last year at just eight years of age).

And those weren’t the only inspirational moments: kale and fresh fruit both graced high fashion during the Collina Strada show, which featured a Farmers Market – making headlines as the designer encouraged guests to take the produce after the show!

The one area that is missing this year is climate change – perhaps because the fashion industry itself has such a negative impact.

‘Sustainability is a journey, not a destination’ — Collina Strada, New York fashion week

Fashion’s carbon footprint

The total greenhouse gas emissions from textile production – estimated to be 1.2 billion tons annually – are more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined*. In the UK alone, according to a Rathbone Greenbank Report, “we buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe. We consume 60% more garments than we did in 2000; that’s simply an unsustainable rise.”

It also takes 2,700 litres of water to make a single cotton t-shirt**. That represents about three years’ worth of drinking water for one top. That’s a lot of water considering the water scarcity problem.

Moving towards sustainability in the fashion industry

One of my favourite clothing brands in the US is Reformation – and I’m excited that they’re now opening a shop in Notting Hill. Their slogan is: ‘Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We’re #2’.

While the sentiment is applaudable, it’s not really practical (English summer’s aren’t the reason I emigrated…). But there are ways fashion can become more sustainable.

The Fashion Pact was presented at the G7 Summit a few weeks ago. A set of shared objectives, it contains three big themes encouraging the fashion industry to work towards reducing its environmental impact:

The brands leading the way

For many of the 32 signatories, which represent approximately 150 brands, these changes will represent significant investments. One standout signatory is designer Stella McCartney, a longtime advocate of sustainable fashion, she was also the first high fashion designer to design apparel for Team GB for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, in partnership in Adidas.

Adidas, a top holding in Threadneedle European Select***, and also a signatory to the Fashion Pact, has a longstanding tradition of sustainability within its brand. The company removed plastic bags from its stores in 2016 and, in 2018, Adidas created more than 5 million pairs of shoes containing recycled ocean plastic for its ‘Run for the Oceans’ fundraiser. Using a high-performance polyester yarn made from up-cycled marine plastic waste that is intercepted from remote islands, beaches and coastal communities, Adidas aims to use only recycled polyester by 2024.

Another personal favourite alternative fabric of mine is made from recycled coffee grounds. Let that sink in. Recycled coffee grounds.

One such company is S.Café, has a wide range of partners, including Starbucks, from whom it sources said coffee grounds. Starbucks is a holding in JPM US Equity Income and no stranger to sustainability efforts: we saw during Plastic-free July how ASI (the asset management company behind ASI UK Ethical Equity) engaged with Starbucks on their greener cup initiative, for example.

In our recent podcast with David Coombs, manager of Rathbone Strategic Growth Portfolio, he shared how “Estée Lauder is looking at reducing plastic use and moving towards glass because it is seeing a huge shift in consumer behaviour. That’s a company that clearly is up to the minute in terms of what its consumer wants and desires and is moving accordingly, even if that’s going to cost it money to do so.”

The Fashion Pact was signed by a number of “big names” in the fashion industry, including Inditex. Inditex is a Spanish multinational clothing company and the biggest fashion group in the world. It owns brands such as Mango, Bershka and Zara, operating over 7,200 stores in 93 markets worldwide. It is held by Comgest Growth Europe ex UK and GAM Star Continental European Equity.

Zara is a fashion giant in its own right and a favoured brand of the Duchess of Cambridge. And, as Niall Gallagher, manager of the GAM fund said: “Unlike other ‘fast fashion’ brands, Zara has a clean supply chain – 70% of product is sourced in Europe and it has withstood the sustainability backlash well, instead boosting its eco-friendly credentials by showcasing environmentally friendly fabrics.” Mango also aims to have 50% of its cotton originating from sustainable sources by 2022.

*Source: A new textiles economy: designing fashion’s future, Ellen Macarthur Foundation 2017
**Source: The impact of a cotton t-shirt, WWF 2013
***Fund factsheet, 31 July 2019

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