The fashion industry is finally cleaning up its act

The industry must innovate to create a sustainable future and tackle the problem of fast fashion.

"FUCK FAST FASHION." This is the slogan being sported by some Extinction Rebellion protesters who are targeting London Fashion Week on The Strand right now to raise awareness of their campaign.

To be honest, they have a point. The fashion industry has to face up to some very depressing statistics. The global textile business creates 20% of global wastewater and produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the international aviation and shipping industries combined.

Then consider the reputed 11 million items of clothing that end up in UK landfills every week and you’ll get why Greta Thunberg and her gang are raising awareness around the environment and sustainability – and why they’ve found such a receptive audience.

Fashion advertising hasn’t covered itself in glory either. It has for the most part lived outside the brand norms of idea-based communications. In most cases, if you swap over the logos, you couldn’t distinguish one brand from another because the ads are so predictably similar.

By necessity, all this is beginning to change. Fashion brands are finally starting to innovate, push sustainability up the agenda and create new products and innovative services – and this in turn will demand better and more distinctive advertising.

At a grassroots level, the garment technology course at the Fashion Retail Academy is mindful of a future in which fabrics could begin to take on the body-data-capturing duties that Apple Watch and Fitbit currently perform, while also being made of recycled materials. Meanwhile, jewellery design students at Central Saint Martins are incorporating Alzheimer's mood-tracking devices into their creations.

Fashion retail is also innovating. Online start-up Thread uses a combination of real fashion stylists and artificial intelligence to help consumers make the right fashion choices. 

Given that it also has more brands than any other UK online men’s retailer (and more than 200 different white T-shirts!), there’s clearly a market for people who want to buy less but better-quality fashion, rather than wearing things a couple of times and sending them to a landfill at the first glimpse of a change in the season.

Alternatively, we are being encouraged to buy something old. Model Stella Tennant and her 14-year-old daughter Iris teamed up with Oxfam for Second Hand September, urging us to "be a citizen, not just a shopper". The idea is to stop consumers from buying new clothes for a whole month at what is traditionally the most important time of the year for fashion purchases.

Unilever’s Comfort fabric conditioner recently did a pop-up clothes "swap shop", partly to encourage people to use its products to give second-hand clothes a new lease of life.

Timeless, sustainable classics are on the up. Dr Martens’ profits are up 70%, with its vegan range a big part of that upswing. Old and new brands are going to be as important as ever in the new era of fashion and there is nowhere more evident than in the vibrant world of the "collab".

I’ve recently been working with &&& founder Simon Brown. The graphic designer’s collaboration with Virgil Abloh now sits alongside the Louis Vuitton creative chief’s own Off-White brand, DJing career and Ikea rug. Abloh’s continuous collaborations are very much part of his overall portfolio of operations, such that his every move is marketing to some degree or another.

Clearly, there’s pressure on those leading the fashion industry to work together and clean up their act, but it’s not going to be easy. You only need to walk past the queues of people waiting for the latest drop at Supreme in Soho to see that the intoxicating desire for the new is hard to combat.

Tangible pushbacks are beginning to appear, sometimes from the most unexpected places. I was shopping in Oi Polloi the other day (actually, I was just looking, since it's second-hand September) and they told me about some new socks they’ve got coming in that include silver in the fabric, meaning they’ll need washing less frequently. An example of genuine "greenwashing" for once. I might well pop back in October.

Jay Pond-Jones is creative director at M&C Saatchi Accelerator

Picture credit: Getty Images

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