Fast fashion retailer Zara is the latest in a string of brands committing to a more sustainable business approach both behind-the-scenes and on the shop floor.
The Spanish company recently announced its intention that all clothes sold by the retailer will be made from 100% sustainable fabrics by 2025.
It’s a big claim, but with consumers becoming rightfully more concerned about the practices of their favourite brands, the move is a step in the right direction for one of the largest fast fashion retailers on the planet.
It’s reflective of a continuing trend of brands being held accountable by consumers for choices in fabric, design process and sourced materials. As a result, the industry has seen a variety of brands changing their practices in recent years.
The shift to sustainable fabrics is one of several planned targets outlined by Zara’s parent company, Inditex.
They’ve pledged that in five years’ time 80% of energy consumed at Zara HQ, its factories and stores will come from renewable sources. Its facilities are also set to produce zero landfill waste and the viscose used in the garments themselves will be 100% sustainable.
Inditex has stated its other brands – including Massimo Dutti, Pull&Bear and Zara Home – will also follow suit.
Inditex Chief Executive Pablo Isla says the company needed to be a force for change not only in the brand itself but within the industry at large.
“We are the ones establishing these targets: the strength and impulse for change is coming from the commercial team, the people who are working with our suppliers, the people working with fabrics,” says Isla. “It is something that’s happening inside our company.”
Fast fashion has faced increasing scrutiny recently, coinciding with the rise of sustainable fashion practices.
Shoppers have started questioning the necessity of purchasing low-cost, single wear garments. This attitude shift has seen consumers turn to vintage clothing stores for garments to wear ‘as is’ or for repurposing.
The switch to a sustainable approach from Zara is a glimpse into what high street, fast fashion brands need to look towards to stay relevant and perhaps even reach a new consumer base in the sustainable shopper.
Rival fast fashion brand H&M launched a similar initiative in 2018, albeit with a slightly lengthier timeframe to achieve its goals, aiming to use 100% recycled or sustainably-sourced materials by 2030.
Currently, almost 60% of the cotton used by H&M comes from sustainable sources and it’s working towards topping the current figure by 2020 at 100%.
It’s interesting to note that this could assist the brand in remaining relevant and financially viable following recent struggles with shrinking profits and slow growth.
H&M had an estimated $4USD billion of unsold stock last year. In the current consumer climate, the move towards sustainable garments could be the turning point to steer profits in a more positive direction.
Sustainability has been at the forefront of many independent brands for a significant period, long before fast fashion chains latched onto it.
Take independent low-waste Australian label Solomon Street for example. Head Designer Lauren Crago echoes the importance of sewing sustainability into every facet of the fashion industry.
“Sustainability is a part of our general business activity and is a huge priority for our team,” says Crago.
“We believe that even the changes that just one person or one business makes, contribute majorly to the health of our world.”
A particular focus for Solomon Street is the choice of fabrics in garment production. The brand selects fabrics that not only wear well on consumers and are derived from natural sources, but are also more durable fabrics meaning they can be worn more often and kept in wardrobes for longer.
“Our current Summer Linen range uses a cotton/linen blend of fabric. We choose to use these textiles as both cotton and linen are natural fibers that break down over time, causing little to no harm to the environment, which we love.”
When forming Solomon Street, Crago identified an idea that many consumers have only recently cottoned onto: making fashion a more ethical and sustainable industry in which to shop and create.
“For a long period businesses in the fashion industry have been driven by profit without consideration for their social and environmental impacts,” she said.
“Being a sustainable and ethical business means we are conscious of things such as [the] fabrics we use in our garments and who we choose to manufacture our line.”
It’s clear that the fashion industry is headed down an increasingly positive path with decisions concerning fabric sourcing, garment production and the environmental impact each company makes at the forefront.
Fast fashion brands are gradually embracing the ideas of their independent counterparts, which can only be a good thing for the future of fashion.
For reap the rewards, it will be of the utmost importance that each brand commits to sustainability as a long-term commitment rather than a trend only adhered to for its current popularity.
After all, this isn’t the trendy hemline or textile of the season, it’s the future of the industry and the planet.
Image by Rachel Darling