In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in sustainable fashion. Not coincidentally, we have simultaneously witnessed exponential growth in the number of brands and initiatives on the market.
2019 was lauded as ‘the year of awakening’ by the State of Fashion Report, with consumers everywhere demanding radical transparency and social responsibility from fashion brands both big and small. From an explosion in the popularity of second hand clothing and a huge uptake in repair schemes to a worldwide rejection of single-use-plastics, 2019 paved the way for a new decade of actionable industry change.
Here, we have mapped out some of the key sustainable fashion trends of 2020. By no means exhaustive, these consumer trends and sustainable fashion statistics nonetheless represent some of the overall currents likely to dominate in the year ahead. Sustainable fashion trends we will cover are:
- Fair fashion
Before we dive in, what does sustainable fashion even mean? Make sure to read up on our beginner’s guide to sustainable fashion for all the definitions you’ll need, from organic to recycled.
1. Greenwashing Is Hanging Out To Dry
In 2019, we saw an abundance of sustainable initiatives that made some brands look exceptionally green if not suspiciously so. Colgate launched its charcoal bamboo toothbrush, Vogue Italia drew its frontpage rather than photographing it and Primark embarked on sustainable cotton. For reasons we can sympathise with, these have fallen in the category of deceptive and deliberately misleading marketing stunts.
Consequently, 2020 sustainable fashion trends include the call for authenticity and transparency. A product may be “sustainable” but its social and environmental footprint may discredit the very label it claims. No longer content with half-hearted attempts to make sustainable amends, consumers and organisations have increased the pressure, like demanding companies to reveal the lowest wages they pay.
The supply chain often complicates matters. Subcontractors hire an external labour force which in turn outsources the work. A muddy network of suppliers means an inability to track wages and working conditions.
Blockchain technology has been touted as a solution to the supply chain fog. In a report from 2018, the Overseas Development Institute stated that “Blockchain could help address environmental governance challenges by offering a secure and verifiable record of who exchanges what with whom and who has what at a given time.” In essence, blockchain holds the potential to revolutionise the way we communicate sustainability.
At Compare Ethics, we work hard to sieve out the greenwashers by using our tried-and-tested research methods to vet brands in dozens of areas that matter most to consumers today, covering social, environmental and animal categories. Here is how it all works.
2. Sustainable Fashion Trends – Fabric Innovation
The world’s great plastic binge, smothering beautiful coastlines and oceans in dirty containers and wrappers, has made all of us acutely aware of the importance of materials. Fortunately, many ethical fashion brands are tackling the phenomenon of dead whales washed up containing hundreds of pieces of plastic by taking concrete action.
Recycled Plastic Bottles
The small, independent swimwear brand, Batoko, has turned rubbish into profit. Made from recycled plastic bottles, Batoko uses compostable, recyclable and recycled materials only. Discover more recycled clothing brands here.
A leader in the research of new production models for sustainable development, Italian firm Aquafil created Econyl. It is a nylon substitute, which now often appears in sustainable activewear. Econyl recycles and regenerates synthetic waste such as fishing nets and spin them into a textile product as robust as nylon. Not only does this bring down the ocean’s pollution budget, but it also mitigates the growing need for nylon.
For as long as fashion has existed, leather has been an integral part of its trends. However, its highly unsustainable footprint calls for alternatives.
Among sustainable trends, Piñatex has been at the forefront of using pineapple leaves to debunk leather’s fashion pedestal. Through a process of “decortication”, Piñatex extracts cellulose fibres of pineapple leaves post-harvesting. They proceed to be “degummed’ and processed to become a non-woven mesh and then shipped to Spain for specialised finishing. The final result is the leather-like appearance of Piñatex’ products.
Take a look at Been London‘s pineapple leather collection for some killer handbags that don’t kill animals, or the planet.
3. Sustainable fashion = fair fashion
1 in 6 people in the world works in a fashion-related job, and 80 per cent of the labour force throughout the supply chain are women.
Our clothes are not sustainable unless they are fair. As sustainable fashion trends became mainstream in 2019, we also became aware of their social component. The Delhi fire, a devastating reminder of Rana Plaza, killed 43 labourers. In Leicester, it was brought to light that garment workers were paid as little as £3 an hour, revealing another case of modern slavery.
According to a report conducted by Oxfam, the organisation estimates that just 4% of the price of a piece of clothing makes it back to the pockets of workers. In other words, when we pay £10 for a t-shirt, the worker receives just 40p.
For this reason, sustainable fashion brands are vocal about their social commitments. Paying a living wage and investing in the local communities where their factories are located are now standard initiatives.
Fabric For Freedom collaborates with partners and NGOs working to eradicate poverty and human trafficking. Rubymoon invests 100% (!!) of its profits in business loans for women. The company works with LendwithCare.org providing training to female entrepreneurs equipping them with the tools to escape poverty.
4. The Rise of Reuse
Second-hand clothing stores were once considered a fashion faux pas. In 2020, however, influencers, celebrities and other fashion gurus have revamped the rep of secondhand shops.
In the fight against waste, second-hand shopping is a god sent. Not only do we turn our backs on fast fashion, we simultaneously rescue pieces otherwise destined for landfills. Platforms such as Depop, Asos Boutique Sellers, and eBay offer the ease of online shopping with a clean conscience.
Where second-hand is defined by the “consumption of all used apparel”, resale constitutes a more refined subcategory of reuse. Carefully curated product assortments mean platforms such as the TheRealReal, Rebelle and Vestiaire Collective. For those who cherish a good designer, these sites are both environmentally and budget-friendly.
Reusing our own wardrobe jewels is another commendable subtrend that burgeoned in 2019. On New Year’s Eve, Princess Mary of Denmark wore a stunning burgundy velvet dress the fourth time. Meghan Markle has repeatedly opted for the same outfit again and again.
Customise, redesign, add, amend. Upcycling is a process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality and environmental value.
We say that the most sustainable outfit is the one already in your wardrobe. With upcycling, we give existing garments new life by altering the fit, style or colour.
5. Rental Redefines Sustainable Fashion
By extension, the rental solution accelerated in 2019 and will most definitely increase its pace in 2020. In a time where style is an expression of identity, it can be challenging to imagine a life without constantly changing outfits.
One way to combat the unease is to rent. Rather than throwing our wages at a brand new dress, we ferret out the same thing on a rental site. In terms of longevity, the appeal is particularly obvious for party wear that we are unlikely to wear more than once or twice. Even for a job interview or special night out, renting works. Children’s clothes and maternity wear are additional areas with increasing rental interest.
The HURR Collective is one such service. This on-demand platform uses real-time ID verification, geo-tagging and AI-powered fashion stylists to empower its catalogue of stunning clothes. Cocoon is similar but instead caters to bag lovers and Front Row to those with a penchant for shoes.
The Nu Wardrobe puts a whole new spin on the renting phenomenon. The platform enables users to borrow clothes from people in their local area. With memberships starting from just £6 per month, you can upgrade your style spending the bare minimum.