The annual report The Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2019 – available for free download at the end of this article – shows that the fashion industry has improved its social and environmental performance over the past year but at a slower pace than in the previous year. Despite this improvement, the fashion industry is still far from sustainable. In addition, the findings show that companies in the sector are not implementing sustainable solutions fast enough to counter negative environmental and social impacts.
If measured performance remains on its current trajectory, the gap between industry output and the pulse score on its defined curve will widen. About 40% of the industry has not yet reached beyond the first phase of the Pulse Curve. This means that if the industry does not implement changes at a faster pace, it will not be able to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or comply with the Paris Agreement.
Fashion leaders must take the lead
The Global Fashion Agenda, Boston Consulting Group and Sustainable Apparel Coalition are calling on industry leaders to step up their pace toward deeper, more systemic change. Businesses must push harder, with focused and coordinated efforts, in order to overcome the technological and economic constraints that hinder progress.
Growth in the Pulse Score dropped by one-third in 2019. The 2019 Fashion Pulse Score increased four points from last year, from 38 to 42 points (out of 100), compared to six points in 2018, which means that the speed of measurable progress has slowed by one-third.
While continued progress is encouraging, its decreasing speed is a cause for concern. In the last two years alone, the apparel and footwear industry grew by between 4% and 5%, in line with projections up to 2023 that show annual growth of about 5%. This is mainly due to growing demand in Asia-Pacific and developing countries. By 2030, the global clothing and footwear industry is expected to grow to 102 million tons in volume and USD 3.3 billion in value.
The Sustainable Development Goals estimated that global carbon emissions should be reduced by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 if global warming is limited to an increase of 1.5°C and net zero carbon emissions are achieved by 2050. Even under optimistic assumptions, existing industry solutions and the speed of progress will not produce the impact needed to transform the industry. The fashion sector needs deeper and more systemic change. Let me remind you that in previous editions (2017 and 2018) we talked about a joint effort of the fashion industry. This concept, given this last result, becomes more relevant than ever!
Without improvements in environmental and social standards through the expansion of existing sustainable practices, the adoption of more efficient business models and the implementation of transformational changes, the gap between industry growth and the Pulse Score will widen even further. This could have a serious effect on the long-term environmental, social and financial prosperity of the fashion industry and the planet.
Most of the improvements came from two segments: small players in the mid-price segment and medium and large players in the entry price segment. It is encouraging to see the efforts spreading among the smaller companies in the entry price segment. This movement through the initial phases of the Pulse Curve was achieved by companies that adopted sustainability strategy development and governance, set goals, implemented best practices and aligned their partnerships to the association.
These important preparatory changes will take time, usually about two years, to translate into a traceable success along the Pulse Curve. Meanwhile, the pioneers showed less measurable progress, as their work to scale up solutions and deepen proven initiatives in the value chain does not necessarily translate immediately into score gains. In addition, addressing problems that require innovation or changes in business models requires collaborative action.
Conscious consumers are an increasingly important but insufficient driver
As the media and social networks shed light on social and environmental responsibility in the fashion industry, consumer concern is growing. Mention of sustainability in social networks increased a third faster than the overall growth of social networks between 2015 and 2018. Awareness is higher among younger people, especially Millennials.
This awareness is beginning to have a greater effect on consumers’ purchasing decisions, as more than a third of respondents report switching from their preferred brand to another for reasons related to responsible practices. More than half of respondents said they anticipate that their next purchasing decision will be based on these practices.
or the first time, these data confirm that most consumers include sustainability considerations in their decision-making process. These results indicate a shift in the importance of these considerations and represent a strong signal to the industry. This clear trend will continue to grow. It is only a matter of time before responsible practices become fundamental to decision-making factors when purchasing a product.
However, consumer considerations of sustainable practices are not yet powerful enough to be the most important driver of purchasing behavior. Quality and aesthetics continue to dominate decision-making. For 7% of consumers, sustainability is the most important decision-making criterion. The industry cannot wait for the consumer to lead this movement; it is up to fashion leaders to take bolder steps today for the transition to tomorrow’s sustainable industry.
We must all make it possible!
Download the report “Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2019” here
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