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GUEST COMMENT Fashion Sustainability: what we got right in 2021

Nike: many sustainable initiatives in train

According to the Fashion on Climate report, the fashion industry will miss its 2030 carbon emissions target by 50%. With the 15 largest fashion houses unlikely to meet Paris climate agreement goals, it might be viewed as another damning statistic for a sector where scrutiny of sustainability practices is intensifying.

However, pessimism should not detract from the considerable progress made in 2021.

It is always wise to begin a new year with optimism. However, for the increasing number of us trying to steer fashion practices from wasteful to sustainable, this could easily prove difficult.

Towards the end of 2021, many in the industry had hoped for a comprehensive international commitment at COP26, one that would see states aiding the fashion industry in reducing its carbon output.

And, although some notable progress did emerge at the UN’s climate change conference, this did not materialise as we might have hoped.

Indeed, Maxine Bédat, founder of the New Standard Institute, told Vogue Business that, on account of China and India’s failure to enhance their climate change commitments, a great opportunity may have been missed. Bédat feels the onus now falls on fashion brands, saying: There will not be the progress necessary in these countries without intervention from the industries, i.e., fashion, that do their production there.”

And without progress in those two nations, can there really be progress at all? The answer is, resoundingly, yes. We cannot afford to shift blame, nor continue to wait for company X to lead before company Y follows.

And those of us that have the agency to implement change ought to continue steadfastly with making those changes.

In fact, there is much progress being made in the fashion industry that, to the everyday consumer, may be lost behind a bombardment of reports of missed targets and excess waste.

While there is much room for improvement, it is worth highlighting what fashion did get right last year. After all, conveying a message of authentic positivity when notable achievements are made is something that the fashion industry could stand to get better at – which brings us neatly to our first point: communication.


One of the positives of COP26 was the announcement of a ‘communication commitment’. The UN describes this, rather verbosely, as aligning “consumer and industry communication efforts to a 1.5-degree or Science Based Targets initiative compatible pathway, as set out by the Paris Agreement Goals, as well as a more just and equitable future.”

That sounds much more complicated than it is. What the commitment seeks to do is guide those responsible for fashion communications – in advertising, branding, retail, PR, social media – via a set of recommendations. These are:

  • Committing to accurate reporting and transparent communication efforts
  • Avoiding exaggeration or omission to appear more environmentally or socially friendly
  • Championing changes and demonstrating solutions to help individuals live more sustainable lifestyles
  • Spotlighting new role models and notions of aspiration or success
  • Celebrating the ecological, cultural and social values of the industry
  • Focusing on inclusive marketing and storytelling that encourages a more equitable industry
  • Motivating and mobilising the public to advocate for broader change

Certainly, there is a need to end communications that emphasise over-consumption and lavish shopping as an aspirational achievement, and avoid commodifying important social issues. The communication commitment supplies a strategy that can easily be adapted to a brand’s heritage, values and story.


One of the reasons I encourage brands and retailers to adopt thorough sustainability practices is because consumers want it, and policy will, eventually, require it.

And 2021 was the year policy moved closer to legislation. We saw several notable laws and rules, made imminent or confirmed, that make certain sustainable practices a necessity. These include:

  • New EU ‘environmental and good governance due diligence’ legislation, which will mean a fashion brand selling goods sold in the EU must begin to take greater responsibility for its supply chains
  • In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority introduced the Green Claims Code. This means that a brand that makes a false claim about its sustainability practices will be in breach of consumer law
  • In the States, a bold legislation in Massachusetts completely banned textiles from general disposal, meaning all textiles must be recycled or reused. It has inspired this year’s proposed Fashion Act legislation, which would see fashion brands being required to report their carbon emissions and resource consumption

Legislation takes time, but there are now significant laws on the brink of implementation occurring across the globe. We may one day look back on the past year as the moment that sustainable fashion legislation became legitImised.


The best way to reduce waste is to reuse and repurpose. Two notable brands last year introduced a circular sales strategy focused on footwear; a product that’s generally been lagging behind other garments when it comes to resale.

Nike introduced its Refurbished programme in 15 US stores as part of its journey to carbon zero. It takes three grades of worn or damaged trainers (new, worn and cosmetically damaged) and hand-refurbishes them. Trainers considered beyond repair are ‘ground down’ and the materials used for new garments.

Rachel Comley has taken a different approach to circularity, allowing the resale of official products on its own website. Sellers upload product pictures and set a sale price themselves, giving a sense of legitimacy and authenticity to the resale of shoes and other garments

This increased ownership of an item’s second life is epitomised by Vestiaire Collective’s Brand Approved partnerships. In 2021, it joined forces with Alexander McQueen to authenticate pre-worn items on its luxury resale platform. This gives Alexander McQueen control over how its items are re-sold, assuring its standards remain intact, and the customer is given a satisfactory purchasing experience.


Robert Lockyer, Chief Client Officer and founder of Delta Global, a sustainable packaging solutions provider for luxury brands

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