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How Consumers Are Pushing the Global Fashion Industry Toward Greater Sustainability

Global fashion brands, responding to government pressure and consumer demand, are taking new strides towards sustainability and circular production.
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At this year’s G7 meeting in Biarritz, 32 of the biggest companies in fashion announced a pact to address their industry’s impact on the environment.

French president Emmanuel Macron pushed for the pact in April when he asked the CEO of French luxury brand Kering to rally fashion companies to commit to environmental concerns.

The pressure for fashion brands to go greener comes not just from governments but also from consumers, especially the millennial and Gen Z markets, who are demanding more sustainable products, said representatives from Kering, sportswear giant Nike, and textile manufacturer Esquel Group, in a Thursday panel at Fortune’s Global Sustainability Forum in Yunnan, China.

The fashion industry leaders stressed the impact of consumer expectations on company decisions to move towards more sustainable sourcing and manufacturing.

A question fashion brands must now ask themselves, says Dee Poon, the managing director of brands and distribution at Esquel Group, is “How do we make ‘buying less’ sexy?”

Esquel launched a “minimalist” brand with a limited number of items in an effort to help consumers generate less physical waste and to cater to the “decision fatigue” that comes from too many options.

Nike’s Chief Sustainability Officer Noel Kinder pointed to the shoes on his feet to highlight what his company has been doing to make their products more sustainable in response to consumer demand.

“The Airsole on this shoe is 75% recycled content already,” Kinder said. Reusing old material is part of Nike’s circular design initiative, which prioritizes recycling, reusing, and repairing material over creating new products and throwing others away.

Kinder also pointed out that Nike’s sustainable practices don’t conflict with business interests.

“What’s more capitalistic than using your own waste as feedstock in a new product?” Kinder said.

Cai Jinqing, Kering’s president for Greater China, said that younger consumers “really demand brands and products to be more sustainable and ethical.” Cai said Kering sees sustainability as a business imperative, “rather than just for communications or corporate social responsibility.”

Kering keeps its design lab open for brands to come and test new sustainable materials it develops, to encourage the brands to use these materials.

Nike and Kering are both members of the G7 sustainability pact, which Cai pointed to as evidence of companies’ strengthening commitment to the issue.

“More brands, more companies in the fashion industry, they see the urgency from their own business perspective, from consumer perspective,” Cai said, “And also now with regulation and government initiatives, they really are at the […] tipping point to do some serious, in-depth transformation of the industry.”

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