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Over the last fifteen years, fashion has gotten much faster. According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, clothing production has approximately doubled, while clothing re-use has declined by almost 40%. TikTok trends, certain reality dating programs, and a never-ending carousel of runway shows are several of the factors responsible for driving the consumer desire to be ‘on trend’, a definition that changes constantly. With overproduction across the fashion industry weighing in at between 30-40 per cent on average, the emergence of more circular fashion initiatives such as rental fashion platforms bring bags of potential to shake up how we approach fashion consumption. 

What is circular fashion?

Circular fashion is the counter movement to fast fashion. Fast fashion promotes buying cheaper garments that aren’t designed to last and are heavily tied to seasonal trends – low rise jeans, anyone? These garments are then likely thrown out in the next season as they’re no longer stylish, or have started to wear away due to their poor quality. Circular fashion on the other hand promotes designing and creating better quality garments that aren’t as tied to seasonal trends, so can be worn for many years. When these garments reach the end of their life, circular fashion sees them either being repaired, or repurposed into a new piece.

Countries such as France are leading the charge on green initiatives, introducing legislation to bolster increased supply chain traceability, drive more transparent product labeling to minimize greenwashing, and cut consumer waste via more robust extended producer responsibility (EPR) strategies. Relevant to our work, communications continues to form an integral part of fashion’s green credentials. Most recently, France made it compulsory for brands selling across the country to provide consumers with more information about the environmental impact of its products, going as far as to outright ban certain sustainability jargon terms including “biodegradable” and “environmentally friendly”. The UK and EU are looking to follow suit in the coming months. 

Yet, despite this progress, even circular fashion initiatives have a thin line to tread when promoting themselves as more sustainable alternatives. For example, one of the pioneers of rental fashion, Rent the Runway, recently came under scrutiny for its resale partnership with Amazon which will see Rent the Runway sell new and unworn pieces from its Design Collective through Amazon. 

Are rental platforms’ green initiatives becoming jaded? 

Rent the Runway isn’t alone. Other popular platforms, including Hurr and By Rotation, offer resale to their community members. Getting the communications strategy right around resale is imperative if rental platforms are to remain true to their green vision. Rather than encouraging yet more clothing purchases based on seasonal trends, rental platforms need to promote the need for a longer term relationship with clothing through a peer-to-peer community. This means if you’re making a new purchase via resale, you’re buying with the idea of sharing that piece with others. To avoid becoming the ‘emperor’s new clothes’ of fast fashion, communications strategies around resale need to focus on the power of investing in longer term pieces that are made with sustainably sourced materials. 

All quiet on the green front

Regulators across multiple sectors are cracking down on greenwashing claims. Despite pledges coming in from all corners of the fashion industry, a report by found that emissions from fashion remain on the rise. That’s hardly surprising when considering how opaque some players are, for example with fast fashion brand Boohoo controversially hiring Kourtney Kardashian as their ‘Sustainability Ambassador’ to promote a capsule collection relying predominantly on recycled polyester which still sheds harmful, non-biodegradable microfibres. 

With lawsuits and public criticism of ill-thought out tactics on the rise, companies are going quiet on their green strategies to avoid scrutiny. The FT recently coined ‘green hushing’ as an emerging trend in which companies deliberately choose not to publicize details of their climate targets to avoid criticism. The article cited a report by the consultancy firm and carbon offsets developer, South Pole, which revealed that a quarter of 1,200 companies in 12 countries surveyed admitted that they would not publicize their science-based net-zero emissions targets.

By failing to communicate their green strategies, companies are hindering efforts to make sectors greener. Effectively disclosing green credentials drives competition, leading to a faster rate of change, and avoids complacency and unambitious targets. Adopting a transparent approach to communicating a company’s green strategy which avoids meaningless marketing jargon also boosts trust with consumers. 

Watch your language

Finally, green comms has a language problem. According to one EU survey, over half (53%) of environmental product claims were deemed “vague, misleading or unfounded”, while a report by The World Economic Forum recently suggested that many fashion rental brands misuse the term “circular economy”. The desire for more substantiated green initiatives is being driven by both consumers and investors. Comms and marketing leads therefore have a responsibility to tighten up the language they use to denote green initiatives. While UK legislation currently has an ill defined view of what constitutes an “unsubstantiated claim”, many experts have called for phrases such as  “climate positive” and “carbon neutral” to be banned completely. Comms and marketing professionals have a duty to challenge the terminology brands are using to over inflate their green credentials. 

Across the fashion industry, adoption of digital product passports – QR codes that will be used to track products from cradle to grave, as well as storing supply chain information – should help bolster comms strategies with evidence based claims relating to a garment’s life cycle. 

As fashion remains one of the most environmentally intensive industries on the planet which accounts for around 3 to 5 percent of global carbon emissions, it’s imperative that brands are not over-inflating their green credentials, or going quiet altogether to avoid closer scrutiny. Consumers are demanding that brands become more transparent on how sustainable their products are. Comms experts will play a pivotal role in ensuring that green fashion remains seasonless. 

Stay tuned for part two of this series on sustainable fashion, where Julia Hoy, leader of our Australian team’s Sustainability Practice, will be exploring how communications can affect consumer behavior, a key part of achieving a more sustainable fashion industry. Have any questions about this piece or want to find out how we can support your sustainability journey? Reach out here.


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