2019 will go down as the year that fashion finally started taking the climate crisis seriously. Whether it was thanks to Greta Thunberg and millions around the world protesting on the streets, the stark warnings from scientists that we’re running out of time to tackle emissions, or consumers becoming increasingly aware of the impact their clothes are having on the environment, the industry has massively stepped up its efforts.
“There has been so much building up to this: many years of campaigning for a more sustainable and just fashion industry, movies such as The True Cost, which was seen globally by millions of people,” Livia Firth, founder of Eco-Age and the Green Carpet Challenge, tells Vogue. “More awful accidents in factories all over the world, the plastic movement, the Greta Thunberg effect – [these are] all pieces of a giant puzzle, which is getting clearer and clearer.”
“In 2019, we have seen a radical shift in attention towards sustainability at large, and the climate crisis in particular. The diagnosis is now clear for everyone: we need to accelerate the pace of change and work together,” says Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs at Kering. “Clearly, the Fashion Pact signed and presented by 32 major fashion companies to French President Emmanuel Macron just before the G7 summit has highlighted the issue at a worldwide level, and has succeeded in gaining public attention.”
While there has been progress, there is still a lot more to be done. “A lot of the [fashion] industry has realized their responsibility to turn things around and we have seen some promising developments this year,” comments Eva Kruse, CEO of the Global Fashion Agenda. “But 40 % of the industry has still not taken any action to make their business more sustainable. We need these remaining companies to join us in implementing the drastic and widespread change that is urgently needed to combat the climate crisis.”
Here, Vogue looks at eight ways the fashion industry started to the climate seriously in 2019.
Brands including Stella McCartney and Chanel made a pact to take action
In a clear sign of the industry coming together to take action, 250 brands including Chanel, Stella McCartney and Nike signed the G7 Fashion Pact, which was launched by French President Emmanuel Macron and Gucci-owner Kering in August. As part of the agreement, signatories made three key commitments: to stop global warming by achieving net-zero emissions by 2050; restore biodiversity and protect the oceans. The pact followed in the footsteps of the UN Fashion Charter signed in December 2018, which saw 43 brands also commit to net zero emissions by 2050.
The fashion industry rallied behind the Amazon forest fires
The devastating Amazon fires in August, which saw more than 30,000 individual blazes tear through the world’s largest rainforest, was another massive wake-up call for the fashion industry this year — particularly as the production of leather products and fabrics such as viscose, rayon, and modal is linked to the degradation of rainforests. LVMH, the owner of brands including Louis Vuitton and Dior, donated €10million in a bid to help tackle the forest fires, while H&M and VF Corporation, owner of Timberland and Vans, said they would be halting leather purchases from Brazil.
Carbon offsetting is in fashion
We all know that cutting greenhouse gas emissions is crucial in the fight against the climate crisis, and one-way brands did this in 2019 was by carbon offsetting. In September, Gabriela Hearst announced her New York show would be carbon neutral, shortly followed by Burberry in London. Then, Gucci and its parent company Kering said they would be completely carbon neutral throughout their operations and supply chain by offsetting any emissions that couldn’t be reduced or avoided in other ways. In November, Gucci CEO and chairman Marco Bizzarri launched the Carbon Neutral Challenge, where he urged other companies to follow the company’s lead in tackling the climate crisis.
In fact, sustainability was the biggest trend of SS20
Sustainability was the buzzword of spring/summer 2020, although the level of commitment varied from brand to brand. There were trees at Dior, fully recyclable sets at Miu Miu and Louis Vuitton, and upcycled fabrics including tulle and organza at Alexander McQueen. Then, there were recycled plastic bottles at Marni and Preen, solar-powered lamps at Missoni, and an environmentally focused collection at Marine Serre called “Marée Noire”, which literally translates as “black tide”, referencing oil spills.
Rising designers working in sustainability won top prizes
2019 also saw young designers being recognized for their work in sustainability. Bethany Williams, who combines her eco-friendly practices with supporting social initiatives, won the Queen Elizabeth II Prize at London Fashion Week in February, while Emily Bode — known for repurposing antique materials — won the CFDA Award for Emerging Designer of the Year in June. Meanwhile, young Austrian designer Christoph Rumpf, whose focus is on upcycling vintage and deadstock materials, won the Hyères Festival’s Grand Jury Prize Première Vision.
Prada prioritizes recycling
The trend for using recycled plastic in the fashion industry is not new; both Adidas and Stella McCartney have used recycled ocean plastic in their collections in recent years. In June, Prada became the latest major brand to jump on board by launching its Re-Nylon range, featuring bags made out of recycled fishing nets. The Italian fashion brand also committed to using only recycled nylon by the end of 2021 as part of its wider sustainability strategy.
Adidas closed the loop with its eco-trainer
With the fashion industry being a massive drain on natural resources, organizations such as the Global Fashion Agenda and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation called for a move towards a circular fashion industry: a system by which products can be reused or fully decomposed. In April, Adidas made major progress in this area by launching itstrainers, which are fully recyclable and designed to be remade into running shoes over and over again.
The rise of rental and resale
Another way the industry strived to become more circular in 2019 was by embracing the rental and resale models. This year saw brands such as H&M and Ganni trial their own rental platforms, while sites including Hurr Collective and Onloan emerged on the scene in the UK. Meanwhile, major brands are embracing the world of resale: in October, Burberry announced that it would offer customers who resell its clothes on The RealReal a personal shopping experience as a reward.