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These were the sustainability efforts of the fashion industry in 2020

By Simone Preuss

31 Dec 2020

The year 2020 started harmless enough with several good sustainability initiatives, but they were soon overshadowed by the global Corona pandemic. From March onwards, with lockdowns and restrictions for brick and mortar stores selling non-essentials like clothing, accessories and shoes, it was more about the survival of many brands and retailers than the continuation of sustainable efforts. We probably would not have been surprised if lists like this one had to be discontinued for the time being.

But a turnaround already cautiously emerged in May, which intensified in June and the following months: Sustainability was seen as a way out of the crisis and the efforts of brands, retailers and other industry players deepened accordingly. Particularly encouraging is an increasing willingness to cooperate, as seen in various projects, but also the call for a general slowdown of the industry. If 2020 has taught us one thing, it surely is that less can be more and, if applied to the quantity produced and the fashion industry’s negative environmental impact, it will be a good motto to guide it through the next few years.

January 2020

Image: Edwin USA

The year 2020 started on a good note in terms of sustainability - 20 efforts were announced by brands, retailers and other industry players like Tendam, Zalando and Net-a-Porter in the first month of the year alone. It is heartening to see that sustainability plans - and implementing them - are still high on the agenda. Brands and retailers also increased their efforts to source more sustainable materials for fashion lines, shoes and accessories and reached out to each other for cooperation.

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February 2020

Image: Teva

In February, it was heartening to see the industry reaching out to partners outside the fashion realm to make more sustainable products come true or to simply tackle social and environmental problems together. Even recent fashion weeks and other industry events were used to push the sustainable fashion agenda. Other highlights of the month: The Cotton Ranking 2020 announced the most sustainable cotton users and Fashion for Good the nine participants of its first South Asia accelerator program. FashionUnited found 26 such efforts that were announced in February 2020 alone.

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March 2020

Image: Ethletic

With the world reeling in shock from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, one would think that sustainability had taken a backseat but on the contrary, more than ever, the fashion industry was determined to make every effort count. It was particularly heartening to see that brands like Asics, Christopher Raeburn, Baukjen and Isabelle Oliver reached out to each other or industry-related companies for cooperation. The Textile Exchange releasing a new Responsible Mohair Standard was one of the 23 sustainable efforts announced in March 2020 alone.

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April 2020

Image: Vinted

Even though the Corona virus continued to keep the fashion industry on its toes, sustainability became more important than ever - a study even proved how it could save the fashion industry in the current situation. Just in time for the 50th celebration of Earth Day on 22nd April, the results of the Fashion Transparency Index were announced. FashionUnited was pleased to see that sustainability was in demand even in times of crisis and featured 17 sustainable initiatives that were announced by companies such as Canada Goose, Burberry, Ethletic and Emilia George in April 2020 alone.

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May 2020

Image: Adidas / Allbirds

Even in the face of the impact of the Corona crisis, the fashion industry’s sustainability efforts were moving forward in leaps and bounds with 16 initiatives announced in May alone. Footwear brands like Adidas and Allbirds, for example, showed how sneakers can become more sustainable while business models like resale and secondhand also gained momentum. In an open letter, star designers and fashion entrepreneurs called for far-reaching changes, including a slowing down of the entire fashion industry.

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June 2020

Image: Allbirds

What was already apparent in May continued in June as well: The fashion industry recognised the importance of its sustainability efforts - commercially and for the sake of the environment - and even during Corona, fashion companies made them a part of their budgets. The industry also seemed to be recovering from the pandemic and finding its way back to a ‘new normal’ where sustainability is a given. FashionUnited has put together 18 sustainable initiatives by companies like Puma, Gucci and Farfetch that were announced in June 2020 alone.

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July 2020

Image: Adidas x Parley

With efforts at brand level by players like Adidas, The North Face and Levi’s with more sustainable, circular or recyclable products, the industry’s sustainability efforts continued with 14 announced in July. Initiatives like the one by Fashion for Good and SeaChange presented further-reaching solutions such as waste water treatment, offsetting carbon emissions or tackling the plastic problem.

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August 2020

Image: Skopes

The fashion industry’s sustainability efforts continued in August with a vengeance - 26 such initiatives were announced. Cooperations between brands were in fashion but also those industry-wide or even industry-transcending ones that are concerned with guidelines and standards, for example by Fashion Positive. At brand and retail level, more sustainable collections by Skopes, Asket and Prophetik were going strong as well as operating in a more responsible, efficient and sustainable way. Yarn innovations were big this month too, along with new clothing rental initiatives.

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September 2020

Image: Redress

In September, the fashion industry’s efforts in the areas of sustainability, resale and recycling continued with 32 initiatives. Brands and retailers like Bestseller, Kenzo and Wrangler have accepted the challenge to produce greener, more sustainable and resourceful products, campaigns and ways of operating. As far as cooperation is concerned, industry leaders and brands remained interested and joined forces for innovative projects.

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October 2020

Image: Allbirds

With 36 initiatives, October turned out to be the strongest month of the year in terms of sustainability and the fashion industry’s efforts in the areas of sustainability, resale and circularity seemed to have switched to a higher gear. Cooperations by Very, Marchon and the Fashion Green Hub came through, be it to introduce innovative new materials, provide second hand clothes or ecological innovations. Brands and retailers like Burberry, Allbirds and Adidas are still going strong when it comes to making the fashion they sell and running their operations more sustainable.

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November 2020

Image: Clae

Following on the October momentum, in November, too, cooperations like the New Cotton Projects and the Conscious Fashion Campaign ranked high in the industry, ranging from promoting circular fashion to reducing packaging materials and more. Brands and retailers like G-Star Raw, Moncler and H&M kicked it up a notch in view of the holidays and put their most sustainable foot forward in terms of offering products that make a difference. FashionUnited found 29 sustainable initiatives that were announced in the month of November alone.

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December 2020

Image: Timberland

In December too, the fashion industry sought to advance its efforts towards more sustainability, recycling and a generally more circular economy. Particularly encouraging: collaborations between brands and tech hubs such as H&M with HKRITA, Bestseller and Cyclo, or Fashion for Good and Biofabricate to accelerate innovations. The last month of the year was also impressive in terms of more sustainable products such as jeans and shoes. FashionUnited found 20 sustainable initiatives presented by the fashion industry in December 2020 alone.

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Image: Renewcell