Design, production and consumption of apparel that increases resale, subscription, renting and reuse of clothes using safe and renewable materials is a growing trend, and the pandemic appears to have accelerated the so-called ‘shift to thrift’ among developed market consumers, according to a new research brief by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Both the European and the American resale markets are on the rise, with major second-hand retailers emerging. Younger generations are showing a growing preference for second-hand clothing.
Nevertheless, there is still considerable uncertainty about the future of these alternative consumption models, particularly when their environmental credentials are more closely scrutinised, the brief, titled ‘The post-COVID-19 garment industry in Asia’, noted.
Longer-term changes in fashion habits are also speeding up customisation. Small-batch or on-demand models can increase efficiency and also margins, using algorithmic fitting for customers and 3D weaving, it said.
For more traditional retailers, these new models also reduce losses due to inventory mismanagement that result in markdowns and stockouts.
Despite the promotion of circular fashion, the dominant garment industry model as of now, however, remains linear. The pace of sustainability progress in the fashion industry has been slow. Even in pre-pandemic times, it was not moving fast enough to counterbalance the harmful impact of the fashion industry’s growth, the brief said.
In addition, the pre-pandemic projections of rapid income growth among Asia’s 4.3 billion consumers and 4-5 per cent annual global growth in new garment sales are likely to far outstrip increases in garment reuse and resale, it observed.
The science and the infrastructure for measurement and disclosure of progress on environmental commitments are increasingly well developed. But recent aggregate analyses of these efforts and their outcomes point to a decoupling between industry goals, practices and results, even as the industry’s most advanced sustainability initiatives have been limited in their impact in the face of downward price pressures, the brief said.
Data reveal a persistent ‘intention-action gap’ between consumer sustainability sentiment and their actual spending. While consumer concerns about labour rights and environmental costs in garment supply chains have been growing, researchers point to a general reluctance among consumers to pay for better social and environmental standards for garments that are produced with such costs internalised, it added.