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Ethical apparel is the biggest new style trend

The business case for sustainability and transparency as a means of securing the trust of millennial consumers has been proven. And this appetite for socially conscious products is motivating a number of brands within the clothing industry to embrace “slow” fashion.

Fast fashion has been hugely popular among consumers, as it levels the playing field of shopping; expensive designs could be swiftly recreated and mass-produced from cheaper materials at a lower price point. Brands like Zara and H&M dominate this area on the high street, while the rise of style bloggers over the last ten years has helped to drive e-commerce sales. When you see a must-have item online, it takes only a couple of clicks to track down the cheapest option on the web and complete a purchase.

The constant influx of new trends, coupled with the lower quality of mass-produced clothes, mean that the average garment’s lifecycle is getting shorter — and fashion consumers are starting to worry about the environmental impact of this model. Every stage of manufacturing textiles produces pollutants, from farming cotton with pesticides to transporting the final garments. And while the use of toxic chemical dyes in clothing production is illegal in Europe, we actually get 80 per cent of our clothes from Asia, where such bans don’t apply.

According to NPD Group, these younger consumers are willing to spend up to 15 per cent more on clothing if they can be sure that it is ethically produced. “The younger generation, in particular, is willing to pay for the responsibility factor, because they’re not buying as much stuff in the first place,” says Marshal Cohen, a retail analyst with NPD. “They want to buy things that are good for the environment and are going to last.”

Fashion and lifestyle brands responding to this demand include New Era, PACT, Everlane and Patagonia. PACT Organic’s garments are made from organic cotton, which yields far less waste than conventional cotton. Everlane publishes the entire supply chain of every product sold on its website, including material provenance and labour costs, while Patagonia sells a clothing line made entirely from recycled fabrics, and even offers free repairs and home repair guides to customers, to extend garment lifespans.

“Part of our mission is to get more people to use recycled materials and think about manufacturing environments,” says Cory Bayers, VP of Marketing at Patagonia. “The education level of the customers is there, and more brands are recognizing it.” Patagonia has form in this area; last year it donated 100 per cent of its Black Friday sales revenue to environmental charities.

As ever, widespread adoption in the fashion industry is led by the catwalk. With sportswear brands leading the way in wearable technology, and fashion houses like Chanel experimenting with 3D printing and alternative textiles, perhaps we won’t have to wait long for an ethically sourced, fully recycled runway show.

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