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In Review 2021: Landmark sustainability moves that shaped the industry

Camilla Rydzek
22 December 2021

Despite nearly two years of disruption, the global fashion industry has remained focused on achieving a more sustainable way of doing business.

As the Fashion on Climate report by the Global Fashion Agenda has set out, the industry has to cut its emissions in half by 2030 if it wants to achieve the 1.5-degree pathway set out by the UN. This is a huge undertaking, but in the year that hosted COP26, brands have been making promising strides with a plethora of labels choosing to sign green pledges, launch sustainable collections and collaborated on innovative new projects.

There is an undeniable industry shift and while this article does not provide a comprehensive overview for everything that has happened (we can suggest a visit our Sustainability tab for all relevant stories) it looks back at some of the landmark sustainability moves that have shaped the industry in 2021

From new Government legislation to tackle labour scandals, to the mainstream media taking a stance on animal cruelty and big tech getting involved to create impactful supply chain solutions - here are 10 landmark moves.

March 2021

1) The world’s first mushroom leather garment was unveiled

Early this year sustainable fashion designer Stella McCartney became the first luxury house in the world to create garments from Mylo by Bolt Threads – a vegan, sustainable, animal-free leather alternative made from mycelium, the renewable underground root system of fungi. The designer, who has been known for her material innovations, also exhibited this collaboration at COP26 this year.

The Mylo mushroom leather garment from Stella McCartney

2) MPs called for a Garment Trade Adjudicator to replace voluntary schemes

Following the failure of voluntary initiatives to stamp out labour abuses in the UK fashion industry MPs urged the Government to consider a compulsory garment trade adjudicator.

Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, Philip Dunne, explained: “A garment trade adjudicator could help to ensure undue economic pressure is not placed on suppliers to cut corners on pay and conditions.” The new system would take its cues from the food industry where a similar oversight body was introduced in 2013. No decision has been made on this by the government to date but the conversation is ongoing and was discussed in a recent evidence session hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Ethical and Sustainable Fashion which also heard from the EAC.

May 2021

3) Boohoo linked executive bonuses to ESG goals

In an unprecedented move the Boohoo Group bowed to demands from MPs to link its executive bonuses to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals. The move was suggested in an open letter by the EAC’s chairman Philip Dunne.

The Group accepted as it intended to move on from the previous year's accusations of mistreatment of staff at some suppliers in Leicester. In the group annual report it said: "Whilst we ultimately believe that the full resolution (or otherwise) of these (supply chain) issues will be reflected in long-term share price performance (and thus have an impact on the value of awards) we have also agreed with participants to add a new non-financial performance condition."

Boohoo updates on US lawsuit


June 2021

4) Government launched a new workers' rights watchdog and warned it may ban garments made by underpaid workers

The Government pledged to clamp down on workplace abuse, such as modern slavery, enforcing the minimum wage and protecting agency workers, with a powerful new workers' watchdog created by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). This followed on from allegations that legal wages were not being paid in garment factories in Leicester and beyond.

The new "one-stop shop" approach would help improve enforcement through better co-ordination and pooling intelligence, the BEIS said. It also warned that it may introduce bans on the sale of goods - including those in the garment sector - where workers have been found to have been underpaid. This, however, has not been enforced to date.

5) Fast fashion is called to reduce its reliance on virgin plastic

The Fast Fashion Plastic Problem report by Royal Society of Arts (RSA) urged fast fashion retailers to dramatically increase their use of recycled materials after finding that half of the clothes sold on popular websites were made from virgin plastics.

The RSA also called upon the Government to consider a per-item "plastics tax" on clothing imported into or produced in the UK containing virgin plastics, in order to disincentivise the extraction of fossil-fuels destined to become clothing. It suggests that income from the tax could be used to invest in new innovations in biomaterials and circular economy infrastructure.

September 2021

6) The Bangladesh Accord was replaced by a legally binding International Accord signed by big industry names

The International Accord for Health and Safety in the Garment and Textile Industry came into force on 1 September, replacing the then-expired Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. It was signed by a number of retailers including ASOS, Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and Matalan with more joining the list. The importance of the accord is that includes legally-binding commitments, including respect for freedom of association and independent administration and monitoring, while also expanding the remit to include other countries and an option to advance its scope to include human rights due diligence.



October 2021

7) Big brand and retailers linked its financing to sustainability goals

Another significant corporate move by John Lewis Partnership saw it linking a £420 million five-year revolving credit facility to environmental targets. Under the terms of the agreement the interest rate paid on the facility will vary depending on whether the company achieves three environmental targets over five years related to reducing carbon emissions, reducing food waste and moving away from fossil fuels. Hugo Boss also linked its financing with sustainability goals, securing a revolving syndicated loan that fulfils key environmental, social and government (ESG) criteria.

November 2021

8) Big tech helped fashion identify environmental risks in its supply chains

Google partnered with the non-profit organisation WWF to launch a digital tool that would help fashion brands understand the environmental risk and impact of their fibre sourcing. Called the Global Fibre Impact Explorer (GFIE) it uses Google Clouds technology to gather a number of data points including climate risk and impact on the locations where fibres are sourced. A first case study with Stella McCartney showed the technologies success, identifying that water scarcity was an environmental risk facing one of its sourcing country, Turkey.

Stella McCartney Prince Charles

Stella McCartney & Prince Charles at COP26

9) At COP26 a new pledge outlined that fashion communication must evolve

A commitment to align consumer and industry communication efforts to a 1.5-degree compatible pathway was announced at COP26, directed at communication and marketing professionals in the industry. It recognised the immense power of fashion industry communication and sets out that this is a key area that needs to be addressed in order to reduce emissions by 2030. Draft recommendations included committing to accurate reporting and transparency, focusing on inclusive marketing and storytelling as well as motivating and mobilising the public to advocate for broader change.

December 2021

10) Fashion media took a stance: Elle became the first magazine to completely ban fur from editorial and advertising

ELLE magazine became the first magazine to commit to ending the promotion of animal fur both in editorial and advertising this month. As multiple fashion brands and retailers pledged to go fur-free the magazine was the first media outlet to also take a stance. Across its 45 global editions the magazine pledged that no promotions of animal fur would be found on its pages, websites or social media and no animal fur would be shown in editorials, press images, runway and street style images or advertisements.

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