The fashion industry faces challenges that encompass both social and environmental issues, ranging from unsustainable practices in the procurement of raw material to high pollutant manufacturing processes, as well as poor working conditions in developing countries that manufacture most of the textiles. The factors are aggravated by the fast-fashion consumption behavior and mindset which is encouraged by marketing campaigns.

Over the past years, however, society has witnessed the rise of a collective conscience towards these issues, marked by a global movement that demands more sustainable practices. In cooperation with the Global Fashion Agenda, McKinsey has recently published a Fashion on Climate report that aims to support the sustainability efforts of the fashion industry by demystifying its complexities to guide and mobilize the industry players to take action towards sustainability. Through an analysis of all stages of the production chain, the document suggests 16 steps for brands, retailers, manufacturers, citizens, investors, and politicians to act. For instance, it emphasizes that about 43% of the industry's carbon emission reduction potential can be achieved through decarbonizing production and better process efficiency.

The report identifies that the adoption of a more conscious approach to fashion consumption is one of the three key areas that can enable a more sustainable path for the fashion industry. The other two are related to the need to reduce the emissions from both upstream and brands’ operations, as projections show that, at the current pace, the industry growth adjusted to the COVID-19 impact, is likely to overshoot the 2030 Paris Agreement target by almost twofold, reaching 2.1 billion metric tons of CO2 at 2030 instead of the 1 billion targets.

One of the main challenges of the industry is implementing new technologies and developing innovative processes throughout the whole value chain, from manufacturing to logistics. And some successful cases show it is possible to adopt better practices.

A great practical example is G-Star RAW, the Dutch brand behind the "most sustainable jeans ever", launched in 2018, made with techniques and technologies that significantly reduced the environmental impact of creating a pair of jeans. To achieve the goal of launching such a product, G-Star RAW focused its efforts on:

  • Sustainable materials: the jeans are made with organic cotton, that is produced with 91% less water than the conventional production methods;
  • Sustainable process: Deployment of a new coloring technology that uses 70% fewer chemicals and the development of a washing process that recycles and reuses 98% of the water;
  • Ethical sourcing: all the raw materials used in the products are manufactured in a responsible way that preserves natural resources and respects human and animal rights;
  • Improving logistics and distribution process to reduce its footprint.


G-Star RAW has adopted sustainability into its strategy since 2008 and believes it is a condition for doing business and considers it a process of continuous improvement. The organization, which in 2019 signed the UN Climate Charter committing to reduce its total emissions by 30%, has made its innovations available through a very resourceful online database whereby designers, brands, suppliers, and manufacturers can have access. By making this information accessible across the industry, the brand is allowing the practical development of a new baseline so that other brands can incorporate and develop similar innovations, leading to a more sustainable path for the whole industry and meeting the sector’s needs.

And this is an industry that seems prone to corporate collaboration at the sector level. Several large brands have associated themselves and supported Fashion for Good, an organizational platform to promote social innovations in the fashion value chain and share them at the industry level.

We believe that the fashion industry, led by responsible leaders ready to innovate and collaborate, and inspired by sustainability pioneers such as Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, and G-Star Raw, can create a new path towards sustainability. This path requires the support of a new consumer mindset that, together with the fashion brands, can make create change for the better. We are looking forward to witnessing this change!

Have a great and impactful week!

Natalia Cantarino
Researcher & Communications Manager
Center for Responsible Business & Leadership

This article refers to edition #64 of the "Have a Great and Impactful Week" Newsletter.
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