World Environment Day: What is Sustainable fashion ? How it will impact trends? Woodland’s Harkirat Singh explains

“Fashion industry still identifies a looming gap when it comes to meeting the social and environmental targets,” said the Managing Director, Aero Club (The Maker of Woodland & Woods)

World Environment Day: What is Sustainable fashion ? How it will impact trends? Woodland’s Harkirat Singh explains
Mr. Harkirat Singh, MD Woodland Worldwide

Eco-fashion has become the talk of the town since the current consumer is very well-informed. He has realised the damage caused to the environment in the past and the need to act immediately to reduce it with human effort. Sustainable and recyclable materials are now becoming more readily available and affordable because of the increase in demand for sustainable textile and clothing products by the consumers. Woodland, a leading manufacturer and supplier of apparel and accessories strongly supports sustainability since being an outdoor brand, conservation of nature is its core pillar. Since inception, the brand has been using environment-friendly products like organic cotton, recycled rubber, etc. to manufacture products along with designing and constructing the products to perform better and last longer. In an exclusive concersation with Financial Express Online Harkirat Singh, Managing Director, Aero Club (The Maker of Woodland & Woods) talked about sustainable fashion, green targets for fashion industry, and more. Excerpt:

What do you mean by sustainable fashion? What things do brands have to do to make their products environment-friendly?

Sustainable fashion is a very sincere, two-pronged approach and we are one of the proud brands that have built itself on these principles since inception. Our philosophy has been very clear i.e.:

  • Ensuring careful selection/procurement of natural resources and using them efficiently and effectively in production, manufacturing, packaging as well as sales of our products.
  • ensuring best of the quality to ensure comfortable remake, reuse, and recycling of the product as well as its components.

Early 90s was the time when we ventured into India and those were the times when corporate were more focused on profits with minimal focus on brand building which is some-what a short-sighted vision. However, as part of our global presence, we have always believed in being an eco-friendly brand and we have followed universal philosophies irrespective of the region of presence / cost implications since this is what is the backbone of the brand Woodland, very effectively represented by / synonymous with the Tree Logo.

However, with times this awareness has been well-recognized by the consumers and thus, the brands have started working towards the same as per the need of the hour.

In a recent study it was found that big brands failed their green targets. What’s happening with sustainable fashion? Why are brands failing to achieve the target?

Fashion industry still identifies a looming gap when it comes to meeting the social and environmental targets. For an industry to achieve its goal, sustainability has to be practiced in all the stages of product’s life. The companies need to put an effort, beginning from designing, acquiring and production of raw materials to manufacturing, and then in the transportation, storage, and marketing to the final sale that leads up to the use, reuse, repair, remaking and recycling of the product and its components.

The foremost reason to fail in achieving these targets is the inability to make it through all these stages. Then there are many sustainability issues; the fashion industry encompasses a complex web of factors including human rights, affordability, supply chains and materials. That means for sustainable fashion to be successful, it is important for both consumers and companies alike, must rethink the world of fashion.

How will being sustainable impact in the long-run?

The fashion industry accounts for about 10% of global carbon emissions, and nearly 20% of wastewater.For instance, fabric dyes pollute water bodies, with devastating effects on aquatic life and drinking water. And the stretchy elastane material woven through many trendy styles is made using synthetic materials derived from plastic, which reduces recyclability and increases the environmental impact further.

Knowing all this, consumers have become selective towards their fashion choices. This industry is about emotional attachment, loyalty, and excitement for brands. And we are very convinced that, in the future, brand love and brand loyalty will very much be dependent on the sustainability attributes that a brand enables or builds with its consumers.

What challenges (monetary, etc) do the fashion brands face when going sustainable? Explain

The increasing cost of procuring raw materials is one of the biggest challenges the fashion industry faces when going sustainable. Not only the cost of growing / procuring, but also of transforming and treating the raw materials needed for making new fabrics and design lines has been on the rise since a long time now. Unless technology can help us recycle fabrics and garments more efficiently, the current cost of collecting raw materials will further challenge the fashion industry.

Money vs environment: Has sustainability been profitable for you? How much extra money does a brand need to go sustainable? How much additional have you spent for this move? How much money do you plan to invest or raise more to keep up with your target?

Sometimes, businesses are measured beyond their monetary impact. The first foremost ‘extra’ required is the mindset to contribute towards ProPlanet initiates; there is a reason we say ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’. Our brand has been built on sustainability being the strongest pillar and we have never shied away from investing in the same since this is a part of our long term strategy and started few decades ago when we started business in Canada and USSR.

How has business been during the pandemic? When was the product launched? When did it go sustainable? When do you plan to go sustainable?How do you see the future of sustainable fashion to be like?

Business during the pandemic has been over-all slow though this situation has certainly created awareness about the need for taking good care / conserving the environment. In the current scenario, need for sustainable fashion has become even more important since the consumer has well-understood the need of taking care of the environment.

Defining future of sustainable fashion lies on how much people are aware about the source of clothes, like from where the clothes come and how eco-friendly their production process is. But with the consumer habits on constant change, more and more people are curious to know, how the production takes place and how it is affecting the mother Earth. Many customers buy from brands whose value they identify with and many do opt for sustainable fashion. Now with change in time, reusing, recycling, trading and donating apparel is becoming more common in the fashion world. Conscious consumers have started choosing quality over quantity.

At Woodland, under one of our initiatives under Pro Planet Community, we have strategized and mastered the technique of using discarded rubber to make footwear. Use of recycled rubber ensures minimum use of precious resources during the manufacturing process, that helps save impressive amounts of natural resources, energy and thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing global warming.

In apparel, we have a series of technical fabrics that help in eradicating the hazardous pet bottles which has become a by-product of our daily lifestyles. Woodland has developed a special yarn ‘PureGreen’ that is made from processing of the non-bio-degradeable pet bottles. By developing such technologies, we wish to clean the environment as well as use these issues in the interest of the mankind.

Are customers willing to pay more for sustainable fashion?

The buying behavior of consumers also depends on their earnings. So while premium customers are willing to pay more for sustainable fashion, there are others who are finding other ways to contribute to sustainable fashion, in their own ways. Having said that, there still is a large community that finds it difficult or challenging to know which fashion merchants are committed to sustainable retailing.

What can be done to make fashion sustainable and yet price sensitive?

Sustainability in the fashion industry has become the buzzword in the recent decade and the power lies with the consumer. There are certain ways in which the fashion industry can become more sustainable:

· First and fore-most is certainly using eco-friendly raw materials and processes which leads to skin friendly products smoothening our eyes, skin and above all, mental satisfaction.

· Second hand shopping: As millennials are opting for second hand shopping, many brands and retailers have come forward to take up this trend. Second-hand shopping has some unique and vintage styles to standout in current fashion trends.

· Repair, Redesign and Upcycle: Brand and retailers are improving customer experience by offering them repair facilities for their clothes. Even for the clothes that can’t be repaired are redesigned according to the latest trend.And, upcycle fashion uses either pre-consumers and post-consumers wastes to manufacture new products. The process reuses old clothes without going through the recycling process.

Is there something Indian brands can learn from the West when it comes to sustaining sustainability or is it the other way around?

The Indian brands are moving towards sustainable fashion with minimum impact on the environment. Developed countries are far more aware about re-purposing and rejuvenating materials. Now, those values are being followed here, and there are some startups as well coming up to promote the sustainable fashion. We can also say that the pandemic may have affected some attitudinal and behavioral change in consumers.

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