Making Fashion Sustainable

Key Takeaways from NAWL's Annual Meeting

As the world faces innumerable public health, economic, and social challenges in the ongoing wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many industries have been hard hit, using this time to refocus and recover. The fashion industry is no exception. According to an April report by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, HiggCo, and the Boston Consulting Group, the impending economic crisis following the pandemic is expected to wipe out more than 30% of the industry’s business in 2020 alone, adding to existing pre-COVID stressors. In March, retail sales in the United States plunged 8.7%—the largest monthly decline ever, followed by a whopping global decline in fashion and luxury good sales of 60-70%. In China, an indispensable market for both the fashion supply chain and fashion consumers, retail sales of consumer goods experienced a decline of 19% during the first quarter of 2020.

For the $2.5 trillion fashion industry, this downturn has been a catalyst to accelerate its pre-COVID resolve to meet growing consumer demand for sustainable products, retain employees who prefer to work for sustainable companies, and satisfy investor pressure to mitigate climate disruption of supply chains through sustainable business practices. Though sustainability initiatives may slow until the harshest impacts of the pandemic subside, the fashion industry’s transition in this direction is only likely to accelerate in the years to come—and, with it, a commensurate need to ensure compliance with a similarly evolving global regulatory framework.

How does an industry with such a sizeable environmental footprint embrace sustainable practices, while meeting its environmental compliance obligations? What challenges arise and what best practices can manufacturers, brands, and other stakeholders use to ease this transition? To answer these questions, Stacey Halliday (Independent Consultant for B&D) spoke with industry experts from across the fashion supply chain during a panel at the National Association of Women Lawyers’ Annual Meeting. Stacey was joined by:

  • Angela Wartes-Kahl (Organic Farmer, Co-Founder) and Shannon Welsh (Textile Designer, Co-Founder), Fibrevolution
  • Jiaru Zheng (Senior Toxicologist), Gradient Consulting
  • Genna Heath (Product and Supply Chain Sustainability Specialist), formerly of REI

The panel touched on a diverse set of challenges, opportunities and emerging sustainability trends in the industry, including: regenerative and circular natural fiber production; sustainability certifications along the supply chain; material restrictions and risk assessments for apparel and footwear; and end-of-life trends in recycling, reuse, and disposal.

In this podcast, Stacey and Dacie Meng (Associate, DC) share their takeaways from the panel and trends they are tracking as members of B&D’s Textiles and Fashion practice.