8 Oct 2020

This week: How are fashion labels, both big and small, evolving to meet the moment?


When we look back at the dawn of the 2020s, what will be remembered about what we wore? (Antiviral sportswear, turtleneck face masks?)

“Fashion is a potent visual marker of our times,” said Caroline Stevenson, a professor at the London College of Fashion. And the times, they are a-changin'.

• 75% of Americans view sustainability as important, reported The Business of Fashion – but studies show the definition varies across ages, nationalities, and even product categories. (Millennials factor in labour practices, Germans care more about the use of fur). “To make concrete demonstrable progress we … need to help clear up the mushiness that is sustainability,” said Maxine Bédat, founder of “think and do tank” the New Standard Institute. Its goal is to use real stats and “the power of citizens” to transform the industry, and is rolling out a fact-checking database later this year.

• Recommerce is in the news, with Gucci the latest luxury label to ink a deal with secondhand platform The RealReal. For every pair of loafers purchased, they’ll even plant a tree! (Tree-planting is trending if you’re virtue signalling). Levi’s just launched a recycling program – Levi’s SecondHand – enabling shoppers to trade-in their old cut-offs for credit. It ticks the eco-friendly box, and it’s big business, with apparel resale growing 21 times faster than sales of new clothing over the past three years.

• Corporate responsibility is ramping up, but is it a smokescreen? Chanel, ever the pioneer, announced a new initiative to bring solar energy to low-income residents in California – which critics say allows the company to claim carbon neutral cred. Good On You, which rates brands on ethics and sustainability, gives the luxury house a low grade, pointing to lack of evidence it minimises waste or ensures a living wage in its supply chain. For the fashion world at large, that chain is under increasing scrutiny. Mark Raymond, co-founder of The Future Laboratory, predicts that more brands will shift to a made to-order model. “Change is coming,” he said.

It will need to be big. “If the apparel industry continues to expand at its current rate – fashion will use 26% of the world’s budget for staying within a two-degree rise in temperature… we need massive, systemic shifts,” wrote Emily Farra in Vogue.

Examining fashion’s triple bottom line – social, environmental, and economic – is to know the true cost of doing business.


Touting brand activism as a growth driver makes us feel icky, but a genuine expression of a moral conscience is something we all want to support – especially in this fraught political environment. “Consumers are increasingly loyal to brands that take a strong stance around the issues that resonate with them… that’s how they drive growth… and keep their people inspired and engaged,” Marc Rosen, Levi Strauss executive VP, told Retail Brew.

• “Vote the assholes out,” reads the new labels Patagonia stitched into their shorts. And they mean elections both local and national. Outdoor recreation is a $374 billion business that accounts for 2% of the U.S. economy, and with public land threatened like never before – those retailers see political activism as the only way forward. “To be a relevant brand today, you need to be doing something on climate, and doing something authentic,” Amy Horton, a director at the Outdoor Industry Association, told the Los Angeles Times.

• Civic engagement is, for lack of a better word, trending. 60% of Americans want to see brands – fashion included – encourage people to vote, reported The Business of Fashion. Menswear label Bode offered to help shoppers register at its NYC store. Girlfriend’s socks politely request: “Please Vote, Please Recycle.” “Fashion drives culture and cultural shifts drive voter turnout,” Andy Bernstein, director at HeadCount, told The Guardian. Speaking of fashion-driven culture shifts, remember Aurora James’s 15 Percent Pledge challenge to 9 major retailers? She’s gotten 6 to sign up.

• “There is no better time to look at your own company’s set [of principles] and address how they can change,” wrote Joseph Keefer, founder of consulting firm KFR Studio, who penned a how-to guide on forming a purpose-driven clothing brand for Highsnobiety. For inspiration, look no further than kind of blau – a Berlin-based label sourcing and producing 100% of their fabrics and garments in the EU – founders of the world’s first NGO tackling fashion’s water pollution and consumption issues.

Is it opportunist when a brand takes a political stance? Or is it essential? With the catastrophic effects of climate change already being felt, is there even a choice? Tell us your thoughts on this, and more, in our State of Retail survey – and help us help you plan for what comes next.

We’re all on the same ship. So come gather ‘round people, wherever you roam. And admit that the waters around you have grown.

Words by Amy Tai, creative consultant and native New Yorker now based in London.