Resale could have even more potential, says Moon. A report commissioned by US online resale brand ThredUp predicted that the resale market will grow 11 times faster than traditional retail over the next five years. Paris-based Vestiaire Collective, which allows users to buy and sell pre-owned, often designer, clothing, is one of the most popular and currently valued at more than $1 billion (£742m).
But there’s no quick fix for fashion, says Williams. Meeting climate targets will mean a reevaluation of all aspects of the industry. While fashion giants remain reliant on business models built on increasing consumption, smaller brands are “not tweaking at the edges because they start from a different place”, she says.
Womenswear brand House of Baukjen, for example, has just been awarded the UN Global Climate Action Award for its circular business model. It “designs for longevity” using “low impact materials”, says chief executive Geoff van Sonsbeeck. It has short supply chains and will only work with suppliers that meet its sustainability standards. Baukjen also offers rental options, a take back programme for used clothes and, in the words of van Sonsbeeck, “we are quite vocal” about explaining to customers how best to look after the clothing.
There is also movement among bigger companies, which are showing a willingness to collaborate. In 2019, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation gathered more than 70 brands, retailers and other organisations – including Asos, Levi’s and Chloé – to launch The Jeans Redesign, a programme looking at every life stage of a pair of jeans from design and manufacturing to use, reuse and recycling. The organisation used the findings to create circular standards for participants and it says 500,000 pairs of jeans have since come to market which are “durable, traceable, recyclable and made using safe materials and processes.”
For fashion to stay on a pathway that is compatible with limiting warming to 1.5C, it will take a mix of legislation – including carbon pricing and support for renewable energy – along with a huge culture change, where people consume less, says Williams.
The timeframe for action is narrow and the impacts of the climate crisis are worsening, but Williams is buoyed by the scale of innovation. “It’s a really exciting time for fashion, even though it’s a time that’s pretty hair-raising as well.”
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