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Why competition is stunting sustainable change

Competition between brands is slowing systemic sustainability progress in the fashion industry, the chief executive of non-profit organisation Forum for the Future, Sally Uren, told delegates at today’s Drapers Sustainable Fashion Forum.

“All of us need to move from ‘not invented here’ to ‘proudly found everywhere’,” she said. “In the fashion industry, there is so much competition, particularly around collaboration for sustainability, that is slowing down progress.

“Let’s stop arguing about what is the best sustainable cotton and celebrate that there is so much going on that we can knit together.”

Uren called for a focus on driving systematic change for sustainability in the fashion industry “as it is clear that incremental changes aren’t going to drive solutions”: “We’re not doing enough on creating the right incentives and business models, and to develop policies that will shift cultural behaviours.”

The answer, Uren said, is to change to an economy that does not purely focus on financial profit, and instead rewards companies in the fashion industry for their sustainable progress: “We tend to view profit purely in financial terms but, in the next ten years, the notion of economic progress is going to broaden to include how well you are stewarding your carbon or incorporating environmental issues.”

She added: “We need to fix an economy that is not working for sustainability and, through collaboration, you can send signals into the market where brands are rewarded not just for selling more stuff.”

Uren argued that a new economic focus would drive change in consumer behaviour and enable fast fashion to engage with sustainability: “It’s not universally true that sustainable is more expensive, particularly in the big global supply chains by switching your sourcing you can save money.”.

“I struggle with fast fashion brands that say they are serious about sustainability yet are driving demand for T-shirts that are clearly not produced in a sustainable way. Fast fashion struggles because it’s not rewarded on selling less. If we can change that reward structure, then we can change that consumer demand.”

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