During a rare weekend visit to possibly Amsterdam’s only mall, I passed by the Mango store. Right at the front of endless racks of clothes, stood a single mannequin wearing an asymmetrical off-white shirt and off-white pants. The tag that hung from the shirt read ‘Committed’.
Aha! I was finally face to face with Mango’s answer to Join Life by Zara, the Eco edition by ASOS and Conscious by H&M. Made from organic cotton, the Committed capsule promised environmental sustainability in the pieces produced. Naturally curious to see the rest of the collection, I was met with disappointment when I saw just these two pieces of clothing. The store manager obliged with a reasonable explanation. “Customers have been asking for sustainable clothing in our store but we first wanted to see the response of people to this collection before we have more designs.”
If you’ve visited the Zara stores and asked for their Join Life collection, be prepared to find either few pieces or nothing from the collection. Clearly there is a growing demand for sustainability from consumers who want to know more about the conditions in which their clothes were made or buy clothing made from environmentally friendly materials. These same consumers want to buy less, buy well and make their clothes last. According to a Euromonitor International Survey, more than 14% of U.S. consumers looked for apparel and accessories made from natural materials in 2016, up from 12.9% in 2015. And millennials, more than any other age group, looked for apparel and accessories that were "sustainably produced.
But here’s the big question: are sustainable collections merely a tick in the box for the fast fashion brands or can it become the core of their business philosophy? The Join Life collection makes up just 1.5% of Zara’s assortment and the Conscious Collection makes up 3.5% of H&M’s assortment. In time to come, will these become the norm, making up a bigger part of fashion collections world-wide (currently a whopping 150 billion new pieces of clothing are produced globally each year)? Or will they continue to be a tiny percentage of the total?
Or is it just possible that we as consumers will have to drive this shift? If in addition to buying less and making it last, can we champion a bigger change by expecting that brands ‘produce less but produce well’? By demanding a change in the system, we ourselves could contribute to a green revolution.
Text: Kanak Hirani Nautiyal