Sustainable fashion is having something of a moment. From its origins in the environmental movement of the 1960s, through early pioneers like Patagonia and Esprit, to the slow fashion trend, sustainability has entered the mainstream of the luxury market. As if to prove the point, last summer, 32 companies — spanning fast-fashion and luxury fashion brands — signed the fashion pact. Signatories include Chanel, Ralph Lauren and Prada. The pledge promised to combat climate change emphasises sustainability in the industry.

Nevertheless, a year on from the start of COVID, the cracks in fashion’s unsustainable supply chains have been well and truly exposed.

However, from those difficulties, new opportunities have emerged for fashion brands. Changing lifestyles have made consumers think about how they want to live and where they want to spend their money. Indeed, in a recent survey by Edelmen, 81 per cent of respondents said that trust in a brand to do what’s right is a deciding factor when it comes to their buying decisions.

The slowing of our lifestyles, together with shifting consumer values, is already accelerating a change that has been decades in the making and brands that put social and environmental responsibility at the forefront will thrive.

We look at how some brands are already embracing sustainable supply chains’ and preparing for success in the post-pandemic years to come.

Where is the demand?

It goes without saying that the pandemic has caused a slowdown in luxury goods sales. Still, many industry experts believe that the luxury sector could bounce back stronger than before — driven by younger, ethically conscious consumers who prefer socially and environmentally responsible products.

According to a 2020 study by First Insight, for example, 62 per cent of Gen-Z patrons prefer to buy from sustainable brands, and most Gen-Z consumers said they are willing to pay more — up to 10 per cent more — for sustainable products. The findings are similar for millennials, and even among less environmentally conscious generations, almost half of Gen X buyers said the same.

Commenting on the findings, Greg Petro, CEO of First Insight, said, “The research shows that with every generation, sustainability is becoming further embedded in purchase decisions.

“It’s incredibly important that retailers and brands continue to follow the voices of their customers. With Generation Z on track to becoming the largest generation of consumers this year, retailers and brands must start supercharging sustainability practices now if they are to keep pace.”

Sustainability sells. It is that simple, and consumers looking for ethically produced products that they can trust.

Sustainability strategies in fashion

With this knowledge, and understanding that millennials and gen-z consumers are driving 85 percent of global luxury sales growth, Millennials and Generation Z consumers are driving 85 percent of global luxury sales growth, how can luxury brands reposition themselves to embrace this change and build sustainable luxury into their narrative?

Some of the biggest luxury fashion names are introducing their customers to sustainable fashion through new, dedicated lines. Prada, for example, recently launched Re-Nylon, a sustainable line of bags and accessories made of recycled plastic collected from oceans and fishing nets. The collection will be sold through The Corner Shop, a pop-up space in department store Selfridges, which kicks off Project Earth — an initiative that spotlights brands and practices that put the environment first.

Smaller brands like Mother of Pearl centre themselves around sustainability and ethical practice, with bold commitments around the ethical treatment of the farmers and workers who make their clothes, and, crucially, a commitment to traceability and transparency through their entire supply chain.

Reflecting on these ambitions, Powney agreed that although no one can do everything, everyone can do something. She said, “it’s hard because there’s no handbook out there on how to make a brand sustainable. But I wanted to know from start to finish where it was grown, who was making it, how much money people get paid, where it is travelling from. I wanted to know the entire thing before I could stand up to the world and shout about it. That has to be completely authentic to me.”

Other brands like The People Tree and Everlane are also embracing transparency to prove their sustainable credentials. Both firms offer consumers the chance to meet their clothes’ makers or take digital tours of their factories. Not only does this method showcase fair and ethical practices, but it also underlines the fact that these garments are created by local artisans, making them authentic and unique — the true ethos of social luxury.

Balancing transparency with exclusivity with blockchain support

Building in transparent supply chains can be challenging. Luxury brands have always embraced an element of mystique, but times are changing in the digital age — consumers are hungry for more information. They want to make sure that their purchase decisions reflect their ethics.

Besides inviting consumers into garment factories and showcasing their ethical credentials in person, companies are increasingly reaching for technological solutions that deliver secure transparency that consumers can trust. In today’s world, that means blockchain.

Blockchains — like Y Platform — are databases that organise data and content in a different way to traditional systems — creating immutable ledgers of each data point, protecting it from deletion and tampering.

Commenting on this, Yaliyomo CEO Nihat Arkan said, “The beauty of blockchain is that once we create a record, for example, a ‘digital sibling’ of a bag or a piece from a collection, this data can’t be deleted. We can record the details of a product and where it has come from. Any amendments show up immediately, with complete visibility, and only genuine brands can create those records — which means that for the first time, brands can use technology to record their entire supply chain process from start to finish, and consumers can know — truly know — that this is real and trustworthy.”

Y platform — the company’s consumer-facing solution for brands, is transforming fashion traceability. Developed by experts in content management and high-end retail, it sits alongside existing Content Platforms and cuts out the need for expensive system replacements.

Bjorn Bayard, Yaliyomo founder, explains, “We wanted something that would dramatically improve security and traceability for both brands and consumers without having to migrate fully onto a new platform, with new processes and lots of difficulties. We can get clients set up and their products recorded and authenticated in the blockchain in a matter of weeks.”

The process is even easier for consumers. “For a customer, all they need to do is download our App, available on the Apple App Store and Google’s Android Store, open their account, and they are ready to go.”

Authorised brands and sellers can create digital siblings and pass these on to the consumer as proof of ownership, pre-loaded with all the traceability information they want to show. In turn, customers can pass this on again when they sell on their timepiece or give it as a gift.

Whether a new bag, the latest collection or a piece of jewellery, consumers want to know that what they are buying is the real thing. Both authentic in provenance and authentic in their sustainability credentials. A digital world needs a digital solution — blockchain and Y platform offer a ready to go solution that helps fashion brands build a trustworthy sustainability narrative.