Achieving systemic change through 3Cs for sustainable and equitable fashion

Moving Brands has partnered with fashion and retail companies to define their brand strategy and positioning for many years. We’ve seen countless trends come and go in that time but, with the climate crisis now upon us, the need for rapid systemic change has never been greater. Here, senior strategist Cici Baxter shares insights on how the industry can play its part in creating a more sustainable and equitable future through what we have dubbed the 3 open Cs.

Learning from forward-thinkers

Many believe that fashion is art lived daily, uniquely expressed in one’s personal style.

Our take? Fashion is indeed an art form, but one that can come at a price. It’s no secret that the fashion industry accounts for around 10% of global carbon emissions, nearly 20% of wastewater, and has been known to promote exclusivity and fuel consumerism.

Weaving a people- and planet-oriented ethos into the fabric of creativity is quickly becoming a prerequisite for all designers, retailers and agencies, not only to cater to the growing number of consumers demanding them but, more broadly, to play a part in protecting our planet for future generations.

The pace of change, however, feels painfully slow.

Having frequently worked on brand strategy within fashion, we at Moving Brands have identified three core drivers of successful and meaningful change that forward-thinking players are starting to embrace. We believe these principles pave the way for what all brands will need to consider and adopt in the future. We call them the 3 Open Cs.

The 3 Open Cs

  • Open Circularity

1. Open circularity

“In our current economy, we take materials from the Earth, make products from them, and eventually throw them away as waste — the process is linear. In a circular economy, by contrast, we stop waste being produced in the first place.” — Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Linear design has reigned throughout the millennium, and only now are we really witnessing and learning the ecological price that comes with this approach. Linear ways of thinking and designing can no longer cut it, both for the sake of the environment and in consumers’ minds. Especially within fashion, circular systems thinking will need to be adopted: considering the fashion cycle in its entirety. This will help to vastly reduce waste through recycling, reusing, sharing and repairing. In the end, nature is, by design, circular. It’s us as humans who created a system that does not reflect what serves us.

Learn from:

Pangaia: Circular materials

Pangaia recognises that much of the fashion industry’s negative impact comes from the materials used for our clothes. They believe that by replacing the polluting plastics in activewear with plant-based materials, they can be more earth-positive. With this in mind, they have created and developed plant-based fabrics from bamboo, pineapple, banana leaf and more.

Image: Pangaia

Chloé & Patagonia: Circular business models

Increasingly, brands need to be mindful and consider how they can structure themselves at a corporate level to ensure they are meeting the demands of the planet as well as those of their shareholders. Business models have slowly progressed, with many embracing the likes of B Corporation — companies verified by B Lab to meet high standards of social and environmental performance. Most recently, Patagonia smashed it out of the park by revisiting their business model and transferring ownership to a new nonprofit entity that will use profits in the ongoing fight against climate change

Chloé, the French fashion label, is also making strides. They are the world’s first luxury fashion house to attain B Corp certification. They have been experimenting with sustainable materials, achieving a carbon footprint 400% lower than their previous operating year. Most recently, they are also moving ahead on their commitment to creating digital IDs for all their products by 2025, further unlocking resale and a circular approach to design.

Image: Chloé

Mugler: Circular refill

Circularity can also apply to beauty processes and methods of consumption. Rather than throwing your empty perfume bottles away, Mugler offers a reduced-price refill subscription, incentivising customers to keep refilling them. This novel initiative not only reduces waste and extends the life cycle of the product but builds brand and product loyalty.

Image: Mugler

Reflaunt: Powering circular platforms through resale

Reflaunt is a tech platform that is bringing resale-as-a-service to fashion brands and multi-brand retailers. They have partnered with the likes of Balenciaga, Net a Porter, Ganni and COS to support resale across retail channels. In creating resale and rental platforms, clothing lifecycles are extended, and companies embrace a more circular systems approach to buying.

Image: Reflaunt

2. Open community

Fashion is no longer an exclusive space bound by physical spaces. The lines of physical and digital are beginning to erode, as are the lines of the binary gender spectrum. The way forward will be to look to serve all people, in all places. This principle applies not only to how we communicate but also to how we design, create and serve diverse audiences with unique needs.

Learn from:

Nike Swoosh & Rftkt

The sneaker community has enthusiastically embraced digital fashion and become a leader in trends such as PFPs, Discord communities and digital collectables. Nike recently bought a virtual shoe company that makes NFTs and sneakers for the metaverse: Rftkt. Furthermore, they have just announced their launch of Swoosh, a platform for Nike’s customers to learn about Web3, collect virtual products and help to co-create with them.

In embracing digital design, material waste is eradicated. Although the production of NFTs uses a high amount of energy, companies are starting to try to mitigate this. Though in its infancy, digital fashion and experimentation will only grow in interest and investment.

Image: Nike / RTFKT

Good American: Inclusive sizing

The brand is known to champion size inclusivity throughout its design, sales and communication process. Within e-comm, they were one of the first to show their designs on different-sized models. When selling to wholesalers and within physical retail environments, all sizes must be sold within the same area of a store, (i.e., not in a “plus” size area), and retailers must buy the whole size range.

Image: Good American

Tommy Hilfiger: Adaptive clothing

Inspired by founder Tommy’s own history of having children with autism and the statistic that one in five Americans live with a disability, Tommy Hilfiger has committed to rethinking the design process to uncover solutions that genuinely work for individuals living with a disability, launching an adaptive clothing range.

Image: Tommy Hilfiger

Thinx: Gender inclusive

The period underwear brand known for its innovative products and eye-catching communications has made it clear that its products are made for all those who menstruate, including the trans community. Brands are taking responsibility to use their platforms and products to communicate their ethos and values with their audience.

Image: Thinx

3. Open communication

With the help of social media, consumers now have deeper access to information and expect honesty and transparency from brands who want their business. Increasingly, people want to know the story behind a product they plan to buy.

Empty words and clever marketing tactics won’t cut it. With the rise of “greenwashing”, brands that can prove their products are being made responsibly, ethically and sustainably will gain and retain consumers’ trust.

Learn from:

Provenance: Blockchain-based tech powering supply chain traceability

Provenance is bringing traceability and transparency to supply chains through blockchain technology. By scanning the QR code or NFC tag, consumers can see the full apparel manufacturing process ― from the raw materials to the finished product.

Image: Provenance

Sustainable Markets Initiative’s Fashion Taskforce

Set up by King Charles, with members such as Burberry, Giorgio Armani, Chloé and Stella McCartney, the group is launching a new digital labelling initiative which will take the form of a QR code that can be scanned using your phone. As well as providing information about the supply chain and the materials used, each brand has also committed to adopting a circular data protocol — which includes information about how the product can be resold or recycled to prevent it from ending up in landfill.

Image: Sustainable Markets Initiative

Stella McCartney: Sustainability communications

The brand has been known to be a trailblazer within the world of sustainability and has pledged to openly communicate its initiatives, especially when it comes to measuring its impact. It uses The Environmental Profit & Loss (EP&L), a tool developed by Kering, to help companies understand the environmental impact of every part of a business, from the raw materials they use to how they make and sell their clothes.

Image: Stella McCartney

Looking at all the fashion brands that are making changes to minimise their impact on the planet, they are implementing the 3 Cs into their thinking, design, and manufacturing processes.

Just recently, Moving Brands partnered with the iconic British brand Topshop & Topman to rebrand their visual identity for a new era. We look forward to seeing how Topshop and other fashion brands embrace this people- and planet-oriented ethos within their designs and business models, moving the world towards a more sustainable and equitable fashion future.

If you have any questions on any of these areas or would like to discuss how Moving Brands can help shape the future of your fashion brand with the 3 Cs, please get in touch.

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