Fashion! Turns to the right…

David Bowie, Madonna, and Depeche Mode all made a song and dance about fashion, at a time when more and more designers became household names. But it coincided with a backlash against the use of furs and the appalling working conditions of those as far removed from the catwalk as it may be possible to get.

But in an inside pocket of the modern fashion industry there are further problems. Clothing costs have risen slower than other consumer goods, enabling fast fashion and feeding our insatiable appetite for the latest trends. The number of times a garment is worn before being tossed has fallen 36% in the last 15 years.

Which means a lot of waste (a truckload of clothing is wasted every second across the world apparently – yes that did say ‘second’). Very little of it is recycled (less than 1% of clothes are recycled into new clothing).

And much like China doesn’t want dirty air, it no longer wants to have dirty water either. The China link? Well, the fashion industry needs both China’s raw materials (thirsty cotton – 4x more water intensive than rice and dirty from pesticide overuse) and its textile processing (also both thirsty and dirty). Beautiful China + limited water ‘budget’ = only one likely winner in a food/energy versus fashion showdown.

The sustainability leaders in the fashion industry have recognised this and have begun to move towards a more circular economy. Inditex has committed to a circular economy model through all phases of the product cycle, from offering free returns of old garments to supporting research into technology that can turn recycled garments into new textile fibres. Adidas AG, Stella McCartney and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Vivienne Westwood, Gucci and more leading brands are all at the forefront of driving the industry towards higher standards and a more circular economy.

A Nielsen global survey showed that 66% of respondents were willing to pay more for sustainable goods, with millennials being the most willing to pay more for sustainable goods at 73%. Consumer behaviours are potentially changing, and China is getting serious about pollution. Fashion’s dirty secrets are out.

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Life in plastic… ain’t fantastic

Initially hailed for its non-decaying, cheap to manufacture, lightweight properties, we are now heavily reliant on plastic. It’s everywhere. Including our oceans.

For those of you who are still watching X-Factor on a Sunday (really people, come on), please turn over. Unfortunately, Sir David Attenborough can’t make a documentary about our Blue Planet (II) without sounding a stark warning of the detrimental effects our increasing use of plastic is having on marine life and the wider ecosystem. An adult albatross trying to feed her chicks with a belly full of plastic is unfortunately an increasingly common occurrence.

By 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish (by weight). Yes, you did read that right; 8 million tonnes of plastic a year are dumped in the sea and by the way, plastics production is expected to double again over the next 20 years.*

Surely, a situation so awful deserves immediate collective action? You would hope so. 95% of material value in plastic packaging is lost in the economy shortly after first use.* It’s not unreasonable to expect businesses to start thinking about their waste streams.

This is why we focus on the practices of a company throughout our analysis for our sustainable fund. Waste management and recycling is one part of the process – a number of companies are already achieving zero waste to landfill (we own a number of Japanese examples).

Companies are thinking about how they can maximise efficiency and minimise waste, using science and investing in R&D to attempt to find innovative ways to reduce the environmental impacts of their products.

A couple of examples…The plastics in our waters are not always visible; toxic fibres from our clothing come away when we wash them, and 40% of them end up in our rivers and oceans. Inditexis using a more sustainable alternative – a biodegradable fibre made through transforming cotton waste into high-quality sustainable fibres, making 6.3 million garments from the material in 2016 alone.

Mohawk wouldn’t come through a screen if you were to focus on exposure to waste management, yet they are one of the largest recyclers of PET bottles in the US. Recycling over 5.5 billion bottles every year to make their EverStrand carpet, that’s around 14 bottles a second being turned in to a premium product. And Mohawk’s activities are even more admirable in the context of the woeful levels of recycling generally achieved in the US. Finally, EverStrand is actually better than other polyester carpets because the FDA expects such high standards of plastic bottles in the US (Bonus!)

*Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation