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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