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How Sustainable Innovation is Helping Fashion Brands in the US Stay Relevant

In 2022, ethics and eco-consciousness are already a key part of consumer buying decisions, and both high street and luxury fashion brands have been actively trying to attain a more socially responsible business model. There is an oversaturation of brands in the market, and it’s become increasingly challenging for them to set themselves apart. Cue, sustainable innovation.

The United States has led the charge in this movement toward fashion sustainability. It holds the title for having the highest number of slow fashion brands, with 11 of CNN’s 15 most sustainable fashion brands being from the US.

Sustainable fashion concerns not just textiles or products but encompasses how goods are made and who made them. A brand that is often cited for having done this is cult-favorite sustainable clothing, Pangaia. The company teamed up with ‘products innovator’ Eon for their Horizon collection last May to create ‘digital passports’ to accompany each garment sold. By scanning the QR code printed directly onto the garments’ care labels, customers unlock information about the products’ life cycle, from warehouse facilities it has passed through, to ways in which the consumer can dispose of the garment when it wears out.

Pangaia x EON Digital Passport

Sustainability is a complicated topic, but with this ‘passport’, Pangaia has broken this information down into bite-sized portions for its customers. This technology encourages customers not to take them at face value but empowers them to feel as if they are making a more informed decision, further reinforcing the brand’s position as being sustainable and transparent.

Other brands have also been steering their attention towards developing biomaterial and other material alternatives. We have seen products made of pineapple leather, lotus silk, and mushroom-based fabrics on the market in recent times. Material alternatives have been a hot commodity in the fashion world, but sustainable fashion retailers are investing heavily into their collaborations with material science laboratories or their own R&D.

Nike Air Force 1 from their “Happy Pineapple” collection. Shoes are made from Piñatex®, a pineapple leather made from the by-product of pineapple harvests.

Activewear company, The North Face has historically not been vocal about environmental activism but since the rebrand and the ramping up of its sustainability efforts, the brand has seen a rise in sales. Their investments in innovative materials have also become a valuable asset in their marketing and PR strategies, with the launch of their garments made of material alternatives being met with huge media coverage and consumer demand.

In 2019, Biotech start-up Spiber collaborated with the company to create the first mass-manufactured parka made from synthetic spider silk. The fabric is made from an artificial material based on the DNA of spider silk, and is meant to emulate various properties of the actual fiber, particularly its ability to withstand tough conditions.

Outdoor and performance wear has traditionally relied on petroleum-based materials like nylon to create clothing that is strong and durable, and a more sustainable option has been much sought-after. After four years of research, The North Face launched 50 moon parkas that buyers could enter a lottery to purchase. Each parka sold for USD $1,410.

The adoption of new technology and revising the way in which they produce and sell has also helped brands to stay relevant. In 2020, the popular luxury accessories brand Telfar rolled out a program to curb robots and resellers from buying their products in bulk and allowing customers better access. Their Bag Security Program allowed patrons 24 hours to pre-order any bag on their site, with no limits on how many could be purchased. The bags are then made to order and shipped directly to the customer.

The program brought in about USD $20 million, about ten times what Telfar had made in the previous year. The brand recently released the fourth version of their program and gave its US consumers the option to use the payment installment plan Klarna, making it even easier for those looking to purchase a bag.

This is an unusual move from an economics standpoint, as creating hype and scarcity have been the general rule of luxury up to this point. The brand had taken into account how their customer base looked more at brand values, like sustainability and inclusivity, when determining where to spend their money. Telfar had hit the sweet spot when creating these new initiatives, and the risk paid off. The brand’s expansion of this sustainable business model showed how a brand could still retain value and demand, while not alienating any of their customers.

Embracing technology and keeping sustainability is key to keeping a brand contemporary and connected to its consumers. We look forward to seeing how fashion brands continue to innovate their products and business models to stand out in an already crowded industry.

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