We’re constantly reporting on fashion sustainability and initiatives to reverse the ecological impacts of the industry permanently. But the impact of fast fashion on global sustainability still has the power to shock. As the Ellen McArthur foundation reports, by 2050, there will be 150 million tonnes of waste fashion and clothing entering landfill if nothing changes.

So what, realistically, is the solution? While changes in consumer behaviour will essential, they’ll also be the hardest to achieve. Technology advances offer important opportunities for increasing sustainability- but will they be the most realistic way to affect change?

Sustainability is multifaceted

Currently, attempts to make fashion more sustainable are significant but struggle to make a lasting impact. There are many ways brands and consumers are working to be more sustainable. From in-store recycling schemes, sustainability is highlighted as a marketing priority, and signs of consumer purchasing habits are changing to a more potentially sustainable future. But this change is not happening quickly enough.

The number of factors involved in the problem of fashion sustainability make it particularly difficult to tackle. The reasons for this are myriad; the psychological need for consumers to buy more and more is hard to resist, brands face the dichotomy of choosing to promote profit over sustainability, and the sheer size of the task needed to make fashion actively sustainable is daunting. There’s also the massive impact of social media and its influencers on encouraging constant purchases by consumers.

Will new technology make a real difference?

New technological developments show real promise. As reported in the NY Times, new fabrics such as mushroom leather, bacteria-based dyes, and algae-based yarn offer exciting possibilities for new materials. There’s also hope for better recycling processes, transforming and updating an often clunky system into creating genuinely usable fabrics across the entire fashion chain.

This new technology is exciting. As well as reducing raw materials needed such as cotton, with a corresponding reduction in environmental impact, the volume of materials needed in the first place for product and garment development also has the potential to be massively reduced. Dyes and chemicals that are less damaging will also improve impacts on the surrounding ecosystem.

But will new technology be enough on a global scale to create lasting sustainable fashion?

Behaviour has to be the key driver for change

While these tech advances are important to create a more environmentally friendly global supply chain, they’re unlikely to be the easy answer to truly tackle sustainability. Essentially, and as with everything sustainable, lasting change in behaviour, from both customers and brands is needed.

Firstly, there is an assumption that fashion being marketed as ‘sustainable’ will be enough for consumers to drive their own behaviour changes. But if the quality, design and ultimately, price don’t match an environmentally friendly provenance, this is unlikely to happen.

And ultimately, if consumers continue to demand fast fashion at ever-increasing rates, it’s unlikely that sustainable technology will match production demand. Technology is important, but it’s not a quick fix for solving sustainability- especially if it impacts the bottom line.

Consumers and brands must be encouraged to shift to sustainability, both in terms of purchasing behaviour and the demands placed on manufacturers and brands to meet a sustainable future.

Textile Consult is a management and training consultancy operating worldwide. We’re currently working with clients to find the best sustainable solutions in the textile industry. Contact us to find out how we can advise your business on sustainable textile solutions.