The State of Fashion 2020 | Sustainability First

For the first time sustainability was named the biggest opportunity in this study.

In McKinsey & Company and Business of Fashion’s [BoF] The State of Fashion 2020 report, 290 global fashion executives stated that sustainability “will be both the single biggest challenge and the single biggest opportunity for 2020”.  Hallelujah!  Fashion is universally cited as being one of the most polluting industries in the world.  Thank you to conscious consumers and to environmental activists such as Greta Thunberg for their demands on attacking the environmental crisis.  Putting sustainability at the forefront of business models, strategic plans, supply chain infrastructure, etc., is long overdue.  2019 was a year of ‘woke’ for the fashion industry [only 7% of respondents stated sustainability was a top priority], but aggressive action for 2020 and beyond is imperative to implement a sustainable fashion system.

Downtown Portland, Toad&Co #wearsustainable pop-up,
Downtown Portland, Toad&Co #wearsustainable pop-up,

It’s 2019. Can we all now call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?

Greta Thunberg

For the past 4 years, the management consultancy firm McKinsey & Company and online publication Business of Fashion in their ongoing partnership bring an analytical review and an authoritative point of view on the state of fashion, on which they lay out the main trends and developments to be expected in the year ahead.

Key themes, opportunities, and challenges for 2020 aren’t too different than The State of Fashion 2019, but they continue to amplify.  The industry faces a troublesome 2020 from macroeconomic uncertainty, political upheaval, to the impact of tariffs and trade disputes, resulting in a weaken consumer sentiment and slowing of growth.  “Pessimism holds broadly true regardless of region or segment, with more than half of respondents predicting a deteriorating environment”, the Report states.  What is revealing from the surveyed executives along with interviews of many of the industry’s thought leaders and pioneers is that the industry lacks a bold collective vision to shake up the system regarding sustainability.

Fashion leaders are not looking forward to 2020. The prevailing mood among respondents to our executive survey is one of anxiety and concern.

Downtown Portland, Toad&Co #wearsustainable pop-up,
Downtown Portland, Toad&Co #wearsustainable pop-up,

There’s no question that the complexity in undertaking a global sustainable fashion system is colossal in size.  The first step is to shift our consumption values so that the entire fashion system can shift along with it.  The linear model of “build, buy, bury” – a one-way stream of raw material to factory, to user, then landfill is obsolete.  How much fashion can [or should] we consume, how much new product do we need in the system?  Or how do we define new?  New can be what’s new to me, yet old to you – recycle.  New materials and new garments can be made from what already exists – reuse, upcycle.

Some fashion brands, such as Patagonia, are pioneers in moving to a circular vs linear model.  Circular fashion is the elephant in the room.  The Report touches on a few companies in the space of rent and recycle fashion – Rent the Runway, The Real Real, and StockX, plus I would add thredUP and ‘closet swap’ platforms.  Upcycling can be a more transparent and manageable model of reducing waste through procurement of factory materials – off-cuts, surplus, cutting floor wastes.

At its simplest, upcycling represents relatively low-hanging fruit in fashion’s quest to reduce its impact; huge amounts of waste are generated in the manufacturing process and reducing that can be relatively easy and bring significant economic benefits.

The 108 page Report provides an in-depth analysis and forecasts on 3 major themes: the global economy, consumer shifts, and the fashion system.  Within ‘consumer shift’, EDGE recognizes Sustainability First as the most important critical path to survival and here are a few Report highlights.

  • Fashion accounts for 20 to 35 percent of micro-plastic flows into the ocean and outweighs the carbon footprint of international flights and shopping combined.
  • Internet searches for “sustainable fashion” tripled between 2016 and 2019.
  • The German government in September unveiled the Green Button — the world’s first government sustainable textile label.
  •  The EU’s Circular Economy action plan, meanwhile, aims to ensure products can be repaired or recycled, with textiles as a key priority.
  • Reformation made its first clothes exclusively from deadstock materials, and on its website runs the tagline “Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option — we’re #2.”
  • There remains a pervasive lack of consumer trust, amid accusations in some quarters of fashion industry greenwashing using sustainability as a marketing strategy without a significant positive impact on the environment.
  • Younger generations increasingly state that they will pay more for products that have the least negative impact on the environment. 31 percent of Gen-Z and just 12 percent of baby boomers.

Make and consume less, and be the stewards of a product’s life-cycle, keeping it out of the landfills.  That’s the bold vision and execution needed to survive.

There are numerous initiatives, reports, coalitions, and organizations around the world working towards a sustainable future. offers resources, statistics, and links to these organizations and reports – browse [right column] Sustainable Fashion: Be Informed|EDGE Suggested Resources.  Sustainable EDGE offers additional information and industry interviews.

Images: A pop-up retro camper on the streets of Portland Oregon by the sustainable Santa Barbara based brand, Toad&CO, promoting the importance of sustainable fashion.  The interior presented their product in an education museum-like format – not for sale, purely a PR consumer engagement.

Report Source: The State of Fashion (PDF-link), BoF and McKinsey & Company’s in-depth report on the global fashion industry in 2020, focusing on the trends, challenges, and opportunities impacting the sector and its performance.

Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor