For a few years now, the fashion industry has been reshaping its business model from production to communication. The second most polluting industry is living a turning point where both consumers and political structures are asking for a change. And rebuilding a model isn’t easy for some fashion segments. But today several signals are showing that sportswear will fit perfectly for that structural change of the industry.
1 – A growing demand from millennials and gen Z consumers.
The millennials and generation z, born between 1981 and 2010 approximately is entirely changing the perception of consumption in the fashion industry. They were born or educated with climatic issues and are extremely aware of the dire consequences of fashion in our environment. Therefore they should not be treated as underdog consumers!
Just in the luxury industry, millennials will make up 50% of the consumer market in 2025 (Boston Consulting Group and Altagamma), and that means that sportswear will also have to adapt its strategy. Sportswear has been booming this decade with athleisure wear, streetwear and active wear but the trend might dwindle if sport brands do not take into account the new values of these generations. According to the 2019 annual Business of Fashion and McKinsey study of the fashion industry, 65% of the gen Z interrogated population would boycott a brand which does not use a sustainable model. Thus, more than a simple trend, sustainability is a must for sportswear brands if they still want to thrive in the future where consumers will be highly demanding.
2 – A great progress in sustainable textile technology.
A few years ago, if you wanted to wear fancy sport clothes without a heavy impact on the environment, things might have been difficult for you ! Polyester, nylon, spandex, cotton and rayol are all mainstream synthetic or natural fabrics wasting water and sharply increasing greenhouse gas emissions. But today, thanks to research in fabric technology, active wear and athleisure wear are not opposite to sustainability.
Fabrics such as Tencel refibra can offer the same comfort and performance results on a garment, by using cotton waste, entierly biodegradable. Even though some synthetic fabrics are hard to change for their perfect elasticity or their capacity to be dyed, it is possible in 2020 for any type of sportwear brand to change its fabrics or decrease the use of non-eco-friendly ones. And today the industry is debating and offering alternatives to sport brands for a future responsible strategy. In 2021 the famous ISPO Munich Fair will host a “Textrends hub” giving to brands a clearer vision to new fabrics and industrial processes for a more sustainable sportswear industry.
3 – Sportswear leaders are already betting on it and it works !
When leaders of an industry are investing on something, that should not be ignored. The sportswear giant Nike announced in 2019 its “move to zero” program aiming at powering their manufacturing facilities with a 100% recycled energy and reduce by 30% their carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement or converting their waste into new products.
Not only Nike limits its non-eco-friendly fabrics, but the brand is rebuilding its business model to still be the leader in a few years when sustainability might not only be an option. And consumers are responding to Nike’s strategy, for example with the new sneakers and clothing line “space hippy” made from 85 to 90% recycled products which made a lot of noise in the streetwear community in 2020. But Nike isn’t the only one, this year, the German competitor Adidas worked with the visionary-sustainable-fashion designer Stella McCartney to work on a responsible sportswear collection. And now, other small brands are jumping on the bandwagon like Outdoor Voices or Thread 4 Thoughts showing us that the trend is not a niche anymore and that there are business opportunities to come in that segment.
Adidas Stella McCartney
Thread 4 Thoughts
4 – Governments are putting pressure on the fashion industry and for this reason, sportswear will have to adapt its business model.
Polluting industries are increasingly under pressure from governments on the climate issue. For instance, in 2021 in France, the anti-waste law will prohibit the destruction of unsold clothes from brands and retailers in the country. That means that brands are starting to be held accountable for their impact on the environment and that they will take more benefit by changing their model now rather than staying the same with less consideration for environmental issues.
The European Union has already created a plan since 2019 in which textile will be a key element in their “priority product category for the circular economy plan in the future decade”. Therefore, by facing a potential political threat in the future, fashion brands are working with governments to make a change. In August 2019 at the G7 summit, more than 150 brands (including Nike and Adidas) signed with the support of Emmanuel Macron the “Fashion Pact” aiming at reducing the impact of fashion on the environment with measures in line with the Paris Agreements and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. So now that leaders of the fashion and sportswear industries are working on the environmental issue with a political supervision, it is clear that the future of sportswear will not be built without sustainibility.
Emmanuel Macron et les représentants du luxe au sommet du G7
5 – Sustainability also means respect towards ethics, and sportswear has a demanding consumer target concerned by these issues.
Sustainability isn’t just about your clothes but also the humans producing or wearing it. And today where millennials and gen z are the principal consumers of athleisure, streetwear and activewear, it is obvious to say that they need from their favorite brand to talk about current social issues. The Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of Georges Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 has really shown that young consumers asked for brands to defend social justice and equality. Today and tomorrow, brands will have a responsibility to prone progress not only inside their business models but in the society in general.
But that demanding consumer market also forces brands to be 100% transparent. In July 2020 the BBC revealed that several giant brands such as Nike and Adidas were manufacturing their products in sweatshops using workers of the oppressed Uyghurs community in China. That disclosure caused a Nike and Adidas boycott by many young Western consumers that could not buy a product that was not made ethically.
This kind of scandal is the right proof that tomorrow it won’t be possible for sportswear brands to sell products without proving to its consumers that it was made ethically and responsibly.
Manifestation a la Fashion Week de Londres en 2019