Fashion firms offer couture for the future

Twice a year, the biggest names in fashion meet in Paris for nine days of catwalks, parties and extravagance. Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and more than 70 other labels vie for attention with dazzling shows at Paris Fashion Week.

But there was a different atmosphere last October, as designers acknowledged the dark side of their industry: sustainability.

Dior's S/S20 show had a forest on stage. The brand said the trees would be replanted across Paris after the show.

Stella McCartney has always been at the forefront of eco-friendly fashion, but she says her Spring/Summer 2020 collection is her most sustainable yet. More than 75 percent of her materials were vegan or recycled.

McCartney placed a note on the seat of every attendee, saying: "The younger generation are standing up and telling us that our house in on fire and that we need to respond like we are in a crisis."

Just a week earlier 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg gave a speech at a UN climate conference in New York, warning that the world is at the brink of a catastrophe.

"We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!" she said.

Greta Thunberg spoke at a UN climate conference in New York in September 2019.

Climate Change A Buzzword

The fashion industry is a major polluter - both from production and transportation. The United Nations says it produces 10% of global carbon emissions.

In 2018, British luxury fashion house Burberry burned about 37 million dollars -- or 28.6 million pounds -- of unsold stock to protect its brand value. British news outlets reported that the products included clothes, accessories and perfumes. They also said Burberry had destroyed more than 118 million dollars' worth of stock in 5 years.
It's a practice said to be rife in the fashion industry, to prevent products from being sold at knock-down prices which could harm brand value.

At a UN climate change conference in 2018, top fashion companies pledged to cut their carbon footprint by 30 percent.
Some companies are going further, hoping to change the industry from the inside.
Ecoalf is a sustainable clothing brand from Spain that hires fishing vessels to dredge trash from the ocean floor, then uses whatever plastic it can salvage to create yarn.  
Founder Javier Goyeneche says, "When you work in fashion, you can see it. Fashion is a very pollutant industry. The materials, the water, the dying materials, everything is creating a lot of harm and especially the business model which is around fashion."                      

Eco brand makes Japan debut  

Ecoalf Japan launches in Harajuku,Tokyo in March.

Ecoalf is now preparing to open its first outlet in Japan, and the timing may be perfect. People are already focusing on sustainable living because of recent events.         
Last year, two major typhoons swept across Japan, causing massive damage. Many experts blamed the storms on climate change.


Chizuru Muko, Editor-in-Chief of WWD, attends fashion weeks around the world.

All that's left is convincing consumers, and that may not be too difficult. Chizuru Muko, Editor-in-Chief of fashion industry trade journal WWD Japan, says young Japanese readers are asking for environmental options.

"If manufacturers don't do something, consumers won't choose them," she says. "Especially Generation Z or the digital generation. They tend to take a hard look at companies to see if they're making products that are environmentally friendly."

Muko says the fashion industry convinces people to consume by triggering their desires. So being sustainable is a hard ask, and the brands are struggling to get there. "But that's why it can inspire creativity," she says. "And we can create a new fashion business of the future."

The fashion of the future will be on shelves in Japan soon. But the real test will come later, in the changing rooms and at the checkouts.