When Vogue declares that "Sustainability Is the Most Pressing Issue Facing Fashion," you know that the industry is taking the topic seriously.

Apparel companies are announcing plans to increase the use of recycled materials. Some pay the shipping for their customers to send wearable used clothing to charities.

Here's another indicator of growing momentum toward sustainability: Clothing retailers make up a large percentage of Cloverly's clients, giving their online customers the option at checkout of greening their shipping.

There are other signs:

  • Outdoors retailer Patagonia, which pioneered making recycled polyester fleece from plastic bottles in 1993, announced that this season's Black Hole line of backpacks, duffles, and other bags contains 10 million bottles' worth of recycled plastic.
  • During New York Fashion Week earlier this year, several companies combined to host a demonstration room showing how plastic bottles are turned into the Repreve fiber.
  • In July, Zara and its parent company, Inditex, promised that by 2025, all eight of their brands will use only cotton, linen, and polyester that is organic, sustainable, or recycled.

On the other hand, for the industry as a whole, sustainability seems still to be a niche interest:

  • Last year, the sustainability-focused consulting company Quantis released Measuring Fashion: Environmental Impact of the Global Apparel and Footwear Industries Study. It found that the footwear and apparel industries together accounted for 8.1% of global carbon dioxide emissions—and that the carbon impact is increasing. "The apparel industry's production impacts on climate change increased 35% between 2005 and 2016," the report says, "and are projected to steadily rise in 2020 and 2030."
  • In May, the 2019 update of the annual Pulse of the Fashion Industry report found that progress in sustainability had slowed in the preceding year. Partly, that's because consumer pressure remains less than overwhelming. "More than a third of surveyed consumers reported they have switched from their preferred brand to another for reasons related to responsible practices," says a summary of the report. "However, the 2019 data revealed that sustainability is still far from being a key consideration in purchasing decisions."

Nosto, an ecommerce personalization company, did an online survey of US and UK consumers in April, focusing on sustainability in fashion. It underscores a big reason for the lukewarm nature of the industry's commitment to sustainability, summarized in the answers to two questions:

  • 50% said they would be more likely to buy clothes from companies they knew were committed to sustainability.
  • 29% said they'd pay more for a sustainably made version of an otherwise identical item.