Introduction: As the concept of limited edition “drops” continues its reign of unrivaled hype and propaganda, streetwear brands are rapidly infiltrating the world of ethical luxury. The real cost of fast fashion is the threat it poses to the environment, sustainability being a fast fashion antithesis, and streetwear being the latest addition to the global ethical fashion agenda, is at the intersection of fashion, ethics, and corporate social responsibility.
In 2017, millennials in the US alone spent about $200 billion on apparel and it was estimated that by the end of 2018, they had more spending capacity than any other generation in history. According to the State of Fashion 2018 report by BoF & McKinsey, sixty-six percent of global millennials are willing to spend more on brands that are sustainable and follow ethical practices. The data undoubtedly reveals the growing impact of the on-going sustainability movement and the ensuing war for market dominance among ready-to-wear brands.
Reminiscent of the surf and skate culture, streetwear encompasses elements of sportswear, hip hop, punk, and Japanese street style fashion – allowing consumers to celebrate different aspects of society, psychology, culture and the arts. As a result, commercial streetwear brands have displayed a focussed effort to appease the Gen-Z agenda and match millennial moral values. This has led to a radical shift towards adaption of ethical practices, the disclosure of data and a more transparent waste disposal system along with labor law adherence.
Case in point – the emergence of ethical brands like G-Star Raw, Misha Nonoo, Allbirds, Reformation, Gabriella Hearst etc who are experiencing growing recognition and the note-worthy Stella McCartney and Viviene Westwood who have practically pioneered the movement. Brands like Levi’s and Adidas are now revamping their production lines to match consumer demands.
Fast-fashion goliath, Primark, has been forceful in its declaration that their low prices are not achieved through low-wage workers and eroding supply chain standards, as some critics have suspected, but through a combination of zero advertising, economies of scale and tight margins
Shoe startups like Allbirds are making sneakers from wool, a foam and rubber outsole stitched to a single piece of merino wool. Dubbed The Wool Runner, their sales pitch is simple: It’s green, and it’s good.
Transparency is crucial to ethical fashion and is the first step towards reducing a business’ impact on the planet. Top streetstyle brand Supreme is rated poorly on the Environmental Impact, Labor Conditions and Animal Welfare report as it does not provide sufficient information about reducing its environmental impact to consumers.
As sustainability goes mainstream, cohorts of front-row influencers and celebrity advocates have pledged their support. Gwenyth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, Emma Watson are using their clout to send a strong message backed with a fierce agenda of “It’s cool to be kind”
While “Vegan” and “Organic” may be the preferred millennial patois. Solving the ethical fashion gap is a major commercial opportunity waiting to be exploited. There is every reason to believe that sustainability will be the next major battlefield as streetwear brands are already competing for the coveted millennial spend.