Fashion Industry Leaders Face Choice: Embrace Sustainability or Go Under


Covid-19 is putting enormous strain on the fashion industry, forcing leaders throughout the supply chain to make hard decisions. Doubling down on sustainability measures could help apparel, footwear, and textile companies stay competitive in the post-pandemic market, according to a new report.

Boston Consulting Group, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and technology company Higg Co’s report, “Weaving a Better Future: Rebuilding a More Sustainable Fashion Industry After Covid-19,” offers recommendations across three phases of pandemic response.

Before the pandemic hit, sustainability programs and commitments were becoming the norm within the industry across segments that included luxury, sport, and fast-fashion, the report noted. But covid-19 put all of that on pause. Retailers closed their doors, consumer spending took a dive, and workers were furloughed.

“For many brands, non-essential spending is currently frozen or being reevaluated, which in many cases includes their sustainability programs and teams,” the report authors wrote. “In circumstances where sustainability teams are furloughed, there is the risk that selective rehiring or permanent departures will lead to a slowdown in progress. And without budget prioritization and leadership, the industry could face significant knowledge gaps in the future.”

Backsliding on sustainability presents serious business risks, according to the report: “While sustainability is in danger in some areas of the industry, companies that embrace it will be among the leaders of a resurgent fashion industry on the other side of the pandemic.”

The report offers the following pandemic guidance for fashion industry decision-makers:

  • Protect critical assets to survive the economic crisis: Safeguard workers, employees, capital, value chain partnerships, channels, and the trust and support of your customers. This moment is an opportunity to remove unnecessary complexity and costs in order to prepare for reinvestment.
  • Solve immediate inventory challenges in partnership with suppliers: Leaders will recognize the importance of open dialogue and constructive partnership across the value chain to find shared solutions for protecting worker livelihood and sustaining trust. Cancellation of completed orders will be a measure of last resort, while cancellation without consultation or collaboration will be an unacceptable practice.
  • Integrate sustainability throughout business recovery strategies: Sustainability will be an imperative for strong companies after the crisis. Leaders make sustainability central to post-pandemic decision-making while laggards view sustainability as an effort to resume once it’s convenient.
  • Accelerate transparency while increasing sustainability ambitions: Companies must take advantage of digitalization, innovative business models, and end-to-end solutions — with transparency playing a central role — to assess and demonstrate positive environmental and social benefits to stakeholders.

“This is a moment of truth for fashion industry players,” said Javier Seara, Boston Consulting Group’s managing director, partner, and global leader for the fashion and luxury sector. “Companies will need to change, and are already changing their businesses to adapt to the new reality. Relentlessly incorporating sustainability practices into these changes will be the critical factor that separates winners from idlers.”

Alyssa Danigelis



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