The textile industry makes a significant contribution to the global economy, with over 430 million workers worldwide. A thriving market in constant growth. But while the volume of business grows, the environmental impact hardly dicreases. The way we design, produce and use our garments has drawbacks that are becoming more and more evident.
While the traditional textile system operates in an almost linear fashion (according to Ellen MacArthur Foundation, more than $500 billion are lost annually due to underused clothing and lack of recycling) the outdoor sector is at the forefront of embracing a circular path. From innovative fabrics made from renewable sources to the buy back and repair-as-a-business strategy, companies in the sector are anticipating a circular transition that will have to involve the entire clothing sector.
Present and Future of the Outdoor Industry
This issue of Renewable Matter looks into the outdoor industry, its present, its future, and its global influence. We devoted a series of articles to understanding fabrics and materials, from recycled textiles and polymers to biofibres, like hemp. Biomaterials, states Mario Bonaccorso, are critical for the transition of the whole clothing system, especially the outdoor sector, if we really want to decarbonise the industry.
But this issue looks also to the future. Below, some of the key influencing factors that will find their way into the outdoor industry as a whole, as well as into the strategies and perspectives of each individual outdoor business.
Improving access to the outdoors: research shows that no other measure is as conductive to both physical and mental health of the population as access to nature. In an increasingly urban, technology-driven, home-working society, this need is likely to increase.
Operating within the Planetary Boundaries: climate change, biodiversity loss and resource scarsity will mark an ever more prominent presence. Result? Shifts in seasons, supply chain disruptions, challenging access to key materials just to name a few.
Authentic equality of opportunity: diversity, inclusion – from race and ethnicities to gender, class, geographic, experience and age background. The notoriously white and male outdoor industry will have to find ways to change its mindset by welcoming all those communities that by and large have not been welcomed. Indeed if the outdoor industry is not “getting there”, the fashion industry will instead.
Prospering with tough public policies: given the climate emergency’s global state and the ensuing social consequences, we can expect extremely severe public policies to come into force. Most probably they will be implemented late and with some degree of reluctance but also forcefully.
A New Business Model
The elephant in the room? The outdoor business model – like that of the consumer goods industry at large – is entirely unsuitable for the new reality. There is no doubt that reinventing itself, and its business models in particularly, will be the outdoor industry’s most significant struggle in the decades to come. This issue of Renewable Matter shows some great ideas for disruptive business models. Read the analysis of Daniele Lettig on the thriving business of clothing and gear rentals and pay-per-use involving big brands like REI (a cooperative of which the editor in chief is a proud member) or Fjällräven. Or delve into the new business of clothing repairs, where more and more companies are extending their products’ life. In fact, the data shows that just a small intervention would make such “seconds” “fit for purpose” again: 26% require merely removal of some dirt or stains; 21% fixing of a hole; 9% mending of a tear; and 7.5% a spare part such as the replacement of a broken zipper. More importantly, these efforts are both good for the environment and generate a profit, if properly marketed.
There is a strong sense of transformation in this sector. The hope is that brands like Patagonia, Vaude, Fjällräven or Salewa can inspire the traditional clothing sector and offer an insight into the future of clothing. We believe they can and they will be even better in the future.