The Fashion Industry Problem Statement
Sustainable fashion, in simple words, refers to the use of environment-friendly raw materials such as organic jute, organic cotton, hemp, etc. and eco-conscious processes for production, procurement and manufacturing of clothing and related items.
With India serving as the second largest textile producer globally with exports alone valued at US$ 36.68 bn in 2022-23, and with the industry serving as the second largest employer today, it attracts significant amounts of FDI and government-based investments. With this bullish outlook, the industry is poised for exponential growth and is expected to reach $250 bn in textile production by 2030.
However, the textile industry contributes to a significant amount of pollution and environmental problems plaguing India. More than 72 unique toxic synthetics are generated from colouring patterns and are widely found across water bodies today. Moreover, using non-biodegradable fabrics such as spandex, nylon and polyester in the textile, apparel and fashion industries specifically contributes to India’s pollution problem by taking anywhere between 20 to 200 years to decompose, releasing toxic compounds in the process. This innate problem of fashion, particularly the fast fashion industry today, has given rise to a newer and cleaner alternative - sustainable fashion.
Sustainable Fashion as an Upcoming Alternative Today
Expected to grow at a CAGR of 9%, the Indian market for sustainable fashion alone is expected to reach a valuation of $9 billion by 2025. With the textile industry comprising just 5% of India’s GDP but accounting for nearly 14-17% of industrial pollution in India, a pivot towards sustainable fashion becomes crucial for India to meet its goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2070.
Just to put things into context, as per UNEP and the World Bank, it takes roughly 3700 litres of water to manufacture a single pair of jeans. Not just this, the transportation process from the time the raw material/cotton is sourced to the time the final product is ready generates carbon emissions upwards of 33 kilograms of carbon equivalent (amount of carbon content found in an alloy).
To curb this, sustainable fashion in India today leverages organic materials and processes to create a closed-loop circular ecosystem to minimise wastage. With more than 60% of Indian textiles being cotton-based, the most widely used raw materials include organic cotton and bamboo linen.
To recognise the widespread usage of cotton and consequently broaden their sustainable cotton supply, brands in India have been adopting the practice of Regenerative Organic Farming. Since traditionally cotton is grown in intensifying climatic conditions, it requires a huge degree of chemical fertilisers and pesticides as compared to traditional crops amounting to a huge increase in the release of nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas that is touted to be 300 times more potent than CO2 in causing global warming. To curb this, regenerative organic cotton is grown leveraging practices such as mixed, inter and multi-cropping to replenish soil health and minimise the usage of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
Other brands focussing on sustainable fashion leverage not just sustainable production processes but also sustainable packaging to minimise waste by substituting virgin polyester, a synthetic fibre that is touted to be non-biodegradable since it is manufactured from petroleum, with recycled Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE), a material that eliminates the release of toxins during decomposing.
Future Growth Outlook of the Fashion Industry
The pandemic seems to have fastened growth in this industry. Rising consumer consciousness, rising prosperity backed by an increase in population in the income group of INR 5-10 lakhs per annum, and an ever-increasing younger population with Gen Z and millennials collectively forming more than 50% of India’s population, form the key tailwinds for this industry today.
Furthermore, with consumers slowly recognising the magnitude of climate change and pivoting back to offline retail and the concept of slow fashion, the industry is expected to achieve continual growth in the coming decades.So, with the industry witnessing macroeconomic tailwinds, it’ll be interesting to see how it shapes up to become an integral part of India’s growth.