The Fashion Industry’s Invisible Plastic Problem

Biodegradable yarn made from algae, brands embracing upcycled textiles and runway shows banning plastic hangers: The growing attention paid to sustainability in the fashion industry is laudable — and starting to make a real impact.

Innovative and effective solutions are alive and well in the clothing industry. And outright waste, like the fact that 20% of all garments produced each year are never sold and go straight to landfills, is also getting more negative attention.

But even during this Fashion Week season, with the ongoing shows in New York and those that will open soon in Los Angeles, there is something that hardly anyone in the United States is talking about: What about all the packaging behind the scenes in the clothing and fashion industry all year long?

Few are aware of the massive amounts of plastic used to move textiles, other raw materials and finished products within the fashion supply chain. More than a quarter of all plastic created globally each year is used in the fashion industry. And much of this is flexible packaging and film, which cannot be recycled and will forever stay in landfills and in our oceans.

This behind-the-scenes plastic is similar to the issue of poor overseas labor conditions three decades ago, and it’s simply something no one talks about — yet. That needs to change.

While brands can — and some are — addressing this problem, fashion industry leaders and government regulators need to step up and lead the effort in order to make real change. For example, some brands indeed are switching to alternatives, like compostable packaging. More than 60 brands have also signed a pact to ensure 50% of business-to-business packaging is made from recycled materials by 2030, and legislators are working on new laws, especially in Europe. But

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Learning to Shop with a Conscience

Photo credit: TOWARD Fall Lookbook

Photo credit: TOWARD Fall Lookbook

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As shoppers, we’re all becoming more aware of the downsides of fast fashion: the environmental degradation, the labor issues. Shopping from ethical brands seems to be one answer, but it can be difficult—if not impossible—to understand what it means when a company claims to be “sustainable.” Ana Kannan, the founder of the luxury e-commerce platform TOWARD, has come up with her own solution.

Kannan’s upbringing inspired her passion for sustainability. Her car seats were pleather, her whole family was vegetarian, and her mother always emphasized keeping clothes in your closet for as long as possible. She went to the University of Southern California to study STEM, but when she took a class on sustainability in fashion, her mental wheels began to turn.

“I found myself asking questions,” Kannan explained, “like what percent of [a brand’s] supply chain do they really trace? Are these materials really certified responsible? What stops a brand from lying? And I realized that there needed to be a kind of a space where brands could be independently vetted, and consumers could trust that these brands were really responsible.”

Photo credit: TOWARD Fall Lookbook

Photo credit: TOWARD Fall Lookbook

She created TOWARD to tackle this mission. On the website, TOWARD’s clothes offer a delicate balance of earth tones and more modern hues—think elegant slip dresses, wide-legged trousers, and puffy pastel baby bags. The digital store has tabs labeled “Clothing,” “Shoes,” and “Bags & Accessories” like any shopping platform, but it also provides consumers with a “Responsibility” tab, outlining what sustainability means to the company. Kannan says that for her, the term “responsibility” extends so much further than simply sustainable branding. “It really refers to the holistic impact of every element

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Bankrupt beauty: Lessons from Revlon’s supply chain failures

zable, indeed, dominant market share.  

For Revlon, some key mistakes in their supply chain have created a domino-effect, costing the company many of its suppliers, customers and creditors. Growing pressure from incumbent brands has heightened competition for materials, as those with healthy liquidity can pre-pay creditors and benefit from large orders and scaled economies. 

For Revlon, cumulative debt has meant some of their raw material suppliers are no longer sending shipments, cutting production and leaving the company only able to fulfil 70 per cent of orders, against an industry standard of around 95 per cent. 

Also, labour shortages due to the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed manufacturing, resulting in late product shipments and fines from retailers, as well as mismanaged inventory and failed forecasting.

What went wrong?

Known as a trailblazer, Revlon was once the most radical company in its space. 

In 1970, it was the first American cosmetics company to feature an African American model, icon Naomi Sims, in their advertising. In the 1980s, its progress campaigns featured diverse, not yet famous, new models like Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, and Christy Turlington, who would later become synonymous with the highest of high-end fashion. 

In the 1990s, the company’s Colorstay range of makeup gained notoriety for its patented formula which promised to remain fresh all day: a new frontier in cosmetics. 

When business was booming, Revlon’s strategy was to expand sales through mass market department stores, as well as buying expensive advertising. Like other legacy brands, they invested in magazine editorials which drove shoppers into stores, where sales would be converted through personal selling and glossy displays. As a strategy, this worked well into the 2000s, but failed dismally thereafter. 

The democratisation of beauty

In the 2010s, the narrative around beauty shifted dramatically, beauty became celebratory, more diverse and more

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Here’s How 5 Fashion and Beauty Brands Owned by People of Color Are Dealing With Inflation

Small businesses, and particularly those owned by people of color, have been facing a multitude of challenges since the onset of the pandemic and its resulting impact on store closures, supply chain tie-ups and altered consumer demand.

And with the impact of inflation, those challenges aren’t letting up.

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The latest U.S. inflation rate reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in June, was 9.1 percent, higher than it’s been since the early ’80s.

A March survey from Bank of America found that 88 percent of small business owners said inflation was affecting their business, 68 percent have raised prices and 34 percent have had to reevaluate cash flow and spending.

And just as communities of color tend to feel the impacts of inflation more greatly, businesses owned by people of color that may have less access to capital to cover some of the rising costs, as has historically been the case, can also be harder hit.

Here, WWD hears from five fashion and beauty brands owned by people of color about how inflation is affecting their businesses.


Panama hats being made in Ecuador for Cuyana. - Credit: Cuyana

Panama hats being made in Ecuador for Cuyana. – Credit: Cuyana


Cuyana, a womenswear and accessories brand specializing in sustainable handbags, has had to increase its prices as a result of inflation, but company cofounder and chief executive officer Karla Gallardo said customers have remained supportive in spite of the hikes.

“Like most businesses, Cuyana is not immune to the impact of inflation. The current climate has faced us with challenges such as rising costs of our materials, production and transportation, ultimately leading to an increase in the price of our products. At the outset of the pandemic, when these fluctuations were very unpredictable, we decided to take on the initial increases without impacting our suppliers and customers,”

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New ingredients, higher prices: Reformulating beauty in the supply crisis

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British hairstylist and eponymous brand founder Josh Wood’s weekly team meetings used to revolve around brand vision, growth strategy and creative projects. However, over the past year, the agenda has been mired in a supply chain quagmire from factory closures, shipping delays and raw materials shortages.

The cost of cardboard and paper increased 75 per cent in two years, while general freight went up 30 per cent, says Wood. Components sourced from China doubled in price. Longer lead times require bigger upfront financial investments to manage the situation, Wood adds. “On all fronts, we’ve been thwarted.”

These problems are rippling through the industry. Hair care brand Fable & Mane is also grappling with “significant” increases in cost of raw materials and long delays in product development and manufacturing lead times, says Akash Mehta, the brand’s founder and chief executive, noting that even securing small quantities for sampling purposes has been challenging for manufacturing partners. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s beauty brand Rose Inc had to push back a mascara launch and is mitigating its project maps and lead times because of supply chain setbacks, says Caroline Hadfield, the company’s president and CEO.

Global sourcing challenges have prompted brands to rethink their ingredients, operations, processes and pricing — any way that can help to mitigate the bite to their bottom line. Some brands have had to go as far as to reformulate products to skirt around shortages, a process that keeps products in stock but can take a lot of effort to execute. More changes are likely in store. The challenges are “serious” and unlikely to abate until the end of 2023 or the beginning of 2024, says Audrey Depraeter-Montacel, global beauty lead at Accenture.

Doubled and tripled lead times for Fable

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