Outfitting Sustainability in Fashion

In the wake of changing consumption patterns, the fashion industry needs a revamp. Traditional supply chains and manufacturing approaches are simply not a good fit for the kinds of renewable, sustainable goods favored by consumers, employees, investors, and regulators. BCG has a comprehensive framework to improve sustainability in fashion.

The pressure is on fashion companies to change the way they operate. For starters, consumers are increasingly willing to take their business elsewhere when they disapprove of a company’s sustainability profile. In addition, some startups, recognizing the power of sustainability in fashion, are founded on the sole purpose of being sustainable. And, in the age of social media, success or failure in achieving sustainability in the fashion industry is easily amplified. Consumers and employees use social media to voice their feelings about these issues, whether it’s carbon emissions, workplace conditions, or animal welfare.

It’s imperative that brands look at all aspects of their business—especially their operating model—to ensure sustainability, combat climate change, and reinforce ethical business practices.

BCG’s Approach to Sustainability in the Fashion Industry

There is a lot of work to be done to improve the environmental and social performance of fashion companies—and a big upside for companies that manage to improve their footprint. BCG’s sustainable fashion consulting experts help companies develop their vision and ambition for sustainability and improve their operating models across the value chain.

We work together with clients to benchmark performance and set goals. We then define an operating model that will help them meet those goals and communicate progress to stakeholders to establish the brand’s new position on ethical business practices. For ambitious companies, a total business transformation ensues. We support that transformation and ensure that the company has the mechanisms, people, and processes in place to operate continuously in ways that are both sustainable and successful.

To help fashion brands get there, we deploy a comprehensive sustainable fashion framework:

The sustainability health check, our starting point, looks at 18 key social and environmental levers; we’ve determined which levers to assess based on interviews with fashion industry and sustainability experts. The brand’s standing on each of those levers is combined with other research-based data:

  • Consumer Sentiment. Focus groups and interviews with more than 3,000 participants around the world give us insight into how consumers rank each of the levers, from minor consideration to reason to prefer one brand to another.
  • Benchmarking. We are able to assess each brand’s sustainability strengths and weaknesses relative to competitors.

Our assessment yields a Pulse score, which measures the environmental and social performance of the company against the fashion industry on a scale from 0 to 100. In 2017, the industry scored 32. Performance improved to 38 in 2018 and 42 in 2019.

Improvement can come from enacting the next steps in our sustainability in fashion framework:

  • Sustainability Strategy. Creating a data-informed strategy, including ambition, target setting, road maps, and impact cases.
  • Innovation and New Business Models. Strategizing, assessing, and implementing new and innovative business models.
  • Product Development. Developing certified, sustainable product ranges.
  • Operating Model Transformation. Transforming end-to-end business practices.
  • M&A Support. Taking due diligence measures to ensure sustainability.
  • Organization Enablement. Setting up governance, organization, and incentive structures.

Our Sustainable Fashion Consulting Work

Creating an Innovation Accelerator. The C&A Foundation, which became the Laudes Foundation in 2020, partnered with BCG to set up a not-for-profit innovation accelerator supporting startups and fashion players in innovating and scaling tech and approaches that make the value chain of the fashion industry more sustainable. Together with suppliers in India and Bangladesh, the team developed several initiatives, including the first cradle-to-cradle "gold-certified" T-shirt. The approach was shared with the industry on the Fashion for Good homepage, and C&A was the first retailer commercializing the T-shirt and applying the approach to other parts of its assortment. The collection became a bestseller in its retail stores, with margins on par with conventional products.

Galvanizing Action Through a Global Coalition. Fashion Pact is global coalition of fashion companies that focuses on improving the environmental performance of the industry by setting common goals and defining targeted actions. It is committed to driving impact along three dimensions: climate, biodiversity and the oceans. BCG works with Fashion Pact as a thought partner and is supporting the development of an action-oriented roadmap for tracking and reporting progress, underpinned by measurable milestones and KPIs.

Meet Our Fashion Sustainability Consultants

Learn More About Sustainability in Fashion

Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2019 Update

The fashion industry has improved its social and environmental performance in the past year, but at a slower rate than the previous year. Despite this improvement, the fashion industry is still far from sustainable.

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