Climate x Innovation x Fashion = Transformation of China’s fashion production and consumption?

The 27th of August is a special day for both Sweden’s and China’s fashion industry, on which both demonstrated their common awareness of fashion industry’s role in combatting climate change as well as their willingness to take actions of...

The 27th of August is a special day for both Sweden’s and China’s fashion industry, on which both demonstrated their common awareness of fashion industry’s role in combatting climate change as well as their willingness to take actions of future transformation towards sustainability.

The bi-annual Stockholm Fashion Week, which was supposed to take place on this day was cancelled and as explained by the Swedish Fashion Council, the future Fashion Week will need to “create a market relevant format that better matches the industry’s needs in the ongoing paradigm shift”. The shift is driven by digitalization and the need to tackle challenges associated with climate change and resource utilization, i.e. living with the planet. This shift implies an urgent need for the fashion industry to oversee volumes and develop new business models.[1]

In Beijing, the first ever Climate and Innovation X Fashion Summit was launched, gathering key policy makers and representatives from the textile and fashion industries.

China is one of the largest producers, exporters and consumers of textile products, in which fashion is one of the key segments (See Table below). In terms of the textile industry’s importance for trade, we need to keep in mind that this industry accounts for over 70 percent of China’s export revenue.  

Source: Presentation by China National Textile and Apparel Council at the Summit.

The textile and fashion industries have innovation-driven green development targets in the 13th Five-Year-Plan (2016- 2020), such as:[2]

  • The energy use per value-added reduces by 18%
  • The CO2 intensity (CO2 per value-added) reduces by 22%
  • The water use per value-added reduces by 20%
  • The re-use of textile fiber reaches 12 million ton.
  • R&D spending as share of revenue increases to 1%
  • Number of patents granted increases by 15% annually.

As one more step forward and as a concrete action to implement Agenda 2030, China National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC) has launched the Climate Stewardship 2030 (See Figure below). CNTAC, together with WWF and PWC has also conducted pilot studies on science-based targets for China’s textile industry.

Source: CNTAC

At the Summit, a special Fashion Climate Fund was launched, supported by 6 leading Chinese and international fashion groups to accelerate the innovation-driven climate actions.

While the awareness and the actions from the supply-side are encouraging, as a matter of fact, sustainable fashion is already a consumer-driven movement, including in China. The representative from WWD, the leading media of the global fashion industry shared some interesting and important insights at the Summit:

  • “Sustainability” is one of the top WWD search terms and the most read articles
  • From New York to London and Shanghai, sustainability becomes a buying decision factor.
  • The driving forces for sustainable fashion are particularly strong among generation Y and generation Z.
  • KPMG’s Sustainable Fashion Global Survey shows that consumers in Shanghai clearly have higher willingness to pay more for sustainability than other metropolitans in the world.[3]

Furthermore, we see that new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) may be able to play a role in reducing the volume of on-line purchase[4]

Seeing the promising development from both the supply- and the demand-side in China, there is indeed a clear potential for the future cooperation between Sweden and China. From a Swedish perspective, sustainable textile and fashion has already become a hotspot for innovation and sustainable transformation. For instance:

  • The Sweden’s Innovation Agency VINNOVA has financed over 100 textile- and fashion related innovation projects. BioInnovation is a large and long-term strategic innovation program for Sweden’s innovation development in the field of bio-based economy.
  • Mistra Future Fashion is one of largest research programs for sustainable fashion with a unique system perspective and cross-sectoral approach, engaging over 50 partners.   
  • Smart Textile is an innovation platform within the Science Park Borås. The platform has initiated a large number of development projects through cooperation between the industry and the research community.
  • The FashionInk in Borås is a Swedish incubator that focuses solely on textile and fashion innovation.
  • The H&M Foundation joins force with partners from the research community to make new clothes from the recycled ones and organizes the H&M Global Change Award as well as to conduct research, together with KTH and Stockholm Resilience Centre, on how the textile industry can operate within planetary boundaries. 

Together with the research and innovation efforts, the Swedish government agencies are also playing a pro-active role in creating the necessary regulatory and policy frameworks. For instance, the Swedish Environment Protection Agency (Naturvårdsverket) and the Swedish Chemical Agency (KEMI) have started working together to have textile dialogues with the industries on the development of sustainable textile value chain. This could be particularly relevant and interesting for China cooperation as the preventive and sustainable chemicals management is a key challenge, including in the Chinese textile and fashion industry.    

China is a large producer and consumers of fashion – and on the way to becoming a creator and innovator of sustainable fashion. With the common interests and the strong complementarity of strengths in design, production, innovation and not least in consumer engagement, Sweden and China could turn sustainable fashion into a true co-creation exercise – for making life better and the planet great, again.

Nannan Lundin & Linnea Yang