With a PhD in Business Administration, Dr Harleen Sahni has notable research contributions on national and international platforms. Having expertise in customer experience management, consumer behaviour and green behaviour. Currently, she is an Associate Professor of fashion management studies at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Gandhinagar. Speaking to Incubees at the Recommerce Sustainable Clothing & Textile Recycling Conference in Coimbatore she gave her insights on sustainability in the textile sector.
Incubees: Challenges to making a sustainable brand can be complex, do you think brands should come together in terms of collaboration with each other considering the competition around sustainability?
Dr Harleen: Paying attention to environmental and social governance issues is becoming increasingly critical for all companies across all industries. Many fashion brands today are actively promoting sustainability through innovative approaches for reducing their carbon footprint and water usage, utilizing waste as a resource, working with grassroot level artisans, ensuring fair wages, sustainable retailing, green marketing, etc. There are many challenges in the path of creating a Sustainable Fashion Brand – complicated supply chain, saturated market, gaining consumer trust, brand positioning and communication. Collaboration can definitely be explored as an enabler for more focused pro-sustainability initiatives but at present collaboration amongst fashion brands is extremely challenging as there is a dearth of understanding of higher-order goals and the path to be followed towards integrated efforts.
Incubees: A question which always-on consumers’ minds, are these fabrics cruelty-free and ethical? Are they organic, and is there less usage of water and renewable?
Dr Harleen: India is emerging as a fashion brand hub, because of the presence of a favourable landscape for the design and production of sustainable fashion; however, communicating and engaging fashion consumers on what constitutes sustainable fashion is challenging. There is a lot of complexity, use of different terminology, varying interpretations depending on the context, and a multiplicity of emerging sustainability standards. For example, terms such as sustainable, ethical, eco-friendly, circular, net-zero, and carbon-neutral are widely used, with materials being described as organic, biodegradable, compostable, recyclable, etc. For consumers, it has become confusing to understand the key issues and know how best to support the transition to sustainable fashion.
Brands are strongly voicing their opinions and information to consumers through multiple digital platforms, however, the scope of communication and scale of its impact, seem considerably insubstantial at present. For many years, fashion brands have been exploring digital options to target the consumer psyche through expensive advertising and promotional campaigns; however, sustainability is still an ambiguous term for some consumers, and for others, it is ‘something that the world is talking about but somehow they are not able to relate’. Fast fashion has completely mesmerized modern-day fashion consumers and more so Gen Y and Z. Digital branding and communication have the potential to alter consumer mindset. Brand communication must go beyond simple greenwashing.
Incubees: Tell us about Geographic accessibility from where the textiles are coming from and their impact on the environment.
Dr Harleen: Globalization has resulted in various kinds of disordering and reordering of business objectives and practices. Textiles and clothing are made all over the world in an industry that not only has a great economic impact but also affects our natural resources. The fashion & textile industry has a close association with various social and environmental concerns. Sustainability cannot be limited to the use of sustainable products; it also requires the employment of sustainable systems and approaches. Globalization has increased the geographic accessibility of textiles worldwide, but in the context of sustainability local and decentralized systems should also be given impetus to reduce the environmental cost of production and transportation, and empower local producers and artisans through livelihood opportunities. For e.g. Kala cotton cluster of Kutch works as a self-sustained localized model. Similar clusters could be encouraged through customized eco-system building and scaling opportunities.
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