Are We What We Wear?
30 Jun 2021   ·   

Let us start with a game. What is the relationship between an Australian farmer, a European football player and a Californian programmer?

At this moment, every human being should be aware of the real problem that will pose a threat to us. Climate change. In the following article, we will adopt a different approach that has gained momentum during these months of lockdown and restrictions.

One year into the pandemic, our habits have changed. We are spending on average, 35% more of our time at home. This has changed our lifestyle and habits, and one of the habits that has changed the most is the way we dress.

Nowadays, “Activewear” and “Loungewear” are two of the trends that are dominating the fashion world. They are characterised by prioritising health and comfort. This idea emerges from the concept of “Athleisure”, referring to clothing, fashion and sports which have never been so close in history.

The fashion industry under the spotlight

Sportswear brands are leading the “Athleisure” trend, which has made the rest of the fashion industry approach and embrace it. Nike has already surpassed Gucci and Louis Vuitton in value. However, the recent Earth Day and the climate conference have turned the spotlight on the fashion industry once again. According to the UN, the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world: it produces more carbon emissions than all international air and sea transports combined.” These statements were made in 2019, when the pandemic was unpredictable. Currently, this situation is unlikely to have improved due to the growth of e-commerce and the “Athleisure” trend.

Let us continue with our game outlined at the beginning of the article. John is a farmer who manages a dairy farm in Australia. Oscar is a football player who plays in a top-class team in Spain. Marta is a programmer who works from home for a tech company located in Los Angeles. Water is their common ground.

The future of water

Climate change is a multidimensional problem. There are many ways to tackle this topic. One of the most important problems is the potential water scarcity that the world will suffer from in the coming decades. In order to clearly understand the problem, there are some countries that can be seen as a time machine, allowing us to see what will occur in the future.

Nowadays, Australia holds a water market as if it were oil or gold. Farmers buy water and can sell the excess water. This may be an effective system; however, in one of the driest countries which has the most extreme climate in the world, water scarcity is increasing, which makes the price jump reaching figures between $500,000 and more than $2 million annually, depending on the price in the Australian water market.

The price is fixed taking into account variables such as the demand, real-time weather and the weather forecasts. An algorithm adjusts the prices in real time as if it were oil or gold.

Therefore, water has a price, and it is gaining attraction for the financial industry. In fact, water has recently been listed on the New York Stock Exchange. This factor influences a future trend. Water will undoubtedly be limited and will become a much more precious resource as the world’s climate becomes warmer.

John’s business (the Australian farmer we spoke earlier), entirely depends on the variation of water price, which is affected by the weather and the human consumption of it.

Fashion industry and water

According to a research carried out by the FSU (Florida State University), the fashion industry is the one that consumes the most water in the world—79,000 millions cubic metres of water per year.

Experts claim that the fashion industry should radically change in order to mitigate the environmental impact created by fast-fashion. Recently, a research on the environmental impact created by the fast-fashion industry has been published in the prestigious Nature magazine. “It is a global problem,” declared Patsy Perry, co-author of the research from the University of Manchester in the UK.

One of the conclusions of the research is that a global change of the people’s mindset is needed in regard to water consumption to fight water scarcity, especially in products requiring more water for its manufacture.

The challenge for sports brands

Sportswear brands are leading the trend shaping today’s fashion world. They are more aware of the industry’s environmental impact and prove this through innovations and global awareness programmes. Adidas, for example, is planning to produce classic models like the “Stan Smith” with a new twist. Now the Stan Smith trainers are made from mushroom leather.

This technology is considered to be the future of synthetic leather in the fashion industry. Besides, Nike is launching programmes such as “Road to Zero”, where not only does it introduce new products such as trainers made from recycled waste but also organises events and creates challenges to raise awareness in the community.

Not so known brands such as Vollebak, use space and military technology to produce fabrics enabling to manufacture high-performance clothing so that it can “survive” for a long time.

Adidas has launched an experimental programme to explore the concept of “owning” the sports equipment we need throughout our lives by highlighting the rental and recycling concept. We just need to focus on the activity we are going to do, and choose the equipment needed for it to be sent to us. Once we’ve finished our adventure it will be picked up again.

Some brands such as The North Face, have developed a website under the “pre-used gear” concept, with the aim to raise awareness of recycling and consuming in a more sustainable way.

Patagonia has created “Worn Wear”, an initiative to keep using their clothing for as long as possible so as to reduce the impact and encourage a more sustainable consumption.

These are some examples of how sportswear brands are exploring and leading towards a more sustainable future, helping customers to be more aware of the impact of consumption to the environment.

Halfway between fashion and sport are the casual brands, among them brands like Nudie Jeans, which offer free repairs in their stores, online courses to learn how to mend and preserve jeans, recycled products and a firm commitment to a more sustainable future for the industry.

Leadership through action

As we have already mentioned, Nike has surpassed Gucci and LV, and it has become the most valued brand in the industry. This is just a proof of how sportswear brands are at the forefront of a profound transformation within the industry. But what can we draw out of this?

We can see four potential opportunities due to this shift.

  1. The world of sport has many facets, but it holds values such as companionship, justice and desire for self-improvement. Shared values which are not usually related to the fashion world. If they are promoted through the way athletes live on and off the pitch, they can raise awareness and influence millions of people.
  2. Recycling programmes could serve as an example for fans, like some of the products Nike is developing. At the end of each season the old kit could be recycled for the new one in the following season.
  3. The implementation of rental programmes for sports equipment and gear, once it was used by elite or youth teams, presents an opportunity to promote awareness, extend the life of products and create a new business line such as the examples shared and done by Adidas, The North Face or Patagonia.
  4. Turning the waste produced by a club or sports organisation into T-shirts or any other sports equipment is a great opportunity to reduce the environmental impact and carbon footprint while raising awareness and educating people.

Due to this pandemic, we have learned that the world is far more interconnected than we thought, as one action on one side of the world can have serious repercussions on the other side.

In order to understand this effect, the best example we can provide is the one related to the three characters mentioned at the beginning of the article. A person capable of influencing millions of fans like Oscar (the football player), can as a result establish consumption habits to our third character, the programmer from Los Angeles, who will decide to purchase a sustainable or recycled product or a conventional one that she will use as long as it is fashionable.

This behaviour ends up affecting globally the design of products, the production lines, the supply chains and, consequently, the first character in this example—John, the Australian farmer who could not cover the costs of the water he needs for his farm.

A small action can trigger a big change, we all have the power to influence and help change one of the industries that undoubtedly plays a determining role in the future of our planet and our lives.

Oliver Henares


Building the future of the sports industry