01 Jul 2024

Sustainability Focus: Transforming the Fashion Ecosystem

Joseph Mountain Guest writer: Joe Mountain is the Sustainability Lead for N Brown Group and Director of Future Fashion Fair CIC. With a background in fabric development, he transitioned to sustainability after an MSc in Textile Innovation and Sustainability. Joe enhances N Brown's size and fit proposition, integrating circular design, and was named to the Drapers 30 under 30 list in 2024. He also supports local businesses and communities to inspire cultural changes in consumer behavior.


Joe will be at Pure London x JATC this year on Sunday the 14th July. His panel will discuss 'Sustainability Myths and Realities: Insights from Industry Experts'. Check out the full itinerary and register for your free ticket here.


Over the last few years, the industry has gathered sufficient evidence and insight to develop its collective roadmap towards a net zero world, in line with the Paris Agreement. We know in our Sustainability role that we have to get ESG on the agenda and ensure it is a critical component as part of the overarching business strategy, but now is, of course, the time for action and this is much easier said and done, and whilst those low hanging fruits like transitioning away from conventional fibres are underway, other focus areas required systemic change.


Systems change is imperative for reimagining the fashion industry. A holistic approach has to redefine business models and infrastructure and review how nations and regions operate for place-based system change.


For established corporations, systems change looks to consider infrastructural shifts and stakeholder engagement. At N Brown we look to enable our stakeholders and give them the tools to progress when we consider reducing and measuring impacts. We also then have to think about how we deliver knowledge across the business, so colleagues understand from a strategic point of view how they enable sustainable business practices in their role.


Smaller brands and start-ups have the advantage of embedding sustainability into their models from the start. Traceability on a smaller supply chain makes it much easier to make those cognizant decisions however, costs can be really challenging in this space when dealing with lower MOQs and less access to more responsible practices, it can be difficult to innovate if resources and capital are limited.


Diversifying considers how the business can transform through utilising its USP. There is much opportunity in diversifying but also a lot of risk, it can't always be a case of doing it because it's 'the right thing to do', if there wasn't any risk associated with that, we and the rest of the industry would have reached out net zero commitments already. But there are ways N Brown can do this, and it is critical that it aligns with our mission but also with the customer's expectations, otherwise, it fails and in turn, can derail our transitional efforts.


Beyond individual businesses, systems change influences broader societal shifts. Companies have a pivotal role in enabling cultures, communities, and cities to embrace sustainable practices. But also, a bottom-up approach can support changes in consumption making more informed decisions through the awareness of associated impacts and making more sustainable products and circular fashion practices more accessible. This needs support from governing bodies, non-profits, NGOs and of course brands. At Future Fashion Fair CIC, we are exploring how to build these localised ecosystems in Greater Manchester, creating a community of like-minded brands, businesses, and citizens engaged in a circular fashion model.


The implementation of these systems requires both top-down and grassroots approaches. All stakeholders must be involved, especially suppliers and customers otherwise, accessibility to solutions will be the industry's Achilles heel. 


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