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Slowing sustainability transition in the fashion industry

May 2019: Improving social and environmental practices of the fashion industry has slowed by a third in 2018 in comparison to previous years, leading to strengthened calls for fashion companies to focus on system wide changes based on collaboration with bargain brands.


A new report outlines that despite public commitments from larger brands and increased customer awareness of sustainability, progress in improving environmental and social performance of fashion brands has slowed by a third in 2018. Evidence suggests that the growth of the industry and companies failing to implement sustainable practices throughout the core of their business is outpacing the improvements in sustainability performance. The fashion industry is projected to grow by 5% each year through 2030, which will erode any gains made and increase further the strain on planetary resources and increase carbon emissions.

Implications & Opportunities

The authors are calling upon fashion companies to accelerate their transition and to explore a more systematic change along their value chains as well as developing disruptive technologies that transform their core business methods. Further, the report indicates that the industry requires heightened collaboration and coordination of market leaders and smaller bargain brands to overcome current technological and economic limitations that hinder progress.


The report has a limited scope of application and only evaluates commitments that were implemented in 2018. It should be seen within the context of the study’s focus on market leaders and standalone performance in 2018.


Global Fashion Agenda and the Boston Consulting Group. (20019). Pulse of the fashion industry 2018. Copenhagen: Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group, Inc.

Forbes. (2019). Progress in sustainable fashion has slowed by a third in the past year. Retrieved from

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Adele Wiliams

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The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.