It’s not often I hear someone do a presentation and feel compelled to start recording what they are saying. However, when Lou Stoppard started speaking, I found myself immediately fumbling for my phone.

Lou is a journalist, researcher and curator – I like to call her a ‘Futuregazer’. Here at adidas she has been working with our Creative Direction team to help them predict influences for the fashion industry. Her crystal ball is stark, and her message is clear:

Change is coming (whether we like it or not)

Scientists say that we have just 12 years left to limit catastrophic environmental change, the evidence of which we are already starting to feel. The pressure that is starting to build on clothing companies will increase as the effects of global warming become more obvious.

Lou highlighted research from Samantha Dover (senior retail analyst at Mintel) who states nearly half of consumers say they prefer to buy clothing from companies trying to reduce their impact on the environment. This rises to 60% among those under 24. Younger generations already care more and will become even more passionate about this issue as natural disasters occur more frequently.

A close up of shiny diamonds in the palm of a hand. Sustainable Fashion, Gameplan A.
Spot the difference. Lab-cultivated diamonds are indistinguishable from mined diamonds and are growing in popularity. ©MirageC/Getty Images

As a commercial example, Lou is fascinated by the development of the lab-grown diamond industry. “Our idea of luxury is changing. I wonder if, within 5 or 10 years, the idea of a lab-grown diamond will seem more luxurious than a mined diamond?” she says.

Brands are the new religion

The role of the brand is changing, says Lou: “I would argue that the role of a brand is as a spokesperson, I think that they’re becoming the new politicians and new moral leaders.” The marketing industry agrees with her:

Young people are starting to look to brands and celebrities and icons as moral leaders. They’re not just arbiters of taste, but also ethics. Young consumers look to them for some kind of guidance and as a reflection of their own beliefs. In fact 64% of consumers in the Edelman Earned Brand report listed themselves as belief-driven buyers.

This is a new relationship between a company and a consumer, where a purchase is premised on the brand’s willingness to live its values and act with purpose.

The stigma of second-hand is disappearing

The future is looking really, really bright for renting, borrowing, reusing, fixing, and recycling. A new report shows that the used fashion market is skyrocketing – by 2028 it will value $64 billion in the US, while fast fashion will only reach $44 billion.

Lou says that this is a massive statistic: “It shows all of the historic stigma around buying second-hand just does not exist. It’s also showing that when young people buy a product, they don’t necessarily think it is something that they will own and live with for life in the way that our parents’ generation did.”

“Younger generations do think of ownership and shopping differently. We’ve seen that in the way that they’ve embraced companies like Rent the Runway that allow them to rent clothing or the way that they’ve embraced resale sites like Vestiaire or The RealReal. This is massive and it is going to change the way that people consume.”

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The current model is not sustainable

“The problem with fashion in general is a consumption one – we buy 60% more clothes than we used to in 2000. It can’t be sustained.” Lou tells me, “the biggest responsibility on brands now is to think about a product’s life-cycle and then to educate consumers. I think that there’s going to be more of a focus on brands clearing up their own waste.”

A company’s approach to the end of their products’ life didn’t used to matter, but now consumers care more and more.

Companies are in two camps – damage control or innovation?

Many brands are still thinking about sustainability as a PR issue and often only have practices in place to stem bad press. A vital re-think of this attitude is essential, says Lou:

“The switch [in consumer mindset] is going to come so quickly. We are going to see more natural disasters where climate change suddenly feels very real – it’s already happening. As those happen, people are not going to turn a blind eye if brands have really unethical or unsustainable practices. Brands would do well to lead and push ahead because they’ve probably only got a few years left where they can tag behind.”

A girl wears face paint as schoolchildren take part in a student climate protest. Sustainable fashion, Gameplan A
Climate change is driving a change in consumer mindset, especially among the young. ©Jack Taylor/Getty Images

“It’s promising that adidas is open to having these conversations and being confronted by these difficult truths,” says Lou. “Speaking to the team, it’s clear that they are tenacious enough to see these challenges not as limitations but a chance for creative thinking.”

Pushing ahead to change future strategy and innovate for more sustainable products and processes is the route we at adidas have chosen – steps that will reduce both our waste and our carbon footprint. This comes with huge challenges for a company of our size, but progress is now visible through our Parley range and the recent FUTURECRAFT.LOOP launch, as well as our ongoing partnership with Fashion for Good.

Through the creation of Run For The Oceans we are also encouraging our employees and consumers to live more sustainably and helping them raise money to combat the issue of marine plastic pollution.

A man runs carrying a flag that says Run for the Oceans. Sustainable fashion, Gameplan A.
Events like Run For The Oceans are creating awareness of issues like plastic pollution and driving a change in consumer mindset.
A bright white sneaker with an orange tag on the tongue that reads 100% Recyclable. Sustainable fasion, Gameplan A.
FutureCraft:Loop. A shoe that is made to be remade.
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To this point, over 1m people around the world have joined the movement. This year for every kilometer run adidas will invest $1 in the Parley Ocean School (capped at $1.5m) which is empowering youth to fight the plastic pollution problem.

If you agree with Lou Stoppard, that change must happen, then start by joining this year’s run and make your voice count.

5 COMMENTS & EXTERNAL REFERRALS

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by Sina 29.05.2019
Super interesting article! Lou's statements on purpose-driven brands are very relevant for anyone who's creating any type of service or product.
It's amazing to it in action and I'm looking forward to Run For The Oceans 2019!
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by Frank 03.06.2019
Thanks for putting this together, Matt. I think it's a must-read for every brand marketer. I think its especially important to drive the change for the right reasons. The wrong reasons brought us into this situation and history repeats itself too easily. We'll only be successful if we all really get it and take responsibility because we feel it, not because we think its expected behavior. Actions need to be backed up by beliefs.
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by Anne Frank 03.06.2019
Absolutely agree to Lou and Frank. Purpose is the new brand currency - we need to make sure to scale our great sustainability stories as fast as possible and make it tangible in Retail.
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by Tim Bassford 04.06.2019
Great article Matt. It's an exciting time to be involved in brand, marketing and design. With the hunger for more positive, purpose-driven branding it certainly opens up the opportunity for the capitalism we all choose to be involved in to be partnered with higher ideals. Hopefully this will continue to improve our lives and the lives of future generations. What's not to love!?
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13.06.2019

Is Sustainability the Future of Fashion? • TheCircularEconomy.com