Think of emerging trends, such as sustainable fashion, like epidemics. Malcolm Gladwell, in The Tipping Point, described the way ideas and behaviours spread as virus-like. Debate over the sustainability in the fashion industry has run for a decade or more. Today, both customers and investors have made executives recognise the effect upon revenues. That suggests a longer term investment opportunity.
The addressable market looks big. Within a fashion industry worth about $2tn, up to $30bn is required to make it sustainable over the coming decade, think consultants BCG. Improving the supply chain can mean funding environmentally friendlier raw materials through to greener transport, then recyclable packaging and even reselling the goods. Customers rightly care about price and provenance of their goods. In turn, chief executives care about what their customers (and investors) want.
At one end of the chain, raw materials such as cotton may be recycled or handled more efficiently to create T-shirts and jeans with less wasted energy and water. UK-listed luxury wear maker Burberry, which has had missteps in the past, has made greater efforts to focus both on improving the biodiversity of its raw materials as well as using recycled materials in its packaging.
For now, the most concentrated retail efforts on sustainability will come from smaller, private businesses such as Dai, a maker of ethical womenswear, and BAM, purveyor of sportswear made from cotton-substitute bamboo. Selling recycled (vintage) clothing is also popular.
Later, fashion-miles may well matter more. Inditex in Spain has kept its suppliers close to its manufacturing mainly for flexibility in catching the latest hot trend. Using the same homegrown ethic, but perhaps with more capital investment, Britain post-Brexit could offer similarly low-cost sustainable clothing production for retailers. Replacing labour with capital should mean avoiding Boohoo’s local subcontractor scandals.
Finally, better sustainability screening by Asos, Boohoo and all other fashion retailers are on the rise. As consumer demand for sustainable fashion rises, investor funding will follow. Expect more equity offerings from currently private groups in the medium term.
This is one of four Lex notes highlighting New Year investment possibilities.