American Marketer

Apparel and accessories

241,000 tons of CO2 annually: Fashion must rethink wholesale buying process

February 27, 2020

Global air travel to fashion shows generates 147,000 tons of carbon a year. Image courtesy of Ordre. Global air travel to fashion shows alone generates 147,000 tons of carbon each year. Image courtesy of Ordre


Being environmentally conscientious is in vogue on the runways, with recycled fashions and vintage making a comeback this year. However, the fashion industry may need to take a look in the mirror and rethink its wholesale buying process if it wants to truly cut back on its global carbon footprint.

The total carbon emissions of the travel associated with the wholesale fashion buying process is 241,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, according to a new report from Ordre in association with the Carbon Trust.

“The carbon emissions are involved with the buyers and media traveling to attend,” said Simon P. Locke, founder/CEO of Ordre, Paris. “Other carbon emission points of focus include local travel on the ground, use of fossil fuel in powering productions and the use on non-recyclable production materials.”

Air travel contributed to 147,000 tons of carbon. Accommodations accounted for 78,000 tons. Intercity travel made up 11,000 tons, and transporting collections generated 5,000 tons of CO2.

Ordre is a global online wholesale platform for the ready-to-wear fashion industry. Its Zero to Market research project aims to support a more sustainable fashion industry.

Simon P. Locke, founder/CEO of Ordre. Image courtesy of Ordre. Simon P. Locke is founder/CEO of Ordre

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The carbon emissions cited by Ordre were measured in the travel completed by retail buyers and designers to attend major fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris across a 12-month period.

The total cost of travel associated with the wholesale fashion buying process includes 2,697 retailers and 5,096 designers, and costs $1.4 billion, according to the report.

New York Fashion Week generated 37 percent of the carbon emissions, as more than 40,000 buyers and designers traveled to New York for the show.

Paris created 28 percent of the emissions, with almost 70,000 buyers and designers coming to the city.

London garnered 18 percent of emissions, with more than 25,000 people coming to town for the events.

Milan generated 17 percent of emissions, with around 50,000 buyers and designers traveling to the Italian fashion capital for Milan Fashion Week.

To put this in perspective, this carbon usage is equivalent to lighting up Times Square in New York for 58 years, 27 million gallons of gasoline per year, 51,000 cars on the road, or 589 million miles driven. It is more than the 2017 greenhouse gas emissions of Saint Kitts and Nevis.

Mr. Locke said he expects companies to adjust their processes to address this pressing issue.

“Major fashion houses are looking at embracing sustainable practices through all levels of their business,” Mr. Locke said. “Fashion shows, fashion weeks, showrooms and the business of fashion are all an increasing focus.”

Model in sheep herd. Image courtesy of Ordre. Model in sheep herd. Image courtesy of Ordre

Ordre has several suggestions that can cut back on the carbon footprint of fashion shows.

First, the company recommends combining all seasons and collections including bringing winter and pre-fall together with summer and resort, as well as combining men’s and women’s shows into single events. Establishing regional fashion weeks should be a key consideration.

Second, Ordre recommends identifying and establishing a designated fashion district during seasons. Fashion labels should schedule events within these districts to reduce travel.

Equally important, the fashion industry must establish and enforce a detailed production code of ethics around the various factors affecting the environment, including recycling, reuse, low carbon and energy efficiencies.

Lastly, the company suggests avoiding flying business class, which has a higher carbon footprint than economy class.

Indeed, it is ideal to minimize travel and combine long-distance trips to cut back carbon emissions. Take the train instead of flying, when possible, and rent apartments over hotels, which have a higher carbon footprint.

FASHION HOUSES can work to lower their carbon footprint by using technology to better manage the business of fashion, including virtual showrooms and virtual reality. This is happening on a small scale, with online live-streaming gaining popularity as travel is restricted over the global coronavirus scare.

“If there is no planet to inhabit, there is no reason for clothes,” Mr. Locke said.

“The risk is that the if fashion industry does not embrace sustainable practices fast enough, it will fall out of favor with consumer behavior which is the industry’s lifeblood,” he said.

Please click here to download the PDF of the Zero to Market report from Ordre and the Carbon Trust