By Mike-Dave Ayeni
Sustainable Fashion Writer
Ever since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, E-commerce has seen quite a significant increase in patronage, with reportedly about 82 percent of Australian households shopping online by the end of 2020, and, according to a report by IBIS World, the Australian online shopping industry has raked in an estimated $43.9bn in revenue in 2021.
Fashion is one of the greatest contributors to online shopping, and single-use packaging is a huge part of the online shopping experience. In fashion, packaging contributes to making the shopper’s purchasing decision almost as much as the item of purchase itself, and since 2020, thousands of unboxing videos flood social media monthly with reportedly over 90,000 per month in youtube videos’ titles alone.
Unfortunately, this all has harmed the efforts of the fashion industry to help the environment by increasing sustainability as the increase in shipping and with it, packaging and repackaging, is generating more waste than ever, very little of which is being recycled. With this has come increasing demand for the fashion industry to switch to more sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging options, reducing its adverse effects on environmental pollution as well as its alarmingly massive carbon footprint. More and more fashion brands are seeking ways to reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to sustainability by upgrading to safer, environmentally friendly packaging.
“I don’t think online shopping is going anywhere, so we have to put our heads together to think of solutions that won’t destroy our planet for the convenience of online shopping.” Says Sheila Morovati, the founder of Habits Of Waste, a non-profit organisation that campaigns against wasteful habits. This article helps give a few pointers to how possible it is to do this, who else is doing it, and how it can be done while taking into consideration the customer shopping experience and simultaneously helping the environment.
How To Make The Switch To Sustainable Packaging In Fashion
A great place to start has to be cutting down on repackaging. Between shipping from factory to brand and from brand to retailer is a lot of packaging, repackaging, branding, and rebranding. A horrifying amount of single-use packaging goes into this practice, and a very small percentage of this is recycled. Packaging serves many purposes in fashion retailing including protection during transportation, as well as marketing brand identity, and so at every stop in the movement of goods from production to the final consumer is an addition to the increasing levels of plastic waste generated by fashion. To increase sustainability, these waste levels have to be drastically reduced and brought to a minimum.
The fashion industry needs to begin focusing on employing reusable packaging in place of single-use containers. Companies like Boox™, a packaging company that creates reusable cardboard boxes used for shipping a range of products from fashion and clothing items to beauty products, are working to create reusable shipping and packaging products that can be maintained from production to consumer with the hopes of completely eradicating single-use packaging. What reusing does is reduce demand for the manufacturing of new packaging containers by maintaining the use of pre-existing ones. This is a far more sustainable packaging practice that even helps cut out package waste from changing item containers through the different channels of distribution since the same packaging is pretty much used from production to delivery.
Another way to help is by utilising recycled material to create brand packaging products. Increasing the demand for recycled material will result in increased recycling and less virgin plastic production, which spells well for environmental health. As of 2016, less than 14 percent of the virgin plastic used in fashion packaging was being recycled, with most of it ending up in landfills, incinerators, and our oceans. Recycling is a really important factor to employ in creating sustainability as it is in no way feasible to continue to churn our virgin plastic products with very little attention paid to recycling them for environmental health. Let’s be honest, the world does not need any more plastic.
Studies have shown that more and more consumers are willing to pay for green, eco-friendly packaging with an estimated ninety percent of Australians requesting exactly that. Sustainability consciousness is on the increase amongst consumers. Of course, how much longer will we be able to enjoy fashion and shopping while destroying our planet? The benefits of sustainability in the long term far outweigh its costs.
Hand presenting earth sustainable environment remix
Ways That Fashion Brands Can Help Drive Sustainability Consciousness
Catchy Packaging Designs
With the increase in consumers favouring online shopping over traditional brick-and-mortar stores, most of the consumer shopping experience has fallen to unboxing. While there may be some temptation to be careless with packaging due to the decline in in-store purchasing, brands have to be more creative and thoughtful with their packaging design to retain client affection and loyalty, and while it is admittedly a lot to consider along with sustainability, it is very doable.
Customers are more likely to reuse aesthetically pleasing packaging, which would go a long way in reducing the amount of fashion waste that ends up in landfills. Fashion brands can market creative, beautiful packaging options and push sustainability awareness by sharing with their consumers all the fun, versatile ways that the packages can be reused, upcycled, or converted for household use. After all, it doesn’t take too much to convince a fashion lover to put branded packaging to good use.
Biodegradable and Compostable Packaging
While all forms of plastic packaging are steadily being phased out of Australia- including ‘biodegradable’ plastics, paper and cardboard-based packaging is still very much welcome, much safer, and significantly more biodegradable than any form of plastic. Efforts are also being made to create more durable, lightweight paper for packaging purposes, like the addition of Micro-Fibrillated Cellulose (MFC) in the manufacturing of packing paper by some producers. The best part is, this also increases its biodegradability. Investing in this form of packaging will positively impact sustainability in fashion packaging in the long term.
Package Return Policies and Rewards
Having created sustainable, reusable, or recyclable packaging, fashion brands can implement return programs that enable consumers to send empty packages back to the fashion companies in piece and bulk for reuse or the recycling process. This is a method that has been employed by the food and bottling industry for decades to reduce container manufacturing and actively engage consumers in recycling. For example, in places like Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and soon to be available in Tasmania and Victoria, beverage companies have, in conjunction with the government, implemented a bottle deposit scheme that charges a deposit on every pet bottle purchased to be redeemed upon return. Some programs even take it a step further by granting rewards to consumers upon returning a certain amount of packaging containers to a redemption point.
Fashion brands can create return programs in partnership with recycling companies where package boxes are dropped off by customers and sorted to be sent back for reuse by their respective companies or recycled. These are all methods that can be used by the fashion industry to integrate consumers with the sustainability trend and create a great, healthy experience for both the environment and consumer-brand relationship.
Using Social Media
The upward climb in online purchasing has positively affected brand social media relations with their consumers, as more consumers are willing to share their shopping experience online, which will make it easier to publicise a sustainability campaign on social media and help build a positive brand image. And a great way we’d suggest doing this is by employing social media challenges.
The trend of engaging social media challenges on apps like Instagram, Facebook, and Tiktok can be a very useful tool in helping fashion brands engage their patrons and followers in package-return challenges and programs, utilising social media to publicise the campaign online, where customers can, alongside their unboxing experience, film their recycling and upcycling efforts.
By being upfront with where they stand in the sustainability journey, fashion brands can involve and be accountable to their consumers as well as provide them with ample information to help them make smarter purchasing decisions as regards supporting sustainability. One of the ways many brands have stayed accountable for their impact on and responsibility to environmental health and green practices in the fashion industry is by publishing regular reports on brand sustainability. These reports enable consumers to stay abreast with the steps being taken by brands towards a more sustainable future and serve as a reference for future growth comparisons in this area.
Sustainability takes consciousness and intentionality, but it will be highly rewarding- and predictably even compulsory in the nearest future as a responsibility we all must take on to preserve and heal our planet. It is not an impossible task as long as we all cooperatively shoulder it together. Brands and consumers must work hand in hand if there is any major impact to be made and if the awareness is to spread.