Sustainability Policies for the Fashion Industry: A Comparative Study of Asian and European Brands

Date01 September 2019
Published date01 September 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Sustainability Policies
for the Fashion Industry:
A Comparative Study
of Asian and European
Anupama Gupta1
Sustainability has become an increasingly important value in the business of the
global fashion industry. All leading brands have been taking initiatives in promo-
ting notions of environmental and social sustainability. This article discusses the
similarities and differences in sustainability-related approaches, activities and
collaborations of selected fashion brands. It does so as part of a comparative
study of typical Asian and European brands. The European brands analysed here
tend to take a holistic, structured and goal-oriented approach towards marketing
their links to environmental sustainability. In contrast, the article proposes that
a typical Asian brand approach seems to be more fundamental in terms of social
sustainability. This is the larger context that the global fashion industry continues,
embracing the concept of sustainability in terms of how businesses should not
just be concerned with profits but also with commitments to society and the
Fashion industry, sustainability, supply chain, brand comparisons
Fashion is considered one of the most global industries with almost all countries
involved in this trade (Gereffi, 1996). On one side, this is linked to the basic
human necessity of clothing. On the other, the human interest in fashion also
Indian Journal of Public
65(3) 733–748, 2019
© 2019 IIPA
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0019556119844581
1 National Institute of Fashion Technology, Bangalore, Karnataka, India.
Corresponding author:
Anupama Gupta, National Institute of Fashion Technology, Bangalore, C.A. Site, #21, 27th Main Rd,
1st Sector, HSR Layout, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560102, India.
734 Indian Journal of Public Administration 65(3)
fulfils psychological imperatives of personality and aesthetic sense (Fletcher,
2008). It should not be surprising that the growing awareness of, interest in, and
concern for future sustainability would also apply to the fashion industry (Ho &
Choi, 2012). But this wasn’t the case few years ago (Pagell & Shevchenko, 2014).
The ‘apparel industry’ as it has been also termed is one of the most exploitative
of industries since a prime driver of sourcing strategy is low production costs
(Bonacich, 1994). Globalisation trends have influenced an increasing reliance
of companies/brands on their suppliers and sub-suppliers (Welford, 2002).
Fashion brands with suppliers from developing economies are inevitably linked to
issues of cheap labour, weaker environmental policies and public sustainability
awareness (Entwistle & Slater, 2014; Li, Zhao, Shi, & Li, 2014).
Many global fashion brands have been openly criticised for using ‘sweatshops’
(Chakraborty et al., 2004) in Asian countries. Issues such as the involvement of
child labour, bad working conditions, long working hours, violation of labour rights,
unregulated chemical disposal and so on have been reported time and again (Seuring
& Muller, 2008). The tragedy of Rana Plaza, Bangladesh, in 2013 was one the worst
public relations disasters faced by the fashion industry. It led all stakeholders to
realise that a more sustainable environment is now needed (Shen, Zheng, Chow,
& Chow, 2014). Now, the scenario is such that most of the international fashion
brands realise the value of sustainability and involve themselves in related activi-
ties. The main focus of this article is to better understand the sustainability strategies
of selected brands in terms of analysing the similarities and differences.
Literature Review
The UN report ‘Our Common Future’ by Brundtland in 1987 emphasised the
importance of sustainable development, pointing out that environment and deve-
lopment are ultimately inseparables. Regarding sustainable development, the
report states ‘sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the
present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own
needs’ (Brundtland, 1987). The Sustainable Society Index further adds to this
definition in terms of how ‘…own needs in which each human being has the
opportunity to develop itself in freedom, within a well-balanced society and in
harmony with its surroundings’. This index has developed a framework to measure
the sustainability of countries. It has three dimensions—human well-being, envi-
ronmental well-being and economic well-being. Human well-being categories
include basic needs, personal development, health and a well-balanced society.
Environmental well-being categories include natural resources, climate and energy.
Economic categories relate to economic imperatives of development.
The Global Reporting Initiative—which works in the area of sustainability
reporting of organisations, governments and so on—also uses the same social,
economic and environmental categories. This includes the ISO 14000 which
is a well-accepted set of sustainability performance indicators and standards.
Such frameworks typically are linked to the triple bottom line (TBL) and
related model of social, economic and environmental sustainability (Kleindorfer,

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