Sustainability the way forward for local retailers as we brace for international invasion

by Lara McPherson 04/05/2011

Last week saw yet another international fashion giant moving in on local territory with the launch of the first Zara flagship store at Westfield Sydney.

While homegrown retailers may be fearing the worst, it appears its not over yet. Increased market pressure will soon be multiplied, with increasing consumer demand for products and services that tick the green box. As a consumer driven industry, the fashion sector is likely to be largely impacted by a consistent growth in media and consumer awareness of environmental issues. The global LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) retail segment is estimated to have already reached a staggering $540 Billion annually accounting for over a quarter of the Australian population. And this number is set to rise.

As environmental issues become increasingly important for Australian businesses with the introduction of a carbon tax, traditional ways of doing business must be reexamined. A significant new opportunity for innovation and evolution is emerging.

At the recent Big Green Conference in Geelong, the Minister for Innovation, Kim Carr, reaffirmed Labor’s commitment to helping businesses transition to a green economy. “Climate change is remaking our environment and our economy,” Senator Carr said. “Good businesses face the facts and find the opportunities – and the Australian Government will help them every step of the way.”

Jo Kellock from the Council for Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia, agreed saying, “Whether we like it or not, we need to be addressing the environmental, ethical and economic sustainability of not just the local industry but the global industry. We can either come to the table willingly or begrudgingly. The smart thing to do would be to take the initiative. The Australian TCF industry has so much to offer in sustainable and ethical fashion.”

With international retailers already streets ahead in the transition to more sustainable business practices, their Australian counterparts risk being left behind, leaving local retailers open to competition from international giants. H&M, Uniqlo, Victoriaʼs Secret and Urban Outfitters are all soon to be flooding the Australian Market, joining fellow international giants Gap and Zara who have already set up shop on our shores.

These global retail superpowers will be well placed when anticipated product stewardship measures are introduced to the fashion industry as we are already seeing in some other sectors. Despite all this, the Big Green Conference was testament to the fact that there is no shortage of local knowledge among members of the Australian Industry. The event featured local heroes like Leyla Acaroglu from award winning eco-design firm Eco Innovators (see our feature on Leyla’s Pillar project) and sustainability strategist Matt Perry from the Republic of Everyone alongside international leaders in the field such as Andreas Streubig from German superbrand Otto.

The conference was the very first of its kind in Australia and showcased the high level of skill and knowledge available to our local industry.

And as Ms Kellock highlighted, “There is a great opportunity for Australia here to be leaders in this kind of innovation, but at the moment we are just letting it pass right by.”

Leyla Acaroglu from award winning eco-design firm Eco Innovators (see our feature on Leyla’s Pillar project)

The event was presented by the Industries Association Consortium : Members of the IAC are Kangan Institute, The Carpet Institute of Australia, The Council of Textile & Fashion Industries of Australia, The International Fibre Centre, The Society of Dyers and Colourists and The Technical Textiles Nonwoven Association.

May 4, 2011