5 things you probably didn’t know about the fashion industry

Michele Petruzziello
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Mark Twain once wrote, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”   Whether we’re one of the millions of people employed by the sector or just someone who likes to shop on Fifth Avenue or in second-hand stores, we are all touched by the fashion industry.

Before the early autumn ushers in fashion weeks around the world, here are five things about the global fashion industry you probably didn’t know:

  1. The fashion industry generates up to $2.5 trillion in revenue a year

The fashion industry is huge and continues to grow rapidly – according to current growth projections, it will double in the next 10 years, generating up to $5 trillion annually.  How many other industries can look forward to such levels of growth?

It’s not just big in terms of revenue – it also employs 60 million people around the world. In the US, 4 million people work in the fashion industry. That’s more than other major sectors, including the auto, fast-food and video-game industries.

  1. Clothing accounts for 88% of Haiti’s exports

And Haiti is not alone in relying on the clothing industry for exports: 79% of Bangladesh’s, 59% of Lesotho’s, 52% of Cambodia’s and 43% of Sri Lanka’s exports are related to the clothing industry.

Even for those places that don’t rely so heavily on the industry for exports, fashion is still deeply embedded in their culture, and fashion weeks have emerged around the world in new “fashion capitals” such as Lagos, Mumbai and Sao Paulo.

  1. Only 25% of board members of publicly-traded fashion companies are women

Fashion is a female-dominated industry – women make up 68% of the workforce, with that figure going as high as 90% in places such as Bangladesh. On top of that, they also account for 85% of the customer base for fashion companies.

But while the shop floor is one story, the boardroom is another.  Only seven of the 50 major fashion brands are run by women.  And only a quarter of board members of publicly-traded fashion and luxury companies are women. While this is higher than the 10% of women who serve as board members of publicly-traded companies in the US, this number is still abysmally low for an industry so highly dependent on women.

  1. The average American throws away 70 pounds of clothes a year

The fashion industry relies on an abundant amount of land to graze animals, water to grow cotton, and natural resources to transport the latest clothes, shoes and accessories around the world each season. For instance, it takes 1,083 gallons of water to produce one cotton T-shirt!

Our love of new styles and silhouettes doesn’t help, as a disproportionally large amount of clothing ends up in landfills each year. In the US, where each person throws away a shocking 70 pounds of clothing each year, textiles account for 5% of municipal waste.

Luckily, change does seem to be coming, as shoppers become more aware of the environmental impact of their closets.  According to the World Economic Forum’s Engaging Tomorrow’s Consumer project, which has been trying to mainstream sustainable lifestyles, millennial consumers are increasingly looking for products that make them look and feel good, and are good for the planet and society.

  1. 24 April is Fashion Revolution Day

In today’s global production environment, many companies maintain supply chains with a vast network of sub-contractors. As a result of this enormous network of suppliers, customers (and even some companies) have little understanding of where their products come from.

It was in response to this – and to mark the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, where over 1,000 garment workers were killed – that a Fashion Revolution Day was established. Using the hashtag WhoMadeMyClothes, it calls for a renewed customer focus on supply chain transparency and the millions of people who are a part of the industry’s enormously complex value chain.

With the sector constantly reinventing and transforming itself, and the lines between fashion and technology becoming blurred, it’s an exciting time to be in the fashion industry. We can all be a part of the generation that revolutionized fashion and made it more sustainable and fair.

Author: Michele Petruzziello is Associate Director, Fashion, Luxury & Lifestyle Industries at the World Economic Forum

Image: A model presents a creation from Roberto Cavalli during Milan Fashion Week REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

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