Sustainable Style Forecast 2021: Beauty and Fashion Get Greener

Besides being very comfy (hello, 24/7 sweatpants), fashion in 2020 also made some strides in sustainability, with plenty of positive developments that seem poised to continue in 2021.

2021: Beauty and Fashion Get Greener

In both the beauty and fashion industries, the new year looks set to be filled with ingredient innovation and scientific development, with an even bigger emphasis on sustainability and environmentally-friendly products and packaging.

Here’s our beauty and style forecast for 2021.

Beauty: More Ingredient Innovation 

2021 (and beyond) will see a lot more ingredient innovation in the beauty industry.

Often, beauty brands rely on ingredients from the natural world to boost the benefits of their products. For example, bakuchiol, found on Psoralea corylifolia leaves, is hailed for its skin-brightening and plumping qualities. But this leaf is endangered, with a low germination rate.

As ethnobotanist James Wong told Glamour, “The reality when using natural ingredients, is that sourcing them will always have some sort of environmental impact.” (For more information on sustainability in the clean beauty world, see here.)

Moving away from ingredients that harm the natural world requires innovation. Earlier this year, Andrew McDougall — associate director for global market research firm Mintel’s Beauty & Personal Care department — said the next decade is going to bring more of a crossover between nature and science, with an emphasis on sustainable biotechnology.

Per CosmeticsDesign-Europe, he said: “Beauty players need to leverage the growing trend of using ‘engineered natural ingredients’ to satisfy consumer desire for safety, but also solve costly supply chain issues related to sustainability of natural materials.”

One Ocean Beauty is one example of a brand already using science to produce sustainable beauty products.

Using lab-controlled biofermentation, the brand “harnesses the extraordinary cellular survival mechanisms” of algae, kelp, and marine microorganisms (all of which have evolved to protect themselves from threats such as pollution and UV radiation) and creates actives that mimic them.

We spoke to Sheila Chaiban, One Ocean Beauty’s CEO, about the brand’s use of blue biotechnology. She explained via email: “The real difference is we do not harvest from the oceans. This not only means that we do not harm the ocean’s biodiversity, but it also reduces land and water usage and generates less waste … sustainability and ocean preservation has been at the core of our brand from the outset — it’s no longer a choice, but a necessity.”

She added that the future of the beauty industry “rests on its ability to adapt and become sustainable.” 

“There is a huge amount of waste and damage being done to our oceans which cannot be tenable in the long term, not only for our oceans, but more widely for our planet,” Chaiban continued. “We are doing our best to lead the way on sustainability and ingredient awareness in the industry … We constantly keep an eye on new technology to see where we can develop even better solutions.”

The beauty industry will see more sustainable packaging in 2021. | Karolina Grabowska / Pexels

Beauty: Zero-Waste/Sustainable Packaging More Commonplace

Every year, the beauty industry produces 77 billion units of plastic, 70 percent of which goes to landfills. 

But consumers are ready for more environmentally-friendly packaging options. A Research and Markets’ packaging report from July, which evaluated trends in packaging innovation, found that sustainability is now “a great factor of importance in the purchasing decisions of today’s consumer.”

In 2021, some of the world’s biggest beauty companies could start to use more sustainable packaging options.  

L’Oréal, for example, recently partnered with carbon recycling company LanzaTech. In October, the duo premiered the first-ever packaging made from recycled carbon emissions. And the two companies revealed they would continue working together to scale production.

LanzaTech’s CEO, Dr. Jennifer Holmgren, said in a statement: “This partnership is based on a shared goal of creating a cleaner planet for everyone.” She added: “Together, we can reduce the carbon footprint of packaging by converting carbon emissions into useful products, making single-use carbon a thing of the past.”

It’s worth noting here that a number of smaller, vegan beauty brands, including One Ocean Beauty, already go to great lengths to use sustainable packaging. (For more on those, you can find a section highlighting some of the best sustainable brands to choose in our cruelty-free beauty guide.)

But to have an even bigger impact on the planet, we need fast-paced change from the beauty industry’s biggest companies. As Chaiban says, “We are one ocean, one planet, and one people, and we need to protect all three.”

Fashion: An Emphasis on Sustainability, From High-End to High Street

With every passing month, the pressure is increasing on fashion designers to become more responsible with their clothing collections. 

The apparel industry has a major impact on the planet. It’s one of the world’s most polluting industries, responsible for 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The current model is also resource-intensive and wasteful, with an estimated 100 billion pieces of clothing produced annually.
But as Vogue pointed out back in September, the pandemic, which saw fashion weeks go digital, may have helped bring the “unsustainable excesses of the fashion circus” to an end.

Some brands have decided to opt out of Spring 2021 collections altogether, while others have launched new pledges, chosen to create new collections with recycled materials, or even launched sustainability manifestos

The pandemic has also impacted mainstream “fast-fashion” brands.

Sandra Capponi, co-founder of Good On You, a brand directory that rates clothing companies based on their environmental impact, told LIVEKINDLY that 2020 has marked a “real shift in the industry.” She noted: “The Covid crisis shed more light on the problems with fast fashion and consumers became even more motivated to support brands doing good.” 

Her comments are backed up by a recent study by PayPal, which revealed that changes in working environments and an increase in virtual socializing has seen consumers become “more pragmatic” in their approach to shopping.

People are changing which items of clothing they buy (waist-up fashion saw an increase in sales, unsurprisingly), but they’re also changing where they buy them from. Nearly half of fast fashion retailers have seen a decrease in sales this year.

It’s not just the fashion industry’s environmental impact that is changing consumer habits. The pandemic saw many brands cancelling orders from suppliers, leaving workers in countries such as Bangladesh vulnerable. 

“[After that,] consumers demanded that [companies] #PayUp,” recalls Capponi. “Many major brands also came under fire for human rights abuses against Uighur people in Xinjiang, China, adding to the call for change.”

While big retailers have been the subject of consumer scrutiny, 2020 has seen the rise of slow fashion brands like Tala. Founded by Grace Beverley in 2019, the brand (which made £6 million in its first year of business) is giving the fast fashion model a sustainable makeover, proving that consumers don’t have to break the bank to shop more consciously.

Capponi has also observed that smaller, sustainable fashion brands started to thrive in 2020. “We saw this at Good On You with brands like Whimsy + Row and MATE the Label gaining popularity and sales throughout the year,” she noted.

Fashion: A Rise in Thrifting and Second-Hand Shopping

As well as seeking out more ethical and environmentally-friendly brands, consumers are also embracing second-hand shopping. Because it doesn’t involve producing anything new, by its very nature, thrifting is more sustainable than regular shopping. It’s the epitome of “reuse, reduce, recycle.”

The pandemic stopped people from sifting through charity shop shelves in the flesh, but instead, bargain-hunters have looked online. Preloved shopping app Depop surged in popularity in 2020, it’s now used by more than 21 million people. The brand is preparing for an even better 2021: it’s expanding its UK team by more than a quarter.

And the trend is expected to keep growing steadily beyond next year. According to a report by ThredUp (self-described as the world’s largest thrift store) and GlobalData Retail, the secondhand apparel market is going to leap from its current value of $28 billion to $64 billion by 2025. 

ThredUp’s CEO and co-founder James Reinhart told CNBC back in the summer: “Resale is here to stay. The next question is who wins and who loses.” He added: “younger people are getting smarter than ever about how wasteful fast fashion is.”

Consumers to Become More Intentional With Both Beauty and Fashion Purchases

All of the changes we predict for 2021 and beyond wouldn’t happen without one key factor: a change in consumer preferences.

Throughout this past year, there has been a 130-percent increase in Google searches for sustainable fashion.

Capponi explained that big retailers have noticed the shift: “Even the largest players, from Levi’s to H&M, are making bold commitments to reduce their footprint, care for their people, and protect animal welfare.”

“We expect to see a lot more of this in 2021, and for many years to come,” she added. “But it’s not enough for brands to make big claims on their impact, because consumers are wary of greenwashing. That’s where Good On You comes in – to help shoppers access information they can trust on the things they care about.”

Beauty brands have also noticed an increase of interest in more ethical products. Back in June, Zaffrin O’Sullivan, founder of vegan skincare brand Five Dot Botanics, told CosmeticsDesign-Europe: “I don’t believe that any brands that don’t have sustainability at their hearts will really survive in the next five to ten years. I think it’s kind of impossible now.”

She added: “I may be wrong, but I feel that sustainability is the new norm.”