A Closer Loo[p]k
comes great responsibility
If we are truly honest with ourselves, we have not only been witnessing, but also participating in the accelerated growth in production and consumption of clothing for the past few decades. It is our behaviour, which has put an undue strain on our resources, as we extract, process and discard too fast. Unsustainably.
In collaboration with Stefanie Alexa Kadenbach. Stefanie graduated with honours from UIBS, Antwerp in July 2018, with an MA in Fashion Management. Her thesis - in which she also included the Human Innovation mindset of MINDFASHION.today founder Janne Baetsen - received the ‘Best Graduate Thesis of 2018’ Award.
Our planet’s capacity to keep up with our current ways of production and consumption has become a subject of concern, which is why I set out to investigate the features and specifics of today’s fashion industry in connection with sustainability. I needed to understand how this system, driven by speed, change, product obsolesce, and aesthetic fads, can be challenged and repositioned to encourage greater sustainability. I decided to orient myself by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its goals (SDGs), as they make for a universal set of tools that offer a framework and guiding principles adaptable to almost any organisation within fashion and any design DNA.
While sustainable fashion on a large-scale presents significant obstacles, it is inevitable that brands will have to make sustainability desirable to the consumer. In the course of this, supply chain structures and traceability will change as resources become more expensive and outsourcing no longer provides any reputation protection if stories about working conditions spread across social media. Consumers may demand large-scale change for aspirational reasons, but the fashion industry has to deliver for economic reasons – or it will fail.
We need to insist on transparency in fashion value chains to track precisely where waste is produced, how much waste is created and what impact it has on the environment. It is in everybody’s interest to explore the myriad ways we can shop more thoughtfully, take better care of our garments and support new and innovative designers that help the industry to move towards zero-waste models.
By improving the way we buy, care for and dispose of our clothes we can change our habits and take immediate and effective action. If we are inspired to be creative with the things we own and mindful of their future, our clothes can have a long history. This request for a change in mindset and behaviour should address us as individuals as much as governments and fashion brands, who have to accept responsibility for educating consumers and be a driving force.
Fashion businesses have to work collaboratively to identify and understand the issues at hand while pushing governments on legislation. Obviously, it is impossible for big corporations and fashion brands to become sustainable overnight, but they became the driving forces for the change by making sure that they still get a significant and consistent share of the market while slowing down and controlling the switch to more sustainable business models. Sustainability in the long-term is a valid business model that will bring profit to those engaging in it. And even though a few major positive changes have been rolled out across the industry in the last four years, it seems that sustainability in this field has been turned into a commodity. Big players have absorbed parts of it into their business models and act like this is sufficient, when in fact these “add-ons” are mostly used as reactive devices to deflect criticism rather than building an essential part of the business model itself. Now is the time to involve all relevant stakeholders and find an agreement on an agenda for sustainable fashion.
One thing that fashion brands (still) do best is persuasion. The challenge is to find ways of persuading consumers to want guilt-free clothes that look gorgeous – who is going to say no to that?! Moreover, it’s high time we ask ourselves what it will truly cost us in the long-term if we choose not to create a more sustainable future.
Ultimately, it is not only what we do that we are held responsible for, but also what we do not do. It’s always easy to pass on the responsibility for things - telling ourselves that it is in the hands of the big players and fashion brands, that we - as individuals - can’t change things. However, this is where we are wrong. It is on all of us. Improving the way we buy, care for and dispose of our clothes is everyone’s responsibility. We, as consumers, have the power to decide how clothes are made and we have to strive for ethics in fashion. Because I believe, Charty Durrant (Founder, Fable Foundation) said it best, when she stated, “Sustainability is not a notional thing - it is a survival issue.”
You can contact Stefanie for further details regarding her research “Fashion Production and Consumption - Are Sustainable Development Goals Attainable?”