The Sustainable Fashion Blueprint: Completing the Loop. A Comprehensive Overview of the Emerging Sustainable Fashion System.
Gretchen J. Eagan
University of Buckingham European School of Economics MSc International Management 2010
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Josh Spear for his editorial support, Mr. David Shaw for his tutelage and guidance, Dr. Deborah Wolf for her feedback, and all of the interviewees for their time and engagement in this work.
Table of Contents Abstract Introduction Literature Review Sustainable Theory Application to Fashion Relevance of Sustainable Fashion Sustainable Fashion an Oxymoron? Roots of Sustainable Fashion: From Food to Fashion The “Greenwashing Effect”: the Misuse of Sustainable Fashion Fashion’s Role in the Sustainability Debate Economic Implications for Sustainable Fashion Eco-Culture: Realizing the Commodity Fetish Methodology Results and Discussion The Sustainable Fashion Blueprint (SFB) Fiber Production Sourcing Natural Fibers Manufactured Fibers Bio-Engineered Fibers Spotlight People: Amisha Ghadiali, the Ethical Fashion Forum Design Phase Cradle to Cradle Observation and Interviews Engaging the Consumer Zero-waste and Jigsaw Design Slow Design Eco-tech Fashion Spotlight Company: Threadless Manufacturing Dyeing Factory conditions and Energy Supply Packaging and Transportation Spotlight Company: Nau Consumer Education, Transparency and Feedback Consumer Education Transparency Feedback Spotlight Company: Nike Inc.
1 2 3- 19 7- 8 9- 11 11- 12 12
Use Phase Spotlight People: Graham Hill, Founder of TreeHugger.com Discard Phase Goodwill and Second-hand Shops Vintage Recycled Textiles Spotlight People: Summer Rayne Oakes, eco- model Standards Conclusion Implications for the Research What About the Future? Future Research References Bibliography Appendix 1: Table of Standards Appendix 2: Table of Resources
Table of Figures, Tables and Images Figures Figure 1.1: Sustainability & Triple Bottom Line Diagram Figure 1.2: Model of Interconnectivity Figure 2.1: Sustainable Fashion Blueprint model (SFB) Figure 2.2 Eco Cycle upcycle illustration Tables Table 1.1: Comparison of Eco, Ethical and Sustainable Fashion Table 1.2: Triple Target Sustainability Table 2.1: Naturally Occurring Fibers Images Image 1.1: Threadless Voting Process Image 1.2: Mark Lui’s Zero-waste Design. Image 1.3: Diane von Furstenberg’s Facebook Fan Page Image 1.4: Get Satisfaction Homepage Image 1.5; Levi’s Care Tag Initiative Image 1.6: FairTrade Foundation Mark Image 2.1: GoodGuide iPhone Application
Abstract Purpose Through an in-depth literature review of the limited resources on sustainable fashion, and use of concept theory building coupled with triple bottom line ideals to form a Sustainable Fashion Blueprint (SFB) a complete loop in sustainable fashion is demonstrated. In addition, clarity of the term sustainable fashion is sought. Design/ methodology/ approach Concept theory building and ontology are used in collaboration with an inductive research approach performed in a qualitative manner, both through secondary research gathering and primary research gathering in the form of open-ended interviews. Findings The concept of sustainable fashion is introduced, in connection to the triple bottom line. The term is also compared and differentiated against ecofashion and ethical fashion. Furthermore, a Sustainable Fashion Blueprint is postulated giving rise to a new framework for viewing sustainable fashion as a complete loop. The author concludes that the SFB serves as a base template to launch additional research within each area of the model. Originality/ value This paper provides a comprehensive review of the literature surrounding sustainable fashion, introduces a complete loop model for implementing sustainable fashion, with relevance to the triple bottom line. The use of conceptual theory building to develop the SFB also moves forward the concept of a complete loop in sustainable fashion theory. Keywords Sustainable fashion, ecofashion, ethical fashion, triple bottom line, cradle-to-cradle design, Sustainability
Introduction The planet we know now is very different from the one that existed 200 years ago, and in another 200 years it will again be transformed- that is if we are here to see and enjoy it. Currently, we are on a trajectory of self-destruction. Yet, all hope it not lost. In fact, there has been an increased awareness for social and environmental focus across the board. Sustainable fashion is a leading industry in allegiance with this shift, emerging out of the necessity to re-think the entire supply chain of fashion. Not only does it provide a place for triple bottom line application, it is also a cultural game changer. “Fashion is a real voice, and the advantage of that is that people listen. So there is potential to change a big part of the industry,” said Christian Kemp-Griffin of Edun, Bono’s sustainable fashion line at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit 2009 (Copenhagen website, 2009). However, sustainability is a fairly new term that is recognized but not necessarily understood. Sustainable fashion faces this same challenge of ambiguity and is accompanied by misleading marketing schemes known as greenwashing. This paper, thus, attempts to offer a more conclusive definition of sustainable fashion. In doing so, the debate about sustainable fashion being an oxymoron is addressed, as well as sustainable fashion’s rightful place in the evolution of the fashion industry relating specifically to economy, culture, and production. A broad assessment of sustainable fashion provides identification of the essential areas in which retailers can participate in sustainable practices, yielding the Sustainable Fashion Blueprint. Serving as a template of a complete system for subscribing to sustainable fashion, this model sets the framework for further development. A body of work of this nature and topic could not be more timely. The information put forth is cutting edge and will likely change rapidly. However, it is plausible that this paper will serve as a resource for the development of sustainable fashion.
Literature Review Ecofashion is a term that conjures images of ill- fitting hemp garments procured by designers in the 1990s who wanted to jump on the ‘green’ trend. Or environmentalist who fashioned their own styles with eco-friendly garments in natural shades of off-white and brown. “Eco-chic in the 1990s was dominated by natural-looking colors and fibers that did not reflect real world progress. All in all, the trend was more a stylized reaction against simplistic perceptions of chemicals and industrial pollution than a conversation about green values,” states Dr. Kate Fletcher (2007, pp. 276), a well-known sustainable design consultant. Yet, the term and industry have had a revival in the twenty-first century. This time, ecofashion has expanded to include sister definitions of ethical fashion and sustainable fashion, further opening the conversation about what it means to ‘go green’ in fashion. All three terms relate to an awareness of how apparel is sourced, manufactured, transported, used and recycled in a way that encompasses the triple bottom line: people, profit and planet.
Figure 1.1 Sustainability and the Triple Bottom Line diagram (Indiana State University, 2009).
Thus, ecofashion and ethical fashion have often been associated with social initiatives, thereby creating a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) net to encompass these terms. However, this application is expanding. â€œThe period between 2006-2008 will perhaps be viewed by documenters of the future as the watershed phase when ecofashion changed from being a philanthropic niche to becoming a commercial realityâ€? (Beard, 2008, pp. 452). As the implications for and awareness of ecofashion expand, the definitions of ecofashion, ethical fashion and sustainable fashion must become refined. The following table seeks to define each term and then provide an understanding of how and why these terms are used interchangeably hereafter.
Study of the interaction of people within their environment; sourcing of environmentally benevolent fabrics to create fashion.
Positive impact of a designer, a consumer choice, or method of production as experienced by workers, consumers, animals, society, and the environment.
A holistic response to the entire fashion process through a cradle-to-cradle approach; development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Table 1.1 Comparison of Eco, Ethical and Sustainable fashion. Definitions adapted from Fashion Theory (2008). Ecofashion and ethical fashion have become more recognizable in mainstream publications and with the media, while sustainable fashion dominates the academic world. Therefore, sustainable fashion will also be used primarily in this paper, though ecofashion and ethical fashion will be incorporated alternately when the referencing and context are appropriate.
Sustainable Theory Application to Fashion As previously stated, sustainable fashion is a relatively new term. Therefore, the implications for its application are still being explored and developed. However, some basic theories underlining its core operation have been postulated. One theory services the business strategy of sustainability as it relates to satisfying a triple bottom line. Put forth by the Sustainable Style Foundation, the table below illustrates three steps to adapt sustainable behaviour.
Triple Target Sustainability
holder relationship new products & services
resources & process
create meaningful value for diverse stakeholders
competitive advantage Table 1.2 Triple Target Sustainability (courtesy of Sustainable Style Foundation, 2008).
This table clearly reflects the opportunities for retailers to profit in three distinct areas through a sustainable application. However, when discussing sustainable fashion, it is important to ask the basic question: â€œSustaining what?â€? Professors Janet Hethron and Connie Ulasewicz address this very question, and answer it in a sustainable fashion model called the Model of Interconnectivity. The model identifies three main areas to consider when applying sustainable fashion methods: people, processes, and environment. People have basic needs that include clothing as well as fulfilling a sense of self that is exemplified through their choice of
dress. Processes include the production and economic aspects, and have a large impact on the use of sustainability. The environmental component speaks to the concerns and opportunities tied to fashion through direct physical impact. The chart below is an adaptation of the Model of Interconnectivity and illustrates this theory.
Model of Interconnectivity: a model for sustainable fashion
Figure 1.2: Model for sustainable fashion adapted from Hethron and Ulasewicz (2008, xv).
Relevance of Sustainable Fashion Landfills quickly exceeding their capacity, air and water pollution, and climate change are all directly linked to sustainable fashion. A major contributor to these complications, fashion simultaneously has great potential to fuel industries, identities, policies and processes. Thus, sustainable fashion has a rightful place in the Green Revolution and how education, alternative production, innovation, business strategy, and commitment to community and environment can influence our forward development.
In the introduction of Sustainable Fashion, Why Now? (2008, pp. ix), sustainable pioneer and visionary, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, defines sustainability as follows: “To be sustainable means that you take out of a system the same amount of energy as you put in, with no pollution or waste. A sustainable process is one you can do forever without exhausting resources or fouling the environment, which is scary. There has never yet been, nor is there now, a sustainable business or sustainable fashion on this planet”. From a business stand point, Joel Makower, a green business expert, would say sustainability is simply, “the ability to continue one’s business operations indefinitely in a way that doesn’t create limits for future generations” (Makower, 2009, pp.12). Therefore, creating a sustainable system allows for the perpetual opportunity to engage in commerce, equity, production and innovation. Sustainable Fashion an Oxymoron? In her book Green is the New Black, fashion journalist Tamsin Blanchard makes the blatant statement that fashion is synonymous with change. It is more than a product; it is a mode of thought, and it affects the entire life cycle chain of conception, to production to obsolescence. “Sustainability requires a long-term outlook that encourages responsible consumption. Fashion, it seems is at odds with this goal,” states Professor Deborah Brosdahl of Kansas State University (2007, pp. 7). So, is sustainable fashion an oxymoron? Summer Rayne Oakes, eco-model and sustainable fashion advocate, says, “The short answer is: Yes. Sustainable style is an oxymoron, that is, if it is held up to today’s fashion norms of ‘chic and cheap’ and ‘fast fashion’, which embody three words: More, faster, quicker” (Oakes, 2009, pp. 21). Defining sustainable fashion thus becomes tricky as the term itself is presently in juxtaposition. Yet, many environmentalists, designers and consumers are beginning to see a new light for sustainable fashion. This is not the same eco-fashion trend that swept over the fashion industry in the 1990s either. This is a new movement where education and purchasing power are eminent.
“Fashion has a perhaps surprising, yet quite powerful, role to play in sustainability. Fashion is a process, is expressed and worn by people, and as a material object, has a direct link to the environment. Thus, fashion is ripe for sustainable action on all fronts,” attests Hethorn and Ulasewicz (2008, pp. xviii). The current role that fashion plays is one that is not sustainable as it circumvents the core issues of sustainable production and irresponsible consumption. However, as a highly interactive and visible area, the potential to create a new scheme for fashion through sustainability is highly influential and beneficial. Thus, as retailers and designers begin to construct this new definition and practice, the term sustainable fashion will embody its true meaning without irony. Roots of sustainable fashion: from food to fashion In many ways the evolution of the fashion industry parallels that of the food industry and its shift to slow food. “Slow food is an idea, a way of living and a way of eating. It is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment,” is the definition offered by the Slow Food USA website (2009). In a linear effect, the subscription to this awareness and lifestyle starts in one area and quickly spreads to another. It is one of the reasons why Whole Foods and other natural health food stores are becoming general stores, carrying beauty and personal products, books, home wares and clothing that all align with the fundamental ideals dictating the slow food movement. “There is a market for these designs. People want to do something about protecting animal and human rights and the environment,” states store owner Alex Guzman (La Ferla, nytimes.com, 2007). Additionally, the momentum that slow food and eating organic and locally has gained over the past decade should act as an indicator for what is to come. An educated consumer is becoming the new social entrepreneur, shaping the future. Timberland CEO, Jeff Swartz, elaborates, “Culturally, this conversation with the consumer citizen is reaching a point of cognitive clarity. It passes the brand awareness test” (Bruno, grist.com, 2009). It is no longer acceptable to just produce great designs at obtainable
prices. Consumers are hungry for brands that advocate their beliefs and give them the power to contribute through their purchases. However, the template of organic food as it is applied to sustainable fashion is a double edged sword. On the one hand, it offers a tangible relation that consumers are already developing in their recognition and education about food choices that can cross over into their choices in apparel. Conversely, those same organic standards and Fairtrade labels do not cross-fertilize the field of fashion as easily as is perceived. Regulating bodies and standardized labels are still in the development phase, which leads to a mass self-administration of “recognized” standards that do not necessarily uphold certain qualities or regulations. This further confuses the consumer and allows for greenwashing to occur. The “greenwashing effect”: the misuse of sustainable fashion A new marketing technique known as ‘greenwashing’ has infiltrated the public scene and is making it even harder to gauge real sustainability from a marketing ploy. Terms like “cruelty- free” “vegan- chic” and simply “organic” have become golden marketing handles that resonate with consumers. Yet, this presents a challenge. Many companies are quick to jump on this golden ‘green’ bandwagon, but do not have the actual credentials to back their claims of being “good”. Commonly referred to as greenwashing, this marketing tactic presents yet another hurdle to overcome in supplying consumers with viable products and sustainable lines. It only takes a stroll down to your local grocery store’s aisles to see greenwashing at work. A new natural butter alternative claiming to be pure and fat-free is chalked full of preservatives, transfats and fake coloring. Or a hair shampoo boasting its herbal formula as “all natural” is injected with chemical formulas to give it that herbal scent, not to mention the other toxic components that help achieve the nice “clean” foam when lathering. “The world of public relations has discovered ‘green’ with a vengeance, and the big global firms are locked, loaded and ready to intensify their drum beating,” states
Makower (2009, pp. 189). However, greenwashing does have an upside. It has at least raised the awareness of consumers and allowed companies using viable green strategies to step forward proudly and tell their stories. The biggest challenge facing sustainable fashion is ignorance. Consumers and retailers who do not educate themselves in truly green and sustainable practices will fall behind and ultimately pay the price. At the moment, there are a lot of myths to debunk. There are myths relating to cost, intention, availability and feasibility. As the infrastructure better aligns with and is created for sustainable practices, scalability will occur thereby leading to a better cost to production ratio. The end result is affordable, well- designed sustainable fashion. That is where we must head to propitiate both the consumer and retailers. At the moment, the majority of the population is speculative, and that is mostly because they are uneducated in the matter and feel as though they are being inundated with greenwashed campaigns that don’t truly subscribe to sustainable measures. It is clear that although the movement has begun, many regulations and standards must be put into place to safeguard against greenwashing and improper use of of terms and causes. Like all major changes, economic drive and incentives will play a winning role.
Fashion’s role in the sustainability debate Dr. Ulasewicz (2009, pp. 31) states that, “The clothing, footwear and textile industries are second only to agriculture in consuming the most water and contaminating waterways with chemicals for bleaching, dyeing and finishing fashion products”. Fashion also contributes heavily to the use of landfills. “About 23.8 billion pounds of clothing textiles end up in the U.S. landfills [alone] each year” (Ramey, wwd.com, 2009). We are living in a era of overabundance where the interest in fashion is at an all time high. The corners of the world now all house fashion capitals in Paris, New York, Milan, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai, Dubai, Sydney and Sao Paulo (Welters, 2009). Fashion is moving faster and faster through each season, creating new ‘mid-seasons’ and an
entry point for consumers of all income levels. Fashion has become disposable and something everyone can afford, and afford to change often. On the supply side, outsourcing to foreign countries where environmental and ethical regulations are not enforced at a local level, contribute heavily to the pollution of the planet and unfair labour conditions. Likewise, excessive packaging and lengthly transportation compound these effects with greater CO2 emissions. However, the vast expansion of the fashion industry is not all bad. Educational institutions are expanding to offer curriculums that open careers in fashion to their students. Numerous jobs are being created to help meet the demands of the increased order for fashion pieces, creating a flow of commerce and opportunity. Linda Welters, the Chair of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design Department as the University of Rhode Island tempers that these opportunities must be balanced by the right choices in production: “Fashion, with its propensity for change, is not going away anytime soon. How future generations deal with overabundance, fair labor practices, and environmental concerns is of paramount importance to the well being of the planet,” (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2009, pp. 27). Therefore, the role fashion plays in sustainability will be of great concern as we move forward and manage resources, technology and new systems of supply. Economic implications for sustainable fashion From an economic standpoint, the adoption of sustainable fashion is perfectly positioned to gain importance and profit following the recent recession. Fears abounded about corporate investment in sustainability, yet the outcome has been an increased interest in sustainable practices which lower resource consumption and bolster efficiencies. Marks & Specer’s director of sustainable business, Richard Gills states, “Companies will fall behind if they don’t participate in the sustainable revolution. We have to get to a point where we are still meeting the customers’ needs, but doing so sustainably. Those [companies] who go there first, I suspect, will make money” (Ramey, wwd.com, 2009).
Aside from creating a unique market and loyal contingency, sustainable fashion and green initiatives implemented by companies large and small are generating a real monetary incentive. In a recent article in the New York Times, journalist Jared Diamond reports how big retailers are seeing the benefits of going green and how that might be a key component for the movement, as a whole, to gain momentum and acceptance (nytimes online, 06 December 2009): The embrace of environmental concerns by chief executives has accelerated recently for several reasons. Lower consumption of environmental resources saves money in the short run. Maintaining sustainable resource levels and not polluting saves money in the long run. And a clean image — one attained by, say, avoiding oil spills and other environmental disasters — reduces criticism from employees, consumers and government.
In addition, there is now a noticeable consumer appreciation for conscience consumption availability. In 2005, WalMart went beyond dabbling in ‘green store’ strategies and produced organic cotton yoga outfits at a price in line with WalMart’s other offerings. The 190,000 item order sold out in the first few weeks. “We gave our customer’s something they wanted, but something they might not have been able to afford at speciality stores,” stated CEO Lee Scott in an interview with Fortune Magazine (Makower, 2009, pp. 139). However, not all companies have such foresight or willingness to take a green-fueled risk as WalMart. More pointedly, they may not understand the implications of sustainability and its inter workings on a macro and micro level. Carter and Rogers (2008, pp. 363) keenly point out the challenges facing sustainable management in practice: The macro-economic, societal definition of sustainability is difficult for organizations to apply and provides little guidance regarding how organizations might identify future versus present needs, determine the technologies and resources required to meet those
needs, and understand how to effectively balance organizational responsibilities to multiple stakeholders such as shareholders, employees, other organizations in the supply chain, and broader stakeholders including society and the natural environment.
Regardless of retailers comprehension and present involvement in sustainable fashion, it is apparent that it plays an important role in many economic areas- business strategy, resource sustainability, innovation, new market creation and reputation. Its management going forward will be pivotal to the success of the green movement and a more sustainable way of life on our planet- environmentally and economically. Eco- Culture: realizing the commodity fetish According to Marx’s Theory of Value, “commodity fetish refers to a material object that has exchange value or the status of a ‘commodity’. Due to the human-to-object relationships that surround an object’s design, production, exchange, and use, the commodity is often imbued with additional, intangible, and even mystical and magical values and powers” (Winge, 2008, pp. 517). Therefore, the subscription to purchasing practices that identifiably link the buyer with a cause or set of advertised beliefs can facilitate a commodity fetish of ecofashion. Ecofashion, today, envokes a set of values, powers and emotions that signify an ecoconsciousness. Fulfilling a basic human need of belonging, participation in ecofashion seems to automatically bind individuals and create a basis for acceptance. Marketing guru, Seth Godin advocates that when movements occur, a tribe is created- providing a lasting and effective human resource (Godin, 2008). Yet, the commodity fetish surrounding ecofashion is not yet defined and is more likely undergoing a distinct change from environmental activists to runway styles of dress produced with sustainable measures and worn by celebrities. This leads into another point that economist Hugh Hendry, of Ecelctica in London, makes about consumer entry into eco practices, which he termed the “Gucci effect”. In a conversation on 18 November 2009, Hendry argues that the recent niche markets
created for and fueled by consumers who endorse organic and green lifestyles are obtainable at an elevated price and therefore cannot be justly seen as a wide adaptation in culture. Fashion marketer, Nathaniel Beard supports this statement, “... the wearing of ‘vintage’, and indeed ecofashion clothing, has become a new way of demonstrating sartorial superiority” (2008, pp. 457). Thus, as the definitions and application of sustainable fashion expand and contract, a corresponding culture will also form.
Methodology As the topic of sustainable fashion is fairly new and unpublished, the methodology of this study implemented a mixed method. The overall theory employed was based around the Concept Building Theory and uses an ontological world view stance, with an inductive approach. According to Professor Tom Gruber of Stanford University (2009), ontology is conceptualization and â€œa commitment ... to a guarantee of consistency, but not completeness, with respect to queries and assertions using the vocabulary defined in the ontologyâ€?. Furthermore, ontology is commonly used to design set definitions and a formal vocabulary that can be used for knowledge sharing. As the chosen topic for this study is relatively new, an ontological approach was well- suited and helped to provide a framework for future analysis and research development strategies within this field. The inductive approach was also appropriate for this study. A survey with open- ended questions and in-depth literature review of both academic and mainstream sources, imparted a more involved analysis of sustainable fashion and its current and developing implications. Sampling was non-random. Qualitative primary research was conducted through an interviewing process. Participants were chosen based upon their leadership and significant roles in sustainable fashion; they included: Amisha Ghadiali, Associate Director of the Ethical Fashion Forum in London; Jake Nickell, Co-Founder of Threadless; Peter Kallen, Creative Director of Nau; Dave Cobban, Consumer Mobilization Director of Nike Inc.; Graham Hill, Founder of TreeHugger.com; Summer Rayne Oakes, eco-model and environmental activist. Secondary research from an extensive literature review included academic and mainstream books, academic journals, online newspapers, blogs, documentary footage, and company and governmental websites. Primary research data was gathered via open-ended interviews with the persons listed above. Data collection in this way allowed for cross correlation of various implications for sustainable fashion at present and in the future from different perspectives.
Both the primary and secondary research processes were on-going over a period of 4 months, in which connections and access to information was built. All interviews were conducted either in person in New York, NY or via email correspondence and Skype (an online video chat service). The majority of the questions were consistent and sought knowledge pertaining to general methods and ideals surrounding sustainable fashion. However, some questions of a more focused nature that were relative to a particular field were also used to gain greater insight.
Results and Discussion Inductive research methods under a concept building theory model afforded intensive qualitative data gathering, leading to interpretation and categorization of sustainable fashion. This inference is best represented in the formulation of the Sustainable Fashion Blueprint (SFB). In an attempt to conceptualize a complete loop in sustainable fashion, the SFB reveals six main areas of operation. These six areas include fiber production sourcing, design phase, manufacturing (including packaging and transport), consumer education and transparency, use phase, and discard phase. In addition, a focus on standards and certification is touched upon as they are relevant to every phase of the SFB model. The SFB is outlined, and then explained in greater detail under the headings of each of the six areas previously listed. Thus, this section is a collaboration of the secondary data compiled into succinct sections to provide clarity about each phase and the challenges and opportunities associated within each area, and is directly followed by the first-hand insight of those interviewed. The Sustainable Fashion Blueprint (SFB) At present, no model exists which illustrates a complete loop for participating in sustainable fashion. The SFB was conceptualized from the various areas in which sustainable fashion is currently being practiced or developed. This model clearly defines six areas necessary for a complete sustainable loop: fiber production and sourcing, design, manufacturing, consumer education and transparency, use phase and discard phase. However, as technology, infrastructure and environment change, this model is also likely to change. It is not meant to be the end-all-be-all of sustainable fashion, as that is currently not possible, but rather serves as the baseline framework for retailers to grasp the totality and potential of sustainable fashion. Therefore, retailers will be able to consult the model when developing their sustainable strategies or identify new areas where they can insert a sustainable installment into their business model.
The Sustainable Fashion Blueprint (SFB): complete loop model
Figure 2.1: Complete loop sustainable system for the fashion industry and apparel life cycle.
Fiber Production Sourcing “With fiber as the basic building block of the fashion industry, it seems appropriate that ‘clean and green’ fiber production is a first step in creating responsible fashion apparel,” states Professor Gail Baugh of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandizing in San Francisco (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008, pp. 327). It may seem contradictory to the design process, but in a new sustainable method for producing fashion, the fiber production and sourcing must come before the design phase in order to secure adequate design for the materials available. “Designers and product developers need to be aware of the environmental effects in the processing of textiles and should consider the impact their decisions have on the environment” (Hethron & Ulasewicz, 2008, pp. 321). A balance between what is aesthetically pleasing and also responsible in production is a key component to sustainable fashion. There are various fibers that are currently used for textile production, and those that are continually being developed. These fibers can be broken into three groups: natural, manufactured and bio-engineered. Natural fibers include the naturally occurring fibers found in nature that are then processed to produce yarn and fabric. They can be produced both with or without the use of pesticides and other chemicals. Manufactured fibers are those that are manufactured through chemical processes to produce textile substances. Bio-engineered fibers are simply a modification on the natural fiber through the use of technology and chemistry. The following sections outline some of the types of fibers encompassed by these three categories.
Natural Fibers (chemical- free) Cotton Typically when we think of natural fibers, we automatically think of cotton, especially since organic cotton awareness and use is on the rise. “The demand for organic cotton has grown by 300%, and the number of clothing brands using organic cotton has increased by 150 percent over the last three years” (Earth Pledge, 2007, pp. x). Yet, organic cotton alone does not have the capacity to fulfill the textile orders of the world. It certainly does not have the capability of yielding the same amount per acre as conventional cotton. “Currently, the world’s supply of organic cotton is less than one and a half percent of the conventional cotton supply, but global cotton product sales have increased by an estimated 35 percent annually (Earth Pledge, 2007, pp. 246). The completion of fiber production beyond harvesting, including dyeing and manufacturing, will have an impact on the true sustainability of organic cotton as well. Though organic cotton is a widely recognizable source for promoting sustainable fashion, other plant sources are being utilized to fill the demand of natural fibers. Bamboo, soy, hemp, ramie, jute and wood pulp have all given rise to a new eco-textile industry. Bamboo “Bamboo fiber has many of the physical properties that you see in cotton, and some more that you might wish you saw in cotton. For instance, it is antibacterial and has low absorbency; it is hypo-allergenic and offers UV protection; it is incredibly soft and sheds dirt well” (Earth Pledge, 2007, pp. 161). One great advantage to using bamboo is the fact that it requires far less water than cotton for its growth. However, bamboo is subject growth only in certain climates. In China and other parts of Asia, bamboo is a fast growing grass, but it is not grown commercially in the Unites States. Bamboo has already seen great use in the production of bed linens and terry-cloth towels. Further advances are necessary in bamboo fiber production as most bamboo is manufactured using chemical processes similar to those to produce rayon and therefore are no less polluting (Beard, 2008).
Soy Created from its protein properties, soy is similar to cashmere and rayon- soft and resilient (Hethron & Ulasewicz, 2008). Although the United States is a major soybean producer, the majority of the research and development surrounding soy is being done in Japan and China. Hemp A quick growing plant that does not need much water, hemp, is the cousin of the marijuana plant. It is naturally pest repellent and mildew resistant (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008). With refined finishing techniques, hemp has become a close copy of cotton and is fairly inexpensive. In addition, it is not as climate sensitive as bamboo. However, the growing of hemp is restricted in in certain parts of the world, like the United States, and therefore is not as widely available as cotton. Ramie Akin to flax, ramie is a stem fiber that is also mildew resistant, quick drying and is very absorbable (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008). Ramie also grows easily in various countries and is set to expand in its use as finishing technology increase. Jute Shorter than ramie or flax, jute is also a stem root. A stiffer fiber, it is best used for fabric backing or bagging and furniture. Again, its expanded use hinges upon the developments in finishing technology. Wood Pulp Lenpur is a fabric made from the wood pulp of white pine trees that has a cashmere-like feel. The majority of wood pulp fabrics are still in the developmental stage.
Table 2.1 : Naturally Occurring Fiber Raw Material Source
Water use/ acre
less than cotton
less than cotton
resistant to most pests
less than cotton
resistant to most pests
Table modified from Fibers: Clean and Green Options by Gail Baugh (2008, pp. 330).
Manufactured Fibers Manufactured fibers were initially designed to provide a cheaper alternative to the more expensive and higher maintenance fibers used by designers for haute couture (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008). Today, they are used excessively for the production of mass fashion due to their affordability. They can be broken into two groups: plant-based or petroleum- based. Plant-based Plant-based fibers include lyocell rayons, acetate fibers, viscose and HWM (rayon). Each listed end product does produce toxic waste in its process. However, lyocell rayon has a closed- loop production method, meaning that the same chemicals initially used to generate the material are collected and used again. Leizing Fiber produces one such rayon called Tencel. Petroleum-based There are five main petroleum- based manufactured fibers: nylon, polyester, acrylic, spandex and olefin (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008). As our worldwide oil supply dwindles it will become increasingly important to develop new methods for fiber productionmaterials that are both recyclable and biodegradable. New fibers and fabrics, like Eco-fi, generated from the recycling of soda bottles have forged the way in providing renewable textiles sources. Companies like Patagonia and Nau are fully committed to developing and utilizing these sources.
Bio-engineered Fibers Derived from biological and renewable sources, these fibers are the new game players of sustainable fashion and technology. They can be constructed from cotton, corn, existing fibers already in use or nanotechnology. Due to their genetically altered makeup, much debate surrounds their advancement and use in sustainable fashion, proving that ethical and sustainable can contain different meanings. “Balancing the dismay regarding the role current technologies play in the fast fashion system is an alternate belief that the right technologies, when selectively developed and applied, can play an integral role in the growth of sustainable fashion” (Scaturro, 2008, pp. 475). GM Cotton Genetically modified cotton is a cotton whose seeds have been altered to produce greater yield as well as provide a greater resistance to pests through their genetic make-up. Though GM cotton does assist in adequate cotton supplies that can be cultivated both with chemicals or without, it does fall under some controversy. “Questions exist regarding the safety of GM crops with regards to the possible destabilization of ecosystems and threats to biodiversity (Scaturro, 2008, pp. 478). Bt Cotton Formally known as Bacillus thuringienus, Bt cotton is still very early in its testing growth stages. Engineered to thrive and resist pests, it too is an enhanced cotton plant that may pose as a threat to natural biodiversity. Although, “a two-year study published in 2006 in the United States found that bioengineered cotton posed no more threat to certain beetle and ant varieties than did growing non-transgenic cotton” (Scaturro, 2008, pp. 478). Additionally, the same study found that both non-transgenic and transgenic cotton produced the same yield, though the transgenic required less insecticide. Bt cotton did not pass organic certifications stipulated by the National Organic Standards Board in the United States, and thus is not yet widely viewed as a sustainable ecoalternative in textile production.
Corn A very promising textile for the future, corn derived fiber known commercially as Ingeo or PLA (Poly Lactic Acid), is created from the fermentation of corn sugars (Hethron & Ulasewicz, 2008). Ingeo has high-tech roots yet is still touted as a eco-fiber with compost-able characteristics (in certain conditions) and can be chemically recycled (Scaturro, 2008). This fiber is gaining use among eco-designers, but has yet to find footing in the ecofashion world. Nanotechnology Eliminating some of the waste procured during conventional finishing techniques on fabrics, this technology utilizes molecular sized finishing to impart water resistance and and antibacterial properties. However, the possible draw-backs of potential molecular absorption into the skin, as well as other environmental impacts, are still under investigation (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008).
Deduction As Baugh (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008, pp. 336) adeptly surmises, “Choosing between a natural or manufactured fiber is no longer simple. Natural fiber, perceived as an “eco” and “pure” fiber, is often produced with very toxic chemicals, and manufactured fiber, perceived as “unnatural” and “polluting” can be produced with minimal toxic process.” Thus, the pros and cons of each fiber and its implications for textile design must carefully be weighed before the design process even begins.
Spotlight people: Amisha Ghadiali Ms. Ghadiali is the Associate Director of the Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF) in London. The Ethical Fashion Forum serves as one of the only sustainable fashion sites where ecofashion enthusiast and business people can network, make use of resources and stay abreast in relevant news pertaining to sustainable fashion. Ms. Ghadiali shares her insight in the following interview on 9 December 2009 via email, including an explanation of the recent global sourcing marketplace hosted by EFF. What is the mission of your organization? The mission of the Ethical Fashion Forum is to support and promote sustainable practices, facilitate collaboration, raise awareness and provide the tools and resources needed to reduce poverty, reduce environmental damage and raise standards in the fashion industry. You recently held the first Global Sourcing Marketplace in London, can you briefly summarize what that was about, who was involved and how it is going to evolve in the future? The Global Sourcing Marketplace was the culmination for the year of our Spotlight On Sourcing project. Funded by Dfid (the development department of the British Government) the project was set out to show how fashion changes lives by providing much needed education and awareness for the industry. The series was a monthly seminar and masterclass looking at different issues relating to sourcing. These topics included, Sourcing Sustainable Fabrics, Sustainable Manufacture and working with Cooperatives. With the evening seminars, we invited key speakers and also suppliers. This meant that as fashion industry professionals from both small and big business could actually go and talk to suppliers directly after being inspired by the speakers. We wanted to take this further, which led to the Global Sourcing Marketplace. There has never been a trade show for ethical/sustainable suppliers/fabrics. It has traditionally been difficult for designers to source ethical fabrics. This event meant for the first time designers and fashion manufacturers could come and chose fabrics and production for
their future collections just by visiting an event. We plan to grow this event further and do it on a yearly or a seasonal basis. What do you think are the most important factors designers and brands should consider when selecting fibers and fabrics to work with? Designers must always keep innovation in mind. The design of the fashion is the most important factor in moving the industry forward and taking us to a place where there is no differentiation between fashion and ethical fashion, but instead between fashion and non-ethical fashion. Designers must also pay attention to how the fabrics/fibers will handle production, and how they will feel for the consumer as well as how they will wear over time. In addition to all of this, the environmental and social impact must be taken into account. For example pesticides and the amount of water needed for cotton production. The amount of chemicals needed to make bamboo a soft fabric. Where fabrics and fibers are produced and what the communities are paid. How far fabrics travel before they get to the designer. What are some resources for designers to source sustainable, ethical and organic materials? At present there are not vast amounts of resources available. I would suggest the Ethical Fashion Forum, Centre for Sustainable Fashion, Class, TED and Made-By as places to start. What changes do you see going forward in sustainable fiber and fabric production? There are some amazing developments in growing food crops that can be turned into fabrics. For example crops like Soy Bean or Milk fibers, that mean the farmers and communities that produce these fibers are also benefiting as a community by growing/ farming crops useful to them.
There has also been research recently carried out by designer Mark Liu, looking at a "Cradle to Cradle" approach to fashion production, which will involve making fabrics and fibers robust enough to be re-cycled several times. There are also bio-plastics and other new fabrics. I think the research in these areas will continue to grow and the outcomes will be really exciting. Any closing thoughts or additions about sustainable fiber production or materials in the fashion industry? Or words of advice to designers? I think the most difficult thing for the designer is balancing the positive and the negative. Unfortunately there is no perfectly sustainable fabric. Each one that you use has different positive and negative affects on people and planet. I think each designer has to choose what is most important to them, and not try and do everything at once. Although I think they have to remain open to constantly improving their impact through each collection. It is also important that they pick the right fabrics for the design and think about how their customer will feel as they wear the clothing.
Design Phase “Design is basic to all human activities,” wrote Victor Papanek, a designer and educator who wrote extensively about social and ecological responsibility (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008, pp. 243). Therefore, it can be inferred that design may in fact hold the key to sustainable fashion and our solving the problems that confront us. However, a holistic approach is vital. “Design of textile and apparel products for a sustainable future depends on an understanding of the relationship of the fiber, yarn, and fabric (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008, pp. 302). Various methods for creating sustainable design have been employed by designers all over the world. The main methods include: cradle-to-cradle, observation and interviews, engaging the consumer, using a zero-waste or jigsaw practice, slow design, and eco-tech fashion. Cradle-to-cradle William McDonough and Michael Braungart, authors of Cradle to Cradle, open their book with the following analogy- illustrating the importance of design (2002, pp. 16): Consider this: all the ants on the planet, taken together, have a biomass greater than that of humans. Ants have been incredibly industrious for millions of years. Yet their productiveness nourishes plants, animals, and soil. Human industry has been in full swing for little over a century, yet it has brought about a decline in almost every ecosystem on the planet. Nature doesn’t have a design problem. People do.
Since the beginning of the industrial revolution and onwards, design in fashion has changed substantially. The system is now geared towards mass output, using synthetic materials and environmentally degrading manufacturing techniques. There has been a clear disregard for the planet accompanied by an ignorance that resources are indefinite. Time has shown that this is not the case. In fact, some scientist estimate that we have only another decade to correct our destructive production methods before we reach the point of no return.
Yet, McDonough and Braungart are not suggesting that we return to the pre-industrial times. A return to all naturally sourced fibers and dyes is not a feasible reality with the current population on the planet. Land allocation to produce all natural materials would overtake the land required for food cultivation. Instead, they propose a new way of designing apparel. One that is part of the twenty-first century and utilizes a cradle-tocradle design process. At the moment the majority of goods produces are designed by a cradle-to-grave approach, meaning a product is conceptualized, produced and then at the end of its life cycle it winds up in a landfill. Usually the product has been manufactured with non-biodegradable materials and thus no amount of time will naturally return it to a renewable resource. A cradle-to-cradle design system accounts for the birth of a product, its use during its life cycle, and most importantly, how it will be recycled after its first life timeâ€™s use is finished. In order for this process to be successful, a well thought out plan must be formulated in the design phase when the product is seen for what it will be in both the immediate and remote future. Observation and Interviews In an attempt to better understand what the consumer wants and wears, many designers are turning to the simple act of observation. It is important to observe not only what stands out but what also blends in, and to interpret why consumers choose to wear certain articles- design and functionality working together. Aside from doing this in person on the street or physical sidewalks, many design teams are turning to the internet- using blogs such as The Sartorialist, Face Hunter, The New York Timesâ€™ On the Street with Bill Cunningham, flickr profiles and wardrobe outfit posting sites like lookbook.nu, Weardrobe and Chictopia to gain access to what consumers are wearing now. Designers may also choose to use a data management system that allows them to search images based on description or category. One such system known as Query By Image Content (QBIC) was created by IBM to allow designers to search image content without the need for text (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008).
Interviews are also a significant way for designers to better understand and anticipate apparel needs of consumers. By using focus groups, designers can single out specific target markets and engage in a dialog about fashion. It is especially important to ask open-ended questions when instigating a focus group interview, so as to allow for more detailed answers aside from a standard “yes” or “no” response. The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research is an excellent resource for constructing these types of interview questions (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008). Finally, following up with the participants of the focus group can provide a more complete picture about the needs of consumers over time, lending to a more sustainable design focus. Engaging the Consumer Brands are also seeking direct consumer engagement to produce fashion wares that resonate with the consumer at their core. An example of this type of engagement is the DigiKids program hosted by Cornell University. “The purpose of this [program] is to understand consumer satisfaction with digitally printed and customized children’s wear” (Cornell University, 2009). This program utilizes a co-design technique that involves consumers in the process of design so that they receive exactly what they want. In using this method, there is no excess inventory or items left for markdown. Similarly, Threadless, a t-shirt producing company that relies solely on the designs submitted by their online community uses a consumer engagement system as the basis for their production. Designs are submitted and posted on an open forum, which then are voted on, revealing the top designs that will then be produced (Threadless, 2009). Creators of the winning designs receive cash prizes and store credit. Thus, Threadless not only offers the design phase up to its consumers, it rewards them for their efforts and allows them to be a critical part of the design phase.
Image 1.1: Active voting process on the Threadless community forum website (2009).
Zero-waste and Jigsaw Design An estimated ten to twenty percent of fabric is left on the cutting room floor- that translates to roughly 100 tonnes of fabric that is “wasted” each year in the United Kingdom alone (Hethron & Ulasewicz, 2008). A more conscience and thought out pattern and use of material is absolutely necessary in the development of sustainable fashion. “Fashion design and patternmaking are not hierarchically or otherwise distinct; patternmaking is part of the design process,” insists Australian fashion designer Timo Rissanen (Hethron & Ulasewicz, 2008, pp. 184). During his PhD research surrounding the unsustainable aspects of the fashion industry Rissanen has uncovered two primary methods for employing more sustainable methods of creating fashion through their patterns: zero-waste and jigsaw puzzle. Whilst studying Textile Futures at Central Saint Martins in 2007, Mark Liu postulated a zero-waste system for generating garments from his textile prints that he designed
(Hethron & Ulasewicz, 2008). Through a calculated pattern, the entire garment can be cut and sewn so that no material is wasted.
Image 1.2: Zero-waste design from Mark Liu (2007).
Designing fashion patterns using a jigsaw method dates back to times when fabric was scarce and thus treated as precious. This method may at first seem challenging but time and experience lead to a new system for developing fashion patterns in a sustainable manner. Rissanen (2008, pp. 193) elaborates: In jigsaw puzzle, fabric width becomes a design consideration, because the width determines how the pattern pieces may be configured on a length of fabric. Fabric width is a major difference between cut-and-sew and jigsaw puzzle fashion creation: Rarely does one need to consider the fabric width when designing a cut-and-sew garment, while a jigsaw puzzle garment is fundamentally informed by the width of its fabric.
Slow Design “Slow design is the mind-set that decelerates the increased velocity of design, production and consumption,” states Professor Van Dyk Lewis of Cornell University (Hethron & Ulasewicz, 2008, pp. 255). First truly exemplified by Swedish artist Otto von Busch, slow design is a concept that counters the current fast fashion trend. It focuses on alternative paths for creation, production and distribution of fashion. Many support slow design as the end-all for sustainable fashion- complete and encircling (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008). Dr. Lewis goes on to state, “ Slow design is not an attempt to bypass fashion; rather, it is a critique of fashion that seeks to uphold the essence of fashion” (Hethron & Ulasewicz, 2008, pp. 256). Therefore, slow design seeks to implement the various modes for sustainable fashion development through local sourcing, production and distribution on a timeline that honors craftsmanship and original design. Conversely, it does not yet address the demands of mass fashion. However, as Dr. Lewis hinted, the very notion of fashion and its production methods may be called into question and redefined using slow design as a template. Eco-tech Fashion Eco-tech fashion “is an idea that insists upon the emergence of a sustainable fashion system through an innovative technological framework containing thoughtful manufacturing processes and consumption patterns” (Scaturro, 2008, pp. 475). Ecotech fashion encompasses the design inputs as well as the open sources for design sharing and evolution through the internet such as von Busch’s Recyclopedia and a designer share site called Show Studio. Moreover, eco-tech fashion seeks to synchronize new technologies with the creation of fashion utilizing systems such as a 3D body scanner to obtain accurate measurements and deliver custom fit (Hethron & Ulasewicz, 2008). “By emphasizing the importance of technology in achieving sustainable goals, eco-tech fashion becomes a distinctly modern movement looking forward to the future of all fashion,” affirms Sarah Scaturro, the textile conservator at the Copper- Hewitt, National Design Musuem, Smithsonian Institution (Hethron & Ulasewicz, 2008).
Company Spotlight: Threadless Threadless is a community-centered online t-shirt apparel store that sells over 1 million shirts a year. Members of the Threadless community submit their designs to potentially be printed on a t-shirt and then the public votes on which designs go into production. The creators behind the winning designs receive a cash prize and store credit. Cofounder, Jake Nickell, shares how this type of consumer fueled design process is sustainable in the interview below conducted on 2 December 2009. In a couple of sentences, can you please describe your brandâ€™s mission? Our main mission is to inspire and support artists in the creation of amazing products that people love. How are your products designed around sustainable practices? Our main efforts in sustainability are around waste. We sell virtually everything that we make. We do this by ensuring that we only make things people want. This is the power of the crowd-sourcing model we use. Do you create your products based around the fabric, design or both? We create our products based on the illustrations that are submitted to be printed on them. The design comes first, then an appropriate blank t-shirt is sourced for it to be printed on. Is sustainable practice part of your business strategy? Our main focus is to always be in tune with our customerâ€™s wants and needs... as those shift towards a desire for us to practice sustainability in a more encompassing way, we will act to meet those needs.
Deduction In order to create more sustainable outcomes, collectively we must begin by critiquing the methods of design and how they best service the consumers who buy them in the short and long term. Functionality, form, utility, technology, lifetime design focus, specific design as related to the materials available and an engaged consumer as part of the design process are all key components to sustainable design practices.
Manufacturing A crucial component to the fashion industry, manufacturing processes present many areas to participate in sustainable fashion. Through dyeing processes, factory conditions and energy sources, packaging and transportation logistics, companies are actively creating a greener system. “The conversion of raw textile fiber to finish fabric and final product draws on labour, energy, water and other resources, and cumulatively makes for a high-impact sector, “ states Fletcher (2008, pp. 41). In an attempt to mass create a fully sustainable t-shirt, Mike Betts of better thinking ltd. put his team to work on every aspect of the manufacturing process. Betts (2007, pp. 28) explains the process: We consider how to obtain the raw material (e.g. cultivation practices and resources use), turn it into a t-shirt (shipping, factory power, working conditions and dyes), understand the issues involved in use (laundering, quality and longevity), and discover what happens to it at the end of its life cycle (recycling, composting, or landfill).
What Bett’s and his co-workers realized very quickly was that the fully sustainable supply chain does not yet exist, and that there would be inevitable trade-offs. However, he still shares the mindset of many: one mode of sustainable conduct is better than none. To achieve sustainability, companies must take the initiative to know their materials. This includes a knowledge about the impacts of the materials and chemicals used to produce their wares, and the full product life cycle. This balance is known as obtaining material health. “Material health refers to chemicals, materials and products that are safe and healthy for humans and the environment during their full life cycle, with a focus on design for safe, productive return to nature and industry” (Earth Pledge, 2007, pp. 199). Upholding this idea of material health, the various areas of manufacturing and how they can be preformed in a more sustainable manner are listed in the next few pages.
Dyeing Washing and dyeing of fibers can be a very water intensive process that requires the use of chemicals. Excess dyes that are not absorbed into the fibers are often discarded into free running waterways, allowing organic compounds to escape into the atmosphere as airborne gases (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008). Natural dyes consist mainly of plant, animal and mineral sources. Their use leads to lowered water and energy consumption, as compared with synthetic dyes, and are easier to biodegrade (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008). However, linking back to Brettâ€™s quest for the mass produced sustainable t-shirt, he argues that, â€œthe existing infrastructure for a natural dye process (which is only more environmentally sound in some respects) can produce runs of 20,000 shirts, maximumâ€? (2008, pp. 30). When major companies like Nike and WalMart are typically placing orders on the small side of about 100,000 it becomes apparent that natural dyeing processes are not yet geared up for large-scale production. Natural dyeing is an onerous task. Only 16 dyes out of 1,600 are approved by the EPEA as sound for the environment and human health (Brett, 2008). As the technology and processes to produce more eco- and human- friendly dyes ensues, one solution is to forgo the dye process all together. Fibers do hold their own inherent color that can be appreciated and utilized in manufacturing garments. It is also important to note that although the chemicals and dyestuffs of conventional textile production have gotten a bad rap, and rightfully so, it is mainly due to the lack of legislation that does not impose regulations at a local level, along with poor manufacturing practices in general (Mowbray, 2007). Great opportunity for dyestuff producing companies, like Dystar, presently exists in which they can contribute to the processes and innovations that will reduce the impact of dyestuffs on the environment as well as offer improved productivity.
Factory Conditions and Energy Supply The terms sustainable and ethical fashion have been used interchangebly, and they can represent the same goal if approached the right way. Safia Minney, founder of People Tree- a fashion company that employs people all over the world in impoverished areas with textiles production, has become a icon in ethical fashion. Minney (Guardian, 2008) shares her view on ethical fashion: What is ethical fashion? It is a confusing term. Sometimes, it’s easier to define by what it isn’t- and unfortunately that is most of what can be found on the high street. Unethical fashion means very very little transparency, accountability and knowledge of the supply chain. It means demands of very quick lead times and production turnaround. It means producers played off against each other. It means a wage that doesn’t even afford the worker an adequate salary for two meals a day.
China, India, Mexico and Brazil are all places where production is outsourced for a cheaper labour force, but is it really cheaper in the end? Many companies such a Nike and Gap have paid dearly when their sweat shop manufacturing was exposed, resulting in loss of consumer support, and an increase in budget spending on PR initiatives to help smooth over the the “issue”. Luckily, every coin has two sides, and both Nike and Gap have used the experience to grow and develop their own CSR branches and involvement in the advancement of sustainable fashion. Nike created a six step evaluation system for undertaking new factories for its production processes. This system is referred to as the New Source Approval Process (NSAP). “NSAP is intended to help Nike build supply chain partnerships with well-managed factories and reduce the risk of adding any inefficient or unethical partners (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008, pp. 363). Companies can also subscribe to the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and utilize its guidelines for their supply chain systems. Unfortunately, this is more of a voluntary
membership and therefore the ETI does not police companies and ensure that the cheap and chic fashion available is produced ethically. Additionally, the Fairtrade mark has become widely recognizable and is now being placed directly on the care tags of clothing to notify consumers that their purchase was produced using Fairtrade certified methods. Founded in 1992 in the UK, the Fairtrade Foundation seeks to assist in building both sustainable and mutually equitable relationships with producers from developing countries and retailers (Guardian, 2008). Finally, many retailers, supplier and producers are self-enforcing restricted substance lists (RSL). These lists help eliminate the use of the worst chemical offenders in production processes and create a necessity to explore and develop alternatives (Heine, 2007). Conversely, P-lists, or Preferred lists, may also be used to specify to a supplier what chemicals a brand does approve the use of. Energy sources are of another concern in the sustainable production of fashion. “It’s estimated that energy accounts for between 10 to 15 percent of total textile production costs, “ states John Mowbray, editor of Ecotextile News (2007, pp. 263). Many companies are now using alternative energy sources to fuel their factories, design studios and retail stores. Wind, thermal ducts in the ocean, solar and other renewable energy sources contribute to the holistic approach of ‘greening up’ the fashion industry.
Packaging and Transportation Awareness surrounding the excess packaging that persisted for many years has gained influence and many companies now boast that they use less packaging and/or use recycled packaging. Additionally, companies are concerned about the rising economic and environmental costs of transporting their goods. Getting products to the right place at the right time is a coordination of logistics, a balancing of costs, and ultimately a mainstay in good business practice. One solution, that Wal-Mart began to use in 2005, is the radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging system. RFID allows the retailer to identify the producer, the location and date of production, and other tracking information (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008). As RFID tags grow in use, they will provide a more accurate way to manage inventory and forecast upcoming inventory needs, thereby increasing proficiency in production and distribution. Andres Lunt, Co-Founder of T Shirt & Sons, adds, “Another unforeseen benefit had arisen from the meticulous tracking required under the organic certification rules. If in five years a customer comes to me with a serial number, I should be able to give him the exact pigments used in its batch. Never have we been so aware of our production methods, letting us quickly identify and eliminate a great deal of waste” (Earth Pledge, 2007, pp. 79). Another solution is contingent upon location. “For the last step of post-production, the distance and transportation required to ship the fabric of the garment [to the] manufacturing plant and eventually, to the end consumer are factors to consider when determining if a product is eco-friendly” (Earth Pledge, 2007, pp. 41). Companies, like Inditex, both design and produce their textiles, eliminating various transportation costs and carbon emissions. They have been heralded for their quick turnaround times and accurate production volume. Alternatively, entire supply chain cities have been constructed to accomplish this same feat on a larger scale. Housing all operations in a highly organized vertical system reduces time and production development (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008).
Companies also ‘neutralize’ their carbon foot-prints with CO2 emissions off-setting. A number of brands have signed up to partner with the Be Carbon Neutral campaign. “The campaign uses recycled metals and eco-friendly packaging and printing materials...” coupled with manufacturing, production and shipping all done in a carbon neutral way (Oakes, 2009, pp. 86). Therefore, a brand or designer who buys a Be Carbon Neutral package will be carbon neutral for one month. This is a convenient method for smaller brands or retailers that do not yet know how to become carbon neutral through their own initiatives.
Spotlight Company: Nau One exemplary company that hits many of the green marks in its business make-up and sustainable fashion production is Nau. “Nau (pronounced “now”) is a clothing company based in Portland, Oregon. We make sustainable urban+outdoor apparel- integrated designs for the modern mobile life” (from the Nau website, 2009). The following are excerpts from an interview with the Creative Director of Nau, Peter Kallen on 24 November 2009. In a sentence or two, describe your brand’s mission? We believe we can do well by doing good. Create a business that reflects more than just the pursuit of dollars, and considers every aspect and impact the product has. Become a change agent for good. Are your products designed around sustainable practices? How so? Our whole business model is based on sustainability. Every item in our collection has a considered approach to fabric, construction and its end of life. Where are your products manufactured? We manufacture our products all over the world. It really depends on where the fabric is created , and then we work with manufacturers near the source so we don’t have to transport the goods all over the world to piece them together. Ultimately, this is more sustainable and wastes less energy. Do you adhere to any environmental regulations/ standards in your manufacturing? Yes, we have a RSL, or restricted substance list, that requires all of our goods to be free and clear of certain chemicals and toxins that are harmful. This list is very prominent in the European Union countries. Do you implement any other ‘green’ practices- for example: green energy supply, energy efficient light bulbs in stores, less packaging...?
Yes. We consider and implement all of these other aspects to being “environmental”. We are in a great place to be able to “design” our company not unlike how we choose to live our personal lives, which includes how we treat the people we work with, what the working conditions are for ourselves and all of our suppliers, and the impact we have on the community and the world we live in. How do you transport your goods? We prefer to use a cargo container and have them sent via cargo ships. We also purchase carbon offsets for all of our fuel based energy uses.
Deduction Business strategies, complex supply chains and meeting the triple bottom line of social equity, economy and environmental preservation create both challenge and opportunities for companies operating in the fashion industry. “Sourcing managers have to contend with price, quality, time, vendor relations, and regional issues. Yet, incorporating environmental issues into these criteria may simplify sourcing strategies while adding value to the brand” (Hethron & Ulasewicz, 2008, pp. 359). Many academics and business people alike support the notion that as better infrastructure develops for greener production systems, including transportation, the cost of ecofriendly materials and services will come down and become more competitive (Hethron & Ulasewicz, 2008). Bretts (2007, pp. 34) affirms, “Switching to cutting-edge green machinery, retraining staff and disposing of waste properly requires a significant initial outlay. However, suppliers that prioritize green methods now will be winners in the long run”.
Consumer Education, Transparency and Feedback “The success of the fashion industry has caused consumers to endorse mass addictive consumption,” asserts Dr. Lewis (2008, pp. 233). Likewise, the fashion industry fuels this addiction to fast fashion, produced on such a short timeline, and quality falls by the wayside. Consumers have now been trained to see value in a “more for less” mentality, purchasing in bulk quantities with two-for-one incentives. It is no wonder, that consumers have become desensitized to quality. “It seems inevitable that, unless we completely ignore worker equity, the price of goods must bottom out. When it does, companies will look for a way to differentiate themselves and justify raising their prices. A return to quality is one way to do that” (Brosdahl, 2007, pp. 14). Beyond quality, the importance of consumer education and open transparency cannot be discounted in the redefining of company-to-consumer relations. The relationship between consumers and retailers is more symbiotic than it seems. Deborah F. C. Brosdahl (2007, pp. 15) Associate Professor for the Department of Apparel, Textile and Interior Design at Kansas State University, offers the following example to illustrate this point: After several seasons of selling miniskirts, the fashion industry deemed it time for the “mini” to cycle into obsolescence and attempted to introduce a new, longer style called the “midiskirt”. In a proud statement of rebellion, women refused to give up their short skirts to embrace the new style. Firms in the fashion industry were left with millions of unsold midis, as well as the realization that consumer demand was the true industry driver.
As awareness and alternative products become increasingly available, so will the choices that consumers make. To a large extent, consumers are becoming the new agents of social change. Therefore, it is vital that brands and companies seize the opportunity to cultivate a relationship with their customers through education, transparency and feedback.
Consumer Education Today, many consumers feel overwhelmed with choice accompanied by a sense of inadequate knowledge to make a decision. “People who want to buy conscientiously may become discouraged if the “right way” is not clear,” states eco-model Summer Rayne Oakes (2007, pp. 232). Unfortunately, clear labels and standards are not yet in place, especially on a global level, to help provide straightforward guidance. At present, there is no United States Fairtrade certification for goods other than coffee and chocolate (Vartan, 2008). Many of the standards that apply to the apparel industry are carried over from the food industry. The USDA’s Organic label and certification extends from the requirements for producing organic grade food. This is problematic as it predisposes organic cotton growers to adhere to requirements that may be too high for apparel grade production. It is evident that cross-standardization and labeling on a global scale is necessary, but brands can help to ease the confusion now through education initiatives. This is not only a social incentive for companies, but an economic one. A citizen study from Cone Corporate (2004) revealed that: “8 in 10 Americans say that corporate support of causes wins their trust in that company. 86 percent of Americans say they are likely to switch to a brand that supports a cause when price and quality are equal” (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008, pp. 45). Furthermore, companies that fully understand the production processes intrinsically have a greater potential for impact. Coral Rose (2007, pp. 258), the ladies’ apparel buyer for Sam’s Club, uses a field trip she took with her team to observe cotton production to explain: Together with my team, I watched as crop dusters sprayed the conventional cotton fields with chemicals to defoliate the leaves from the cotton plant. Then we visited an organic cotton field. Organically grown cotton uses a natural process occurring during a seasonal freeze for defoliation. The contrast between the two fields was clear. The
conventional cotton was brown and lifeless; the organic cotton vibrant with leaves that were glossy and green. After the tour, they better understood the environmental and social repercussions of their purchasing decisions.
If those experiences could be transfered to the consumer, the comprehension would be extensive. The twenty-first century has equipped brands with various far-reaching tools to help educate their customers. Simply posting visible information on their websites, or hosting a separate blog that discusses these issues are very effective. Consumers are hungry for more information regarding the brands and products they support, as they recognize their role as change agents who vote with their dollars. Education is not solely reliant on companies either. Mass education from an early age is most effective. “One goal of today’s 4-H programs is to teach kids not only how to make clothing, but also how to manage an apparel budget and to determine if apparel is well made. It is within the scope of such programs to include information on how clothing is manufactured, and to emphasize the consumer’s responsibility to seek out companies that pay their employees living wages and use organic fibers or nontoxic dyes” (Brosdahl, 2007, pp. 16). As governments become more involved with regulating sustainable practices, it may not be surprising if education programs at all levels begin to filter into the education systems.
Transparency Sean Pilot de Chenecey, of the trend forecast agency Captain Crikey, makes the point: “...the big issue of today is provenance- consumers want to know when, where and how product is sourced. Shoppers will vote with their wallets and we’re not talking about niche market anymore. Consumers are socially aware across every demographic now” (Beard, 2008, pp. 458). Effective cross- media saturation is helping to fuel this need for transparency as well as provide the method. However, transparency is proving to be a tricky territory for brands. “There seems to be a very healthy concern among companies that consumers will disregard their environmental improvements. They fear that consumers, out of cynicism or ignorance, won’t take into account the constraints of a complicated supply chain that only allows them for gradual reform. As a result, some companies imagine their well-meant efforts back-firing, damaging the brand,” states Bretts (2007, pp.35). Economist Joel Makower calls this a “dysfunctional conversation”. Makower (2009, pp. 17) explains, “...it is almost impossible to create a workable green strategy that meets the expectations of a confused and cynical marketplace. Customers... don’t know who or what to believe.” Yet, the source fuels the cause. With a greater level of clear and structured transparency, coupled with worldwide standards, consumers and industry officials alike will begin to see the “green” light more clearly.
Feedback Part of transparent development requires feedback. Feedback not only from the supplier, workers, and producers; but from the consumer market as well. In fact, many advocates of a more sustainable supply chain in fashion apparel manufacturing have stated that a feedback loop in a necessity to the process. Technology has provided the means to implement many modes of feedback. Beyond the traditional customer care telephone lines that are open and available for dialog, the Internet has instilled a vast array of feedback options. By using social media sites such as Facebook and microblogging sites like Twitter, brands are reaching the masses in a more casual and inviting manner, encouraging consumers to participate in the conversation in real time. These methods, notably Twitter, allows for greater access as well. One could feasibly â€˜tweetâ€™ to the CEO of WalMart and get a reply about their concern or question.
Image 1.3: Diane von Furstengerg Facebook fan page serves as a place for conversation, feedback and updates.
Retailers are already partaking in many methods of feeback, including a feedback loop installation provided by Get Satisfaction. Through the Get Satisfaction system, retailers expose their consumers to an open platform where questions are posted and answered, allowing for the search of previously posted questions and real time interaction with the customer service department (Get Satisfaction website, 2009).
Image 1.4: Get Satisfaction website homepage.
Technology will continue to provide more organized and traceable systems of operation that will become an open source to those involved as well as to the consumers who want to actively take part in learning about their purchases. It allows for less intermediation between the designer, producer and user- facilitating new definitions of these roles and the opportunities associated with them.
Spotlight company: Nike In the interview below on 29 October 2009, Dave Cobban,the Consumer Mobilization Director at Nike Inc., describes how Nike has been and continues to be a participant in sustainable fashion with a special interest in consumer engagement. How would you describe sustainable fashion and the way Nike buy into it? For us here at Nike, sustainability isnâ€™t something we do for marketing reasons or because it is the nice thing to do, but because it is something that has been part of our DNA since 1972. [Nike] has evolved considerably over the past 37 years. If you take a look at [our] Consider Design [site] you can see the history of our sustainable design process in more detail. Considered Design is not a product line, it is the way we design all products. Also, one of the most important truths about sustainability at Nike is best illustrated with a simple formula that our CEO, Mark Parker uses: Nike products and services = Innovation + Performance + Sustainability. What is your personal mission and involvement with sustainable fashion? My role with Nike is to enable consumers to engage with our social and environmental programs. If you visit www.nikegamechangers.com you can find examples of this. As part of that, I work on enabling consumers to make informed choices about their products as related to Considered Design. We are working now with each of the seven categories (running, soccer, basketball, action sports, menâ€™s training, womenâ€™s training, and sportswear) as to how they communicate our commitment to Considered Design. What major changes have you seen in the past decade regarding sustainable fashion? The major change has been in consumer awareness and interest. Ten years ago consumers and brands alike were very uninformed about what sustainability means. Still today, people associate sustainability with green, but at Nike, sustainability means better economics and that is a big shift. At Nike, the CFO is one of the biggest
advocates of Considered Design because Considered Design means we will be continuing to produce innovative and performance products for a long time in the future while having lower impact on the planet, which will reduce cost. Where do you think sustainable fashion is headed? There won’t be a sustainable sector. ALL fashion will be sustainable by design or it won’t exist. What is Nike’s prediction for the future and its role in sustainable fashion? For Nike, the journey to become 100% sustainable began in 1972 and will continue forever, since you can never be 100% sustainable. We keep rising the bar higher and higher each year on what we want to achieve. Imagine this: The year is 2020 and you are walking through the streets of your home town. You see a small kiosk on the corner, there is a Swoosh above the door. Inside you can see a machine and on the machine is a digital interface. You walk into the store and the assistant asks you what sport you play and what performance benefits do you need from your shoes? You then take off your current shoes and drop them into the machine. The machine grinds them up and tells you what molecules you have to play with. Then the machine asks you what styles and colors you like and the performance benefits you want. You select, and then the machine “prints” out a brand new pair of shoes as you specified literally as you stand there in your socks. You pay for the advance performance, but not for the materials... you already bought them from us before. So effectively, we move from ‘making stuff’ to ‘enabling better performance’ through digital technologies. We have been creating the Nike Grind since 1993- this is not science fiction, but our future business model.
Deduction Dr. Kate Fletcher (2007, pp. 278-279), a sustainable design consultant in fashion and textiles, sums up the consumerâ€™s relationship to education, transparency and feedback best: Sustainable fashion forges a strong and nurturing relationship between consumer and producer. It is about producing garments that spark a debate, evoke a deep sense of meaning or require the user to â€œfinishâ€? them with skill, imagination or flair. It is about design confidence and capability, building pieces that encourage versatility, inventiveness, personalization and individual participation. When that happens, people will be transformed from blind consumers into active and competent citizens, making conscious choices as they buy, use and discard their clothes.
As some consumers continue while others begin to ask the questions of: What is this made of? Where did it come from? What can it become now? and answer them, sustainability will be realized.
Use Phase The use phase is primarily focused on how garments are worn, repaired, cared for and circulated during their life cycle. The use phase, washing and drying clothing, is responsible for the greatest out-put of CO2 emissions in the world. Westernized, and particularly American, culture has bred a new kind of “hyper-clean” mentality. More than ever, people are showering multiple times a day and washing their clothes almost nearly as much. “Approximately 35 billion loads of laundry are washed annually in the United States... requiring about 40 gallons of water per load” (Easter, 2007, pp. 95). In addition, the higher temperature settings to “sterilize” clothing in the wash phase require huge amounts of energy, as does the drying phase. In an effort to reduce the use of water and energy in this phase, both Marks & Spencer and Levi’s Strauss are putting forward care tag initiatives whereby they print lower water temperature care instructions as well as where to recycle the garment after its life cycle of use. Erica Archambault, PR and Brand Marketing Director at Levi’s, advises consumers to consult the new Levi’s care website page (www.levi.com/care) to join in on their sustainability mission. “Simple care and recycling guidelines can go a long way towards reducing climate change impact. Wear responsibly and help us reduce the environmental impact of the clothes you love to wear” (Levi’s care website, 2009).
Image 1.5 Levi’s care tag launch in association with Goodwill to promote awareness and reduce CO2.
In 2007, Marks & Spencer launched a campaign to reduce their carbon footprint in what has been called ‘Plan A’ (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008). As part of this plan, new garments put out by the brand carry a care tag stating “Think Climate- Wash at 30C”. Aside from the actual care of clothing, over-consumption contributes to the use phase. Ideally, consumers would consume less, purchasing clothing that fulfills needs and builds a wardrobe. Tamsin Blanchard (2007, pp. 14), author of Green is the New Black suggests building a sustainable wardrobe: “You should aim to buy pieces that are not going to fall apart after the first wash or look out of date by the end of the week.” It is an “invest in what you love” mentality that supports smart shopping for items that will earn their economic and environmental keep over time. In addition, if a particularly fancy garment is needed for an event that is most likely going to be worn once, Ms. Oakes (2009) recommends exploring renting attire from online sites such as BlingYourself or BagBorrowOrSteal.
Finally, if the items circulating in oneâ€™s own wardrobe are no longer fulfilling identity or desire, a clothing swap is a worthwhile option to both responsibly rid oneself of clothing while taking in new-to-you pieces. Many online sites have capitalized on the uptake of this trend, including: Shoporamarama, Whatâ€™s Mine is Yours, and Clothing Swap.org (Blanchard, 2007).
Spotlight people: Graham Hill, Founder of TreeHugger.com In an interview with Graham Hill, the fundamentals for sustainable fashion and the use phase are revealed. Why did you start TreeHugger.com? I wanted to help push sustainability mainstream and felt that a big hinderance to that was that green was neither cool nor convenient. The main idea was to aggregate the various green sources out there into one place to create a very positive or business solutions focused vision of a modern green future. Thereby making it cool and convenient for people to go green. What are the siteâ€™s demographics? Seventy percent of our traffic is from the U.S., some is from the Uk, and some from Australia and then dispersed all over. We have about 4 million unique visitors a month with 12 million page views. Our readers are pretty even in terms of the sexes, and it is primarily people in their 20â€™s and 30â€™s. How would you define sustainable fashion? With any green thing, the key is to pull way back and look at it system wide. Green fashion, to me, is about looking at the whole cycle- so from cradle to grave, ideally cradle-to-cradle. Seventy-five percent of the CO2 emissions is caused by the use phase and care of clothing in the washing and drying. So that is one area I would pay a lot of attention to. With the use phase being the primary contributor to CO2 levels, you really want to design for that. Design clothing that can be washed cold and line dried. Designing for it and having it on the hang tag, promoting it, is really important. What do you think is necessary for sustainable fashion to grow?
Well, a bunch of things. Largely, the consumer wanting it. Being able to make it at the right price. Getting people to understand the life cycle costs. Do you think that sustainable fashion is a trend or no? The thing about this one is that we are in such trouble on an environmental basis that it’s not going to go away. Every area of our lives is going to have this focus. There’ll be governmental and regulatory pressure and consumer pressure. We’ll get rating systems- those will come. It will be more and more easy for the consumer to understand what is green. So, I don’t think it can be a trend. Closing thoughts? Less is more. It is okay to buy clothes that are expensive if they last a long time. I think it’d be great if people’s closets were a lot smaller.
Deduction “The aftercare aspect of clothing has the most demonstrable negative impact on the environment as a whole” (Beard, 2008, pp. 458). A re-evaluation of how clothes are cared for and used throughout their life cycle is an apparent aspect necessary for the success of sustainable fashion, and the lessening of environmental impact.
Discard Phase “The average American throws away about 68 pounds of clothing and textiles each year” (textilerecycle.org, 2009). With the ‘throw-away fashion’ trend in full swing, many consumers find greater ease in simply discarding a garment rather than repairing it or taking the time to donate it to their local Goodwill shop. Furthermore, this mentality fuels a over-consumption sentiment that is available at every price point. The high streets are lined with fashion stores circulating pounds of clothing each week. The trajectory we are currently on is not sustainable by any sense of the world. At some point the price for producing goods will bottom out, landfills will reach capacity and our natural resources will become exhausted. However, there is an alternative to this reality if we utilize education, technology and a new sustainably focused system for producing, consuming, using and then discarding and recycling textiles. There are many options for clothing after it has seen its full term of use with its original owner. These include: Goodwill and second-hand shops, vintage circulation, and recycling. Goodwill and Second-hand Shops Various entities, such as Goodwill, The Salvation Army in the United States, and Oxfam charity shops in the United Kingdom help to organize and offer second-hand clothing at affordable prices. A commonly used resource to donate no longer wanted clothing, these stores have a great task of sorting, cleaning, and selling clothing. Not too long ago, they provided a frugal fashion seeker with gems boasting designer labels and a haven for inventing one’s individual style. However, with the recent surge in mass fashion consumption and discard, many of these shops are complaining that they are now overrun with items from high street brands like H&M or Top Shop. These articles do not fetch as high a price nor do they offer the incentives for buyers to come in and purchase a used garment, when a new one costs only a little more.
Alternatively, there are a number of second-hand boutiques that operate on consignment and, refine their items to the more upscale pieces and thus operate at a higher price bracket. Vintage The vintage market has seen a revival in the twenty-first century. A consequence to the democratization of fashion is that buying a one-off piece that stands out from the rest is becoming harder and harder. Thus, celebrities and regular consumers alike are turning to vintage collections to boost their wardrobes in an original way. Forging the way in 2001, Julia Roberts wore a vintage Valentino dress to the Oscars. “Valentino said that Roberts brought the idea of giving a second airing to a classically beautiful ‘old’ dress into public consciousness” (Michault, 2004). In an article in the New York Times (Michault, 2004), Rita Watnick, founder and president of Lily et Cie vintage clothing, affirms: “A woman who wears a vintage dress is making a statement about being an individual. She is saying that it is O.K. to be different - and that is a great message to send out.” Wearing vintage clothing goes beyond sourcing a unique dress for an event. Many consumers are integrating vintage into their entire wardrobes. Finding vintage shopping to be both a sustainable and economical way to create their own sense of fashion.
Recycled Textiles Another part of keeping textiles out of landfills, is to re-use them in a variety of ways to get further millage out of a product that is already in existence. Recycling textiles is the undercurrent behind the fashion industry that, until recently, remained mostly hidden. Today, the methods are becoming more visible and gaining popularity as consumers, designers and producers better understand their options when discarding and also creating clothing. Sue Thomas, a British academic teaching at RMIT University in Australia summarizes the three distinct ways in which textiles can be recycled (Thomas, 2007, pp. 534- 535): 1.) Upcycling- when discarded garments have their value increased through altering or customizing. 2.) Redeploying- altered, deconstructed or dyed, customized and sold back into the clothing system. 3.) Downcycling- a clothing that is transformed into rags, blankets or fiber stuffing, which is the exit from the supply-chain of the fashion design production loop. Upcycling is probably one of the hottest areas of research and development in textile production at the moment. Upcycling is best described as the process where the materials used to create a new fashion garment come from other fabric sources- both from within or out of the fashion industry. The re-used materials that were not typically used for fashion to begin with include old parachutes, truck canvases or even seat belts- to name only a few. Companies like Brooklyn Industries in the United States have based their business model around the collection of old billboards that are then used to construct unique messenger bags. The company also guarantees every bag, therefore when it has gone through its use phase and is in need of repair, they will repair itfurther enforcing the sustainable cycle.
Another type of upcycling consists of deconstructing old apparel garments or other textile fabrics to return them to their very basic fiber state, before combining them with other fibers to produce new fabric. The process involves extracting the fibers from used fabric by mechanically shredding the material with carding machines (Fletcher, 2008). This process is becoming refined, offering longer fiber extraction. Synthetic fibers can also be upcycled, through a chemical process that breaks the bolds of the material at a molecular level. This method is more energy intensive than mechanically pulling the fabric apart, though it does lend to a more predictably sturdy fiber when repolymerization is complete in forming a new fiber(Fletcher, 2008). Finding a renewable source of fiber from pre-existing fiber presents both a challenge and opportunity for sustainable fashion. Companies all over the world, primarily Japan, are vying to become the leader in this technology. Teijin is one such company. As an influential chemistry company, they are ardently pursuing the perfection of recycling systems for synthetic fibers (Scaturro, 2008). Teijin boasts the invention of Eco-Circle, a polyester recycling system that reclaims polyester at a significant quality.
Figure 2.2: The ECO CIRCLE upcycle process, courtesy of Teijin (2009).
In the Unites States, Martex Fiber Southern Corporation is leading the manufacturing in recycled industrial textile waste (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008). Partnering with Jimtex Yarns, the two companies launched Eco2Cotton TM, a new fabric brand available to apparel companies seeking to produce and promote environmental products. By collecting textile waste and pre-consumer cuttings, Jimtex is able to re-process the recycled fiber that then is respun into regenerated yarns- blending various fibers such as cotton, polyester or acrylic to make the fiber stronger and allow for more color variations. Finally, the fibers are used to fabricate regenerated material that can then be used for textile apparel.
Redeploying, or what the French call recuperation, of garments is done through the integration of new and second-hand pieces. Designers like Xuly Bet and Martin Margiela are employing such techniques as the basis of their lines (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008). In addition, a UK-based set of designers started a company called Junky Styling, in which a team of designers assist in the recreation of a garment that a patron brings in on the account that it no longer satisfies their sense of style. The designers rework the article and produce a new fashion piece. On a larger scale, Zara has been known to recall items that are not selling well on the floor and re-use the material to create a new variation of the piece for a second exposure on the sales floor. Downcycling has been used for many years to produce alternative sources for insulation and furniture stuffing. Similar to upcycling, the original fabrics are deconstructed to produce fine cuttings that are not sought for regeneration of fiber, as they are too small. This is the final stage for manufactured textile materials to be used before entering into the biodegradable stage. Often this also serves as the exit point for fabric from the fashion industry loop.
Spotlight People: Summer Rayne Oakes, Eco-model, environmental activist Summer Rayen Oakes is an eco-model who only works with brands that support ecofashion. She has carved out her niche as a ecofashion representative and real life model of how to live eco, with style. Her book Style, Naturally was released earlier this year (2009) and provides a how-to guide for women looking to ‘go green’ with their wardrobes, beauty products and through the causes they support. In the interview below, Ms. Oakes shares her wisdom of sustainable fashion, how it has changed, and what consumers can do starting today to embrace ecofashion. What is your role as an eco-model? My role as a model in the industry is to really be a role model to showcase that I’m actually partnering with brands, companies and projects that are more environmentally socially relevant, and to be a messenger. I hope that a bi-product of what I do is to help show people, no matter what industry they are involved in, that they don’t have to compromise their values. What is sustainable fashion? Sustainable fashion is rethinking the entire fashion industry’s supply chain and figuring out how to be more environmentally or socially conscious along that entire supply chain. How would you describe the changes in the ecofashion industry since the time when you became actively involved? Ecofashion has really been a cultural movement, where its grass roots initiative leap frogged over high fashion and went straight to mainstream fashion. That is why we see companies like American Apparel, Levi’s, and the Gap leading in ecofashion instead of high fashion houses. I would also say that the conversations about ecofashion have gotten deeper and shifted from just talking about sourcing organic cotton to a whole sustainable system.
What does sustainable fashion need now to progress? It needs a business-to-business site that allows designers to search for sustainable fabrics and purchase them. Designers spend a lot of time researching fabrics, and often they simply turn to Google, which can lead to partially inaccurate product information and patchy results. They need a more valid source to look at and compare fabrics and the standards behind them. Such a service would be a stepping stone to creating international industry collaboration with metrics, which I think is really important. How would you encourage consumers to participate in sustainable fashion right now? Look at what you love and need, and wear your wardrobe before you buy new items. There is some crazy statistic that I read, it stated that you may only wear a clothing article forty times before you throw it out! So I would say, rethink your wardrobe. Have the stuff that you love and wear it all. If you are going to get rid of it, give it away- donâ€™t throw it into the landfill. Recycle it. Lastly, I would say join the movement. Go to the places you shop and ask for ecoalternatives. That is really important, because when people hear their consumers ask for it, it actually does make a difference. Brands are a lot more sensitive now and they are listening.
Standards The final component of the SFB is the application of standards. The literature review, as well as the opinions of those interviewed, confirm that a system of recognizable and congruent standards is compulsory for sustainable fashion to advance on a larger scale. Again, this area presents both a challenge and opportunity to retailers. At present, consumers have difficulty deciphering what is genuinely ethical or eco from what is just a greenwashed marketing campaign. â€œThe burden of responsibility for the ecofashion brand lies in its ability to promote and engage its audience with a clear and simple message that is tangible and exciting, yet devoid of confusing jargonâ€? (Beard, 2008, pp. 464). Organisations such as the Fairtrade Foundation, PETA and the USDAâ€™ National Organic Project (NOP) are carving out the guidelines for a more sustainable system, as well as producing the labels that are gaining familiarity with consumers. Additionally, production and source standards specific to designers, such as the Oke-Tex 100 and 1000 or the International Standards Organization (ISO) 14000, create greater ease for designers in identifying eco-materials to use in their lines.
Image 1.6: The FairTrade Mark- a growing recognizable standard for ethical production.
Though it is widely agreed upon that standards and enforced regulations are imperative to the expansion of sustainable fashion, legislation is lagging. The failure of the Kyoto Protocol as a response to the viable threat of global warming is exemplary of how difficult it is to gain full support of many nations for a global cause. Unfortunately, the sustainable fashion movement is also of a global nature, and requires conformity of best practices coupled with commitment to set standards across the international supply system. Therefore, creating standards that assemble transparent systems of operation as well as a base understanding of what sustainable fashion is, remains an uphill battle. It is an uphill battle, but not a hopeless one. The organizations listed above are setting some ground rules for participating in sustainable fashion that should be followed by retailers seeking to incorporate sustainability into their business models. See the Standards table in Appendix 1 for a full list of standard-setting bodies. Until enforced standards and certifications are definitively set, retailers may also contribute to securing sustainable systems through the transparency of their production practices. Arguably, a viable alternative to certifications, is a broad endorsement of transparency among retailers. Through their websites and other modes of promoting visibility, brands can actively advertise their sustainable initiatives and gain the support of consumers without labeling. Presently, we exist in a space between complete transparency and enforced, standardized certifications. It will be interesting to see which way the pendulum swings going forward.
Conclusion Sustainable fashion is a term that is still within its formative time. Definitions are not yet congruently aligned, nor are the modes for participating in sustainable fashion. Moreover, theory pertaining to sustainable fashion is still very basic. However, the cumulative research of this study presents a framework of a new model for identifying key areas of sustainable fashion through the SFB. Thus, the SFB assists in highlighting areas that require development for progress. Collectively, the research shows that these areas are education, awareness, transparency, sustainable supply chain management, design, legislation and government regulation, global standards, and the acceptance and use of technology in the evolution of sustainable fashion. True to the ideals of sustainability, it is clear that each of the above listed areas is interdependent upon the other to gain full realization and acceleration. Consumers are quickly becoming more educated in the methods of production and aware of who and what they support when they vote with their dollar. This leads to a necessity of greater transparency from retailers and their production methods and supply chains. Ultimately, that ensures a more sustainably developed supply chain that allows for less intermediation between the designer, supplier, producer and user. This creation of a new supply system will become managed by regulatory bodies. To lessen confusion, a global standard for practicing and identifying criteria will become clearer and more visible. Therefore, a new consumer consciousness will develop in which education and awareness of retailers production practices are fully disclosed. This transparency will require methods of obtainment which will be fulfilled by technological advances that help to organize data and make it visible and accessible. Technology will also continue to fuel the integral processes for fiber production, manufacturing and transportation in a more sustainable manner. Culture will also play a large role in the growth of sustainable fashion. It will be necessary to review the current patterns of consumption and redefine social norms regarding fashion. In addition, the â€œGucci effectâ€? will have to be tempered with an eventual dip in costs to allow for a more accessible plane to incorporate sustainable
fashion. Likewise, an overriding entity with a spokesmodel will help to create a lasting movement. Just as Stella McCartney has become the face of PETA, and Bono is synonymous with the Live Aid campaign; the sustainable fashion movement will require a visible foundation that houses extensive information and resources, as well as having an identifiable host. This need for an exemplary figure may also be realized in a new form. Linking to the various self-posting fashion blogs now gaining popularity, an ecofashion community may form a strong base, where the individuals provide the recognizable role models over time. This would fall in accordance with sustainable fashion始s grassroots movement thus far. Implications for the research The SFB is the first model of its kind to clearly draw out the primary areas where a retailer can partake in sustainable fashion. Even the basic illustration of the model comprehensibly points out a complete loop for actively participating in sustainable fashion, while detailed descriptions including examples and resources within each area provide a real life application. As a first step, retailers are encouraged to use the Standards table in Appendix 1 to identify organizations they can champion in order to begin adhering to criteria that promote sustainable practices. Then, retailers can advertise that they belong to these organizations and implement a new labeling and association with eco, ethical and sustainable practices. This leads directly into engaging the consumer through education and awareness and an open transparency about production. Next, retailers should support legislation which allows for a defined system with internationally recognized standards. This is likely to be a longer process, but brands that support these initiatives early can use it to their competitive advantage and advertise their loyalty to such measures to their consumers, thereby gaining monetary support and loyalty.
In their movement towards a more sustainable supply chain, retailers are advised to use the Resources table in Appendix 2 to select companies producing renewable and ecoconscious materials. Additionally, designers and retailers could partner up with one another when placing orders to lower the costs of production through an increase in volume. Until direct systems are established in which designers can collaborate on materials orders, they are instructed to use the Ethical Fashion Forum to connect with other eco-conscious designers to begin to materialize this option.
What about the future? Following the cradle-to-cradle concept for the advancement of sustainable fashion, a new way of designing, producing, using and then disposing of or recycling fashion is paramount. Some systems and initiatives are already in place, but what will the future look like? Will it support the slogan of 驶local is the new global始? If so, perhaps that will manifest itself in a combined supply chain city with an eco- industrial park. Based off the notion of bioregionalism, designated areas for production would produce products through the local population, utilizing local renewable materials and keeping the availability of such products within a specified range of transportation. Therefore, manufacturing and production would be localized as well as the full circle of managing the waste and energy consumption to produce these goods. This vertical platform of supply chain management is perfectly suited for municipal integration. Furthermore, the locality of resources available for re-invention and use will be an advantage. How will consumers engage in this new sustainable system? As previously stated, technology will provide the basis for organizing the data surrounding production, standards and design. Yet, it will also actively provide a tangible interface whereby consumers have direct access to this information. A very recent application from Good Guide for the iPhone was just released that allows consumers to scan over 50,000 products始 barcodes to get a rating back on the health, environmental and social responsibility standards of the product (goodguide.com, 2009).
Image 2.1: The GoodGuide website (2009) shows a new iPhone app for 驶green scanning始.
This example is testament to the readiness of consumers to be more actively engaged in their purchasing. A further advancement on this application would be the ability to choose a charity or cause that 1-2% of the purchase of the sale would be directed to at the discretion of the consumer. Often, consumers are eager to purchase products that support a cause, but it would be far better to allow them to select which cause to give to. Designers will continue to network and create systems for knowledge sharing, not unlike what is already in existence. However, a concentrated place for these resources with teams dedicated to each area- design, patterns, fabrics, sourcing, manufacturers, charitable causes and textile recycling will be a crucial component moving forward. Ms. Oakes eluded to a business-to-business service which is set to launch early next year.
Many advancement in the realm of sustainable fashion are affront. Global awareness will have a huge impact on their application. Currently, leaders from 192 countries are gathered in Copenhagen for the summit on climate change, and sustainable fashion has its rightful place in their discussion. In fact, a sustainable fashion show from local Nordic designers is on the agenda in collaboration for a focus on sustainable materials including lectures and presentations (vogue.com, 2009). A full integration of resource cultivation, production, manufacturing, use and disposal on a global level is imperativesustainable fashion will absolutely be a constituent in this movement, while creating its own. Future research The model constructed from the Concept Theory Building guidelines put forth by this study is the stepping stone for creating various more intricate models that detail the particulars for each area of the SFB. Therefore, the SFB is the mother template that houses the core areas of sustainable fashion development, at present. Future research pertaining to each one of these areas would be advantageous in yielding a clearer understanding of the technical inner workings of each individual system, contributing to the overall platform. In short, new loops within the larger loop of the SFB. In order to achieve the full level of understanding in how the SFB can work, continual exploration and intensive research is necessary to update the system as a whole and provide clear systems of operation within each section for an attainable and measured impact on the future.
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Appendix 1 Table of Standards to apply to sustainable fashion Name
People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
Center for Small Business and Environment (CSBE)
USDA始s National Organic Project (NOP)
US Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Bioregional Development Group
Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and restriction of Chemical substances (REACH)
EU始s Extended Producer Responsibility
International Organization of Standards (ISO)
Radio- frequency Identification (RFID)
American Textiles Manufacturer始s Encouraging Environmental Excellence
National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops (NART)
Sustainable Development Department
Oeko-Tex 100 & 1000
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
Organic Trade Association
Business Council for Sustainable Development
Cradle to Cradle Certification
American Apparel & Footwear Association始s Restricted Substance List (RLS)
Appendix 2 Table of Resources for sustainable fashion Name
The Council for Textile Recycling (CTR)
Secondary Materials & Recycled Textiles (SMART)
http:// www.salvationarmyusa.org /usn/www_usn_2.nsf
ethical apparel donation
sustainable denim producer
sustainable manufacturing innovator
http://www2.dupont.com/ DuPont_Home/en_US/ index.html
eco-chemical dyes innovation
Ethical Fashion Show
Paris Fashion Exhibition
http:// www.ethicalfashionshow.c om/efs1/
The Green Shows
New York City EcoExhibition
London Eco-fashion Shows
http:// www.londonfashionweek.c o.uk/estethica
Sustainable Style Foundation
designer resource site
Eco Fashion World
designer resource site
Ethical Fashion Forum
designer resource site
http:// www.ethicalfashionforum.c om/
Fashion Takes Action
designer resource site
http:// www.fashiontakesaction.co m/content/
Published on Oct 21, 2010