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Who Wants Sustainable Fashion?

A few thoughts that I shared at the Sustainable Fashion Forum (Hong Kong, October 7, 2009):
  • Most people want to fit in rather than stand apart from their peers, so pushing sustainable or responsible fashion will need time – just like the typical fashion cycle, the first thrust needs to be on the innovators and early adopters (both consumers and companies), before the majority of the market picks up the trend.
  • We typically talk about the “triple-bottom line” – referring to the benefit to the business (profit), benefit to the environment and benefit to the community. However, I think most sustainability initiatives don’t gain enough traction because there is no bottom-line defined for the “individual”. The questions “how am I impacted?” and “what is in it for me?” need to be answered to really push fashion in the direction of sustainability.
  • “There is enough on this Earth for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed”. Fashion, by its very nature, lives on obsolescence, so it is pertinent to ask whether “sustainable fashion” is an oxymoron. However, there is some merit in questioning how extreme this sense of forcing obsolescence has become in the industry over the last few decades as companies have sought ever-growing top-lines. The entire industry ecosystem will need to be overhauled for it to become “sustainable”.
  • The cause of sustainability may be helped actually by the fragmentation of demand that is going on around the world. This fragmentation may be our inadvertent saviour. Since fashion is about the peaking and the decline of specific trends, with fragmentation there are lower peaks, less forced trending, less forced obsolescence and potentially less waste.
  • There was a mention of the concept of “fast fashion”. There are two aspects to it: one is the more visible rapid-change, low-price retail concept and that would certainly seem to be the antithesis of sustainability. However, there is another side to the fast fashion business model: lean management, efficient product development and reduced waste. The traditional fashion business model and supply chain can’t cope effectively with the fragmented demand and short selling-windows. In the fast fashion supply chain model, with shorter lead times, more time is spent on productive activities and successful products, rather than wasting resources and money in developing designs and flying samples back and forth for products that will get sold at a discount. Such waste would be fatal in the aerospace, automotive and high-tech industries – those industries use tools and processes that have also been available to the fashion industry for the last 4 decades. If fashion companies honestly examine how expensive that waste is, we might start moving towards more sustainable fashion.

 

Sustainable Fashion Forum (Oct 6, 09) (Hong Kong) - Devangshu Dutta, moderating a panel

Here is a summary of the Sustainable Fashion Forum, and some more pictures from the afternoon.

And here is a previous article on sustainability and corporate responsibility.

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