Sustainability is the buzzword the 21st Century, but not everyone understands its true meaning, or actively chooses to ignore it. How come? Sustainability threatens the image of fast fashion brands. An image that has been so sacred to them and that has been built in secrecy. Are their supply chains and marketing schemes transparent? The cat is out of the bag however thanks to the documentary the TRUE COST, Fashion Revolution and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, just to name a few.
With a background in International Business and Economics, I have to admit how uneducated I was in the fashion industry. It is a large sector of our economy that I have been actively supporting, without realizing the consequences: enabling a damaging force to grow.
I am not alone in this, but I did feel alone in the action I am taking to flip the script. For real.
This May, I visited the Copenhagen Fashion Summit for the first time and I am so glad I did. There I met a large pool of like-minded entrepreneurs and other professionals and students.
The research I had been conducting prior to this event helped me to discover what is wrong with fashion today as well as to shape the vision for my company, whose goal it is to promote how aesthetics can actually meet ethics. No greenwashing, no window dressing, full transparency, and accountability.
The first day of the summit, CEO Eva Kruse started off reporting results found by the Boston Consulting Group and Sustainable Apparel Coalition claiming that over the last 10 years we [the fashion industry] have not managed to make fashion a force for good.
What exactly is going wrong then, I asked myself?
One key insight is that the term “sustainable fashion” has been all too confusing and thence often “unintentionally” been used in a misleading way. For example, when brands promote garments made from recycled polyester. Claiming that this material, sourced in this way, is sustainable, is no bueno to my knowledge.
The problem with such polyester fabrics is that the feedstock comes from a nonrenewable source: crude oil. Further, every time the garment ends up in the washing machine, microplastics are released, which are found back in our drinking water.
Even the arctics have been frequented by such microplastics. The polar bears basically were sent a package by all those fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies without being able to return them.
Former CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman, addressed the privilege we have, and that it is our duty to use this power as a force for good. We owe it to the rest of the world. Further, he advocated for the word “responsible”, rather than “sustainable” in the context of fashion and other physical goods we are to produce from hereon. Cheers, Paul Polman!
We have discussed sustainable fashion, and responsible fashion, but then what is circular fashion?
At the root of the problem lies the economic models humankind has invented and incorporated for decades, if not centuries. Growth is at the heart of healthy economies. Or is it?
Regenerative economist and Oxford University researcher Kate Raworth writes in her book Doughnut Economics that: “We need to meet the needs of all, within the means of the planet”. What this means is that we need to act responsibly to not overshoot our planetary boundaries (e.g. gaps in the ozone layer), as well as to prevent shortfall of humankind (e.g. poverty).
She calls it, jokingly, a doughnut as the ideal economy is envisioned as a circle with a thick ring representing the perfect balance to between human needs and planetary boundaries.
The more I read into the wrongs of the fashion industry, the more I started to conceptualize the potential good the industry can do. I like problem-solving and since I did not succeed to find a platform that allows me as a consumer to continue enjoying shopping, I started to build one myself.
Thus, if we can make fashion in a way where the needs of humankind are met by the planetary boundaries, we are able to continue shopping for it. In the words of William Mcdonough: Waste equals Food. I.e. waste is not trash but is a nutrient serving other purposes to flourish. When the leftovers of an apple are planted, then with time the seeds grow to become another apple tree. This is the concept of a full circle economy with a closed-loop supply chain.
Practically speaking, for fashion production and consumption this would mean the following (as a start):
* source materials that are compostable
* reduce the number of links in your supply chain
* strive for carbon negativity
* teach consumers that discovering true style is more important than keeping up with fashion trends
* produce less, but better. Consumers will understand to be patient.
The list, in my opinion, is endless when it comes to innovating the way fashion has usually been produced and consumed. Obviously, these practices must change if we want to keep being able to produce and consume beautiful garments, shoes, handbags, jewelry and other accessories and related products.
The good news? Circular fashion is happening today! Are you ready to try it on?