A Conversation on Trends in Fashion & its Path Towards Sustainability
Q1. Can fashion in our current system be sustainable?
To put it simply no, but I don’t think fashion is the issue. The impacts of fashion is due to two things, the supply chain and the consumers. This trend can be seen in most commodity, and lifestyle industries as well, but the fashion industry is the one we are talking about. Consumption has been shaped by the fast fashion trail blazers like H&M, Zara, Forever 21 etc. These companies have prioritized business over fashion and have created a linear system of providing affordable fashion straight from the runway to a wider consumer base. That isn’t a bad goal necessarily, as it closes the gap in the financial accessibility of fashion but carries its own consequences. The result of this linear model is the expectation of a quick democratization of runway looks to the commercial market. Business is meant to be scalable, predictable, and growable, and this has been applied to fast fashion. The success of fast fashion brands has, in a way, pull down high fashion brands like, Gucci, Prada, Chanel into the 52 micro fashion season environment.
Q2. Do you think the pandemic will shift the fashion industry? If yes HOW?
The fashion industry is already experiencing a shift, and this shift was examined by the organization Business of Fashion. Business of Fashion conducted an interview with the CEO of Shopify and discussed how COVID has limited the physical mobilization of fast fashion products but has increased the e-commerce distribution of clothes. This phenomenon isn’t helping the sustainability movement, as it increases the expectations for easy and fast transactions.
A more positive shift, since the start of COVID, has been experienced in the high fashion industry. Luxury clothing brands have announced their pull back in competing with fast fashion companies and are returning to either an 8 season or 4 season fashion year. This rollback is projected for 2021, which will see larger showcases less frequently throughout the year. The current situation has also provided the fashion industry a break, where they can re-evaluate what is benefitting their brand values, and what is the next step they can take. COVID has woken up a lot of consumers into realizing what they actually need, and how to buy with more intent.
Q3. Have you noticed any major shifts in the fashion industry, when it comes to environmental awareness? (or is there more Green washing that is occurring?)
I don’t genuinely know, as I don’t know what I’m comparing it to. I don’t know how some company’s “sustainable lines” are made. If I go onto their websites and their manufacturing sources are not transparent and it doesn’t look any different from their regular line, then I don’t know how sustainable they are. Until transparency is being shown from the cradle to the grave, I would take all green marketing with, not a grain of salt but a box of salt.
Q4. The fashion industry has obscure chains of supply which makes it difficult to account for production emissions, what are some tools people can use to evaluate the environmental impacts of different clothing brands?
There are websites like Good on You, which feature ethical brands, and also rate many clothing retailers. This website evaluates the treatment of workers, impacts on the environment, and the use of animals. Some factors that are considered are safety standards in the supply chain, child labour, forced labour, living wage, carbon emissions, water usage + pollution, and chemical use+ disposal. This program has extended to the Good on You App where consumers can quickly look at the rating for their favourite retailers (LINK TO GOOD ON YOU HERE). Another resource shoppers can refer to is the NGO, Fashion Revolution. This organization’s advocates for clean, safe, fair, transparent, and accountable fashion industry standards. These goals are achieved through education, research, collaboration, mobilisation, and advocacy. A unique feature of Fashion Revolution is their Fashion Transparency Index. This Index is created through the evaluation of 250 of the world’s largest fashion brands which are ranked by their transparency on social + environmental practices, and policies (LINK TO FASHION REVOLUTION HERE). Something I noticed in the 2017 Transparency Index Report was the lack of transparency from the companies. To further investigate the undisclosed activities by fashion companies, Fashion Revolution has brand scientists. These scientists analyze the industry standards in low, medium, and high tier fashion industries.
Q5. In a time where employment may be uncertain, how can consumers support ethical brands? (I’ve noticed that many sustainable brands are definitely more expensive which may turn people to more fast fashion brands)
Don’t feel guilty for not being able to directly buy clothes from ethical brands. If you are already struggling to provide for yourself the basics, those should be your priorities. There are so many ways to support ethical fashion brands without consuming their products. This could look like sharing your thoughts on why you love this company and sharing these companies on your social media. Providing these thoughts can spark interest in your viewers, friends and family into supporting these ethical brands. I understand the economics of environmental conscious companies, and there is a paywall to be able to subscribe to these ethical lines. So, at the end of the day, share the products of company’s you love to ensure they receive long-term support.
Of course, there are other ways of being sustainable when it comes to fashion, like clothing swaps, shopping second hand, etc.
Q6. Do you have any favourite sustainable brands?
Unfortunately I don’t have one. For me I get the majority of my clothing from thrift stores, and sharing clothes. So as you can see, I’m used to not buying clothes, though when I do… I make sure I buy clothes that fit and that I will treat well to ensure longevity. A tip to ensure you’re buying clothes that will last years, is to know your own style. I usually follow financial industry gurus to gain some inspiration when changing up my wardrobe. These gurus have great tips on how to understand your specific style and how to add just a few items to transform your wardrobe. Organizing your closet and understanding your style will allow you to know what you have already and what you can add without spending lots of money or consuming more. Customers have lost their fashion identity in the last few years because marketing has been pushing us to purchase more. Consumption and convenience can kill our autonomy as consumers. The best way to subscribe to a sustainable lifestyle is to be honest and intentional with what you already have, and what you want to have. Once you use this philosophy it will be easier on your wallet and the environment.
Q7. What inspired you to start Project Trashion?
I started editorial fashion photography as a side hobby during my military service in Singapore. When I came to the University of Waterloo, I entered the Environment and Business degree which expanded on my background in Geography. I wanted to combine my side hobby and my studies to create something that could convince the University of Waterloo students to subscribe to a more sustainable lifestyle. Students lives are complicated, they are busy with school work, rent, extra curriculars which doesn’t leave a lot of room to think about a conscious lifestyle. These circumstances make it hard for students to be aware of local ethical brands. With this in mind, I created fashion shows that had three major segments, the first is thrifted clothes, the second is responsible fashion brands, and the third is an artistic fashion statement installation. In a nutshell, Project Trashion is a way to get a conversation started in youth and inspire them to live a more socially conscious lifestyle.
Q8. What are your future plans?
Project Trashion was a great introduction to show how people can change their lifestyles. I have this experience under my belt that I can go back to in the future. Under the current circumstances and economy, I would say it would be a little tone deaf to continue focusing on fashion when people are struggling to purchase essentials. For now, Project Trashion will be on a break until the economy picks up.
However, my next project will focus on teaching sustainable leaders who want to have a positive impact on the world that isn’t necessarily consumption focused. I want to teach the triple bottom line theory to eco-friendly business owners. This initiative will teach owners and creators how to run a successful non-profit or a profitable business that supports ethical lifestyles. My first step is engaging with Waterloo faculty in a conference that also integrates aspects of design. I’ve noticed in the business of fashion, major retailers recognize that merchandise is consumed by the eyes first, and this industry is very intentional on how they portray their items. Sustainable fashion brands try to do this, but they haven’t found the perfect combo to have the same success. This design conference could help sustainable business owners determine how can they can be effective in their messaging and promote their products.