Why Fashion can no longer ignore the Ecosystem

London - H&M, Nike and Asos were amongst the 13 fashion and textile brands who signed the sustainable cotton pledge earlier this month. Last month, the industry came together at leading denim trade show Kingpins, part of Amsterdam Denim Days, and stirred up the sustainable denim debate.

Op-ed by: Dio Kurazawa, Director of Denim at WGSN, who has close to 20 years of experience in the world of denim.

While these are small and honorable steps towards, to truly become sustainable, the fashion and textile industry needs to change the way they operate. Given the lack of formal regulation for sustainable textile production, the industry needs to rethink business models rather than acting sporadically and in isolation. Creating one-off sustainable collections, talking about pledges for environmentally sound cotton and denim production will only be effective if they are part of a bigger movement. A movement towards sustainable businesses in a sustainable society that focuses every decision they make on the environment.

Why Fashion can no longer ignore the Ecosystem

Sustainability as a concept has been buzzing for a while now, but its precise definition remains unclear. And because of this low level of clarity, there is no parameter that it can be measured against. For example, how do we know that reducing water usage by 1 percent during garment production equals sustainability? The process of creating such necessary parameters is underway, but it comes as no surprise that when politics and society deny climate change, the conversation can only go so far.

Many brands struggle to establish social responsibility as a core corporate value. It’s hard work, involves lots of persuasion, and patience while running the risk of coming across as pretentious and dishonest.

Why Fashion can no longer ignore the Ecosystem

As trend forecasters, we work hand in hand with the industry: helping them see what’s going to happen and what to do about it. But I can’t tell you to fasten your seatbelt and not fasten mine. So, we decided to experience first-hand what brands go through when making such a shift and the challenges of producing sustainable fashion. In April, we launched our first ever sustainable denim sample collection in partnership with Avery Dennison, M&J Group, Absolute Denim and Amsterdam Denim Days.

When making the collection, we came to realize that most suppliers, despite having innovative products focused on sustainability, had low stock of our chosen materials, due to lack of demand. The lack of demand is because right now, the industry has no legal responsibility to be sustainable. There are no regulating departments for the textile industry like there are in the food industry, for example. Without the parameters and proper governance, manufacturers aren’t asked enough to create sustainable fabrics and materials. We found that it doesn’t start with a brand saying they want to make a sustainable collection. It starts with the industry demanding sustainability.

Why Fashion can no longer ignore the Ecosystem

So why do brands make the effort to create sustainable collections and sign pledges when, in reality, they don’t necessarily have to? Because not-for-profit organizations such as Greenpeace are urging a movement towards environmentally sound behavior by increasingly creating awareness for social responsibility with the consumer. And the consumer listens. Previously driven by price point and choice, today’s fashion consumers progressively expect sustainable products, processes, and behavior. This forces the industry to rethink their business models in order to continue growth. The question remains whether it also ensures that fashion and textile brands truly adopt sustainability across the board, given the lack of formal monitoring.

"To me, sustainability is a departure from tradition"

Dio Kurazawa, Director of Denim at WGSN

Sustainability can only happen when society starts changing its habits, addressing climate change head on and demanding sustainability in the fashion industry. Corporate conventions are at stake here too. Change towards truly sustainable behavior must come from within, driven by a redefinition of core corporate values of fashion and textile brands. Take Patagonia as a role model. They consider every stitch, every fabric and each manufacturer before they create, design and produce anything. That is what I believe every fashion and textile company should be doing.

Why Fashion can no longer ignore the Ecosystem

The fashion industry is at a crossroads now. It cannot exist without claiming to be sustainable anymore because NGOs such as Greenpeace are demanding environmental consciousness and consumer’s expectations mirror that. However, signing pledges and showing collections won’t be effective when actioned in isolation. We need standalone statements and collections to become a thing of the past, and a socially conscious mindset be applied across the board to create a ‘sustainable industry’.

This is an op-ed piece written by Dio Kurazawa, Director of Denim at WGSN. With close to 20 years of experience in the world of denim from design, development, washing and finishing, and fabric sourcing, Dio brings a vast amount of industry experience. He has previously worked for many of WGSN's top clients and has consulted for the likes of Levi’s, Forever 21, C&A, Bestseller China, and Tommy Hilfiger to name a few. A passionate conservationist, Dio is very eager to promote cutting edge denim innovations that are not only trend driven, but environmentally sound.

Photos: Courtesy of WGSN

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