I was asked, “Isn’t sustainability a passing fad?”

In a meeting last week, I was asked by a very seasoned fashion professional, “Isn’t sustainability a passing fad?” I sunk down in my chair. Deflated. I can’t stop thinking about the exchange.

If one fashion mover-and-shaker thinks sustainability is just a trend, then others must too. I ask myself why? The information is out there. There has been (and are) so many workshops, presentations, seminars, speakers, and blog posts raising awareness of the need of more responsible apparel-production solutions that are less toxic to the atmosphere, land, water and biodiversity of our planet. There has been (and are) so many websites, films, factory exposés and news articles reporting on the mistreatment, underpayment and abuse of garment workers around the globe. There has been (and are) so many fashion companies implementing sustainability and CSR initiatives, and/or marketing that they’re repurposing old styles or utilizing recycled materials to avoid creating more landfill waste. Yet… there has been (and are) so many decisions-makers in fashion not thinking the movement is important…. or that it’s nothing more than a passing fad.

This is a problem. Our planet has now reached its carrying capacity and will soon be on overdrive as we have an upcoming population increase of 2 billion more people to produce for with 20% less resources. Yet to some, and many I fear, sustainability is a fad. This means that to those naysayers- sustainability is in the same category as silly bands, chokers, crocs, and beanie babies. A trend that starts quickly, gets loads of attention, then speedily declines into obsolescence –like last season’s cold-shoulder tee or this season’s top-knot bun. Many think the notion of sustainability is a fashion craze.

Actually I wish it were a craze. Then at least we’d have more celebrities and fashion professionals

Photo credit: Josh Sobel

tweeting and instagramming about it, instead of assuming it’s a notion that will soon disappear. It’s hard to comprehend why, with all the attention in the last few years focusing on the fashion industry’s negative impacts on our environment and factory workers, that still less than 20% of fashion companies are taking real steps to produce responsibly. Many say 20% is hopeful. I agree, it could be worse. However it’s been a very slow rise in companies transforming and changing their traditional apparel-making ways. And most companies are still running their businesses the same way they did for the last twenty years. Now that’s crazy! Industries worldwide have collectively caused the earth’s annually rising temperatures, rapidly melting icecaps, polluted ocean waters, and coral reef and forest devastation, so industries worldwide collectively must work to halt our impacts and work on reversing the effects of the past. Fashion must do it’s share, as sustainability is not a trend, rather a response to cleaning up the mess we’ve all made of our earth, which is our home.

If somehow you have missed all the workshops, presentations, seminars, posts, websites, films, exposés and articles…. then just google “fashion pollution” and take a look at all the images that appear…. now I ask, how can sustainability be a trend? It is instead taking ownership that companies producing clothing are part of the problem, and all companies (and stakeholders in these companies) can be part of the change and produce more responsibly. For those who really think it is a trend, here is a brief list of some industry facts from one website I brought up on the screen at last week’s meeting. These are from Responsibilityinfashion.org, a website created by Robert Bergmann, another change agent working to create responsibility in the fashion world.
The textile and clothing industry ranks second behind petrochemicals in overall global pollution output. (Source: Forbes)
Growing cotton requires more pesticides than any other crop and one-third pound of pesticides are used for every cotton t-shirt produced. (Source: Forbes and NRDC)
Five of the nine pesticides used on conventionally-grown cotton are carcinogens: Cyanide, Dicofol, Naled, Propargite, and Trifluralin. (Source: EPA)
Hundreds of toxic chemicals are used in manufacturing textiles; significant amounts of these poisons remain on clothing after multiple washings. (Source: Stockholm University)
The Chinese textile industry alone creates 3 billion tons of soot/year and contributes to 8.2 % of CO2. (Source: NRDC and Ecotextiles)
Fashion’s supply chain employs an estimated 60 million people globally and is the leading employer of child-laborers. In India, an estimated 400,000 children are employed in cotton cultivation. (Source: World Wildlife Fund)
The United States alone produces 25 billion pounds of clothing waste each year and an average American throws away 69 pounds of used clothing/textile waste each year (Source: Council for Textile Recycling)

Now I ask you, if these are the facts, then is sustainability just a passing fad? Is being responsible and taking ownership of a problem we helped cause the current rage? Fortunately most people in the industry do not have this attitude. Their eyes are open, they’ve been reading the news posts, seeing the images, and listening to their hearts. They are attempting to be sustainable because it is the right thing to do. They are not practicing sustainability to be in vogue or be trendy. They are concerned and wish to be responsible.

The current situation of our planet is extremely problematic, but the problem increases as we have seasoned fashion professionals holding the reins and hesitant to change; they think it’s just a fad. We must convince them this isn’t a craze.

Perhaps the problem is calling these initiatives new at all? Maybe we label them: common, standard, traditional, old hat… Maybe we make these practices sound ordinary and comfortable. Let people realize that being sustainable is the standard, and didn’t they know? Where have they been, we can ask; this isn’t a trend, it’s the standard. Perhaps we need to change our language- the facts and the images might not be working. Let’s consider changing the way we communicate and reverse everyone’s thinking so we all feel that the new ways are the traditional ways. If sustainability is commonplace, then we will all be participating in it. We’ll all be doing the same old thing, creating clothing lines with thoughtfulness and concern for the planet and all people. We’ll all be designing and producing responsibly and no-one will ask if fashion sustainability is a passing fad. It’ll be the new normal, it’ll be status quo.

-Andrea Kennedy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *