Cradle to Cradle: Fashion’s Grave Reality

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The circular economy.

Closing the loop.

Cradle to cradle.

These are all phrases you may well have heard of. If not, best to familiarise yourself with them a.s.a.p. As our increasingly consumerist lifestyles reach tipping point, organisations are desperately trying to gather and reuse our rubbish, because otherwise, we may have nothing left to make anything with.

This year’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit was kicked off by someone I had, until that moment, not heard of: Bill McDonough. If you are as clueless as I was, take the next 14 minutes and 30 seconds to get to know him and his ideas a little better. You won’t regret it.

Interesting, right?

People were still clapping by the time I’d completed my purchase of his book, Cradle to Cradle.

Fashion’s grave reality

McDonough’s work is clearly applicable to the creation of many, if not all, products. But it is particularly relevant to clothing because this industry has arguably one of the most linear and wasteful cycles in modern society. And this cycle’s impact on the environment is exacerbated by its speed and the quantities involved.

take make dispose clothing lifecycle fashion

The fashion cycle: cradle to grave

With 92 million tonnes of textile waste being produced by the global fashion industry in 2015, corresponding to more than 12 kg per person, it’s clear that we are hemorrhaging valuable resources every second of every day.

So What Exactly is Being Wasted?

I recently wrote about the differences between natural and man-made fibres, and the importance, as a consumer, of understanding where these different fibres come from.

In particular, I highlighted popular man-made fibre polyester as the most used in clothing production today.

Polyester is derived from fossil fuels, one of our planet’s none renewable resources. A resource so valuable in fact, that it should be treated as a ‘nest egg’ McDonough suggests.

And yet, not only do we buy cheap, poorly made clothing using this precious resource, but we throw it out in such a way that these valuable materials cannot be retrieved.

Perhaps excavating landfill sites will be a common activity in the future?

How insanely backward would that be?

How Can the Fashion Industry Do It Better?

How can this regressive fashion industry transform itself into a regenerative one?

When it comes to fashion, and the materials we use, we can work to achieve a circular system in two ways:

By creating a “biological” cycle, whereby an item made with 100% natural fibres (wool for example), able to be broken down by bacteria, is reclaimed by nature into its vast ecosystem when we no longer want or require it.

clothing fashion lifecycle cradle to cradle biodegradable

The fashion cycle: cradle to cradle (biological)

Or a “technical” one, whereby the clothing we buy made of man-made fibres is designed in such a way that the fibres can be separated and reused in a never-ending production cycle, whilst not degrading in quality.


fashion clothing lifecycle recycle circular cradle to cradle

The fashion cycle: cradle to cradle (technical)

Some organisations are themselves working on large-scale collection schemes in their shops. These schemes provide them with the raw materials to experiment with ways of recycling fibres.TT

Unintelligent and Inelegant Things…

My favourite phrase from ‘Cradle to Cradle’ is: ‘products that are not designed particularly for human and ecological health are unintelligent and inelegant –what we call crude products

Everything we buy, and everything we do, is part of a bigger process.

We can’t know everything. But know this: as a wearer of clothes, what you chose to buy and wear really matters. Because with every purchase, you are telling the world who and what you support.

Choose not to buy cheap clothes from people who cannot tell you how or where their products are made.

Chose not to buy clothing from companies who ignore our collective responsibility to address the issues the fashion industry and, by default, we all face.

A product without background, without craftsmanship, made without thought or purpose or regard for the future is a product without beauty, without meaning and without worth.

It’s a crude purchase. Simple.

*This story first appeared on Study 34

Sustainability And The Role Of A Fashion Designer

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Ethical Fashion Forum has launched a new series looking at what sustainability means to different job roles within the fashion industry. In this second instalment, they speak with six fashion designers, from independent to high street brands, about what they do.

Image Courtesy: BHAVA
Image Courtesy: BHAVA
  • Julia Ison-Stierer at activewear brand Sweaty Betty
  • Clare Farrell owner of stylish cycling gear brand No Such Thing
  • Valerie Goode founder of luxury womenswear brand Kitty Ferreira
  • Francisca Pineda footwear designer and owner of BHAVA
  • Sally, a freelance consultant accessories designer

What is a fashion designer’s role?

The role and responsibilities of a designer seems obvious but you might be surprised to hear just how diverse a designer’s job can be. Of course, it’s about the creative and technical aspects of designing products but it might also entail research, sourcing, textile science, creating new processes, sales thinking and more.

If you’re an independent designer then the chances are you’re running the whole show, from accounting to marketing, as well as designing your products. In fact, designing often becomes secondary to these other responsibilities, with time for design resolved to nights and weekends when other priorities take over.

A diverse role

For Julia at Sweaty Beatty, her day-to-day involves trade meetings with the sales team, researching and putting together mood boards, designing and design meetings, fabric and trim sourcing, and meeting with fabrics and prints suppliers. For research, Julia likes to visit Sweaty Beatty shops, speak to the in-store teams and to customers directly to find out what’s working, what’s not, and what they want to buy that they can’t yet find.

She also goes to fitness classes to see what people are wearing depending on the different exercise activity. During the year, Julia might travel to visit factories or to source fabrics, mainly in East Asia or southern Europe. Sometimes, she gets to go on design inspiration trips to places like Brazil.

Sally who specialises in accessories and jewellery works as a freelancer, often within big high-street brands. She spent three and half years as a handbag and accessories designer at Liberty. Sally’s design role entails creative strategy, working hand-in-hand with the buying and range planning teams. She also does trend and market research and goes on inspiration trips. She manages and resources new factories, mainly in the Far East, and will travel to visit producers.

Clare Farrell worked in big fashion brands and a few smaller ethical brands before launching her own brand, No Such Thing. She was turned off by her experience working with one well-known corporate British brand. She didn’t like producing in such an unethical and wasteful way. As Clare now works independently towards building her own brand. She is responsible for all aspects of running the business – from financial accounting to sales and marketing. It’s a joy when she gets time to work on designing products. Clare shows how challenging it can be to balance priorities when first starting out.

No Such Thing

Like Clare, Francisa set out on her own after having worked for years within big American fashion brands. She worked her way up to Director of Accessories for one of the biggest brands in the U.S. and then had a severe allergic reaction to leather products. She began getting headaches, which then progressed to seizures. She developed a chemical sensitivity that people can get from exposure to paint and VOCs. Her medical condition developed over the years and finally took its toll causing Francisca to quit her job. She had no idea that the chemicals she worked with to develop accessories had such a toxic potential.

Francisca started vegan women’s shoe brand BHAVA in 2013 after quitting her corporate career and has since founded the Ethical Fashion Academy in New York City. Like Clare, she works independently and is responsible for all aspects of running the business, including sketching, designing, creative strategy and more.

Valerie Goode, of UK-made luxury womenswear brand Kitty Ferreira, has a similar story. She worked for many years as a Senior Womenswear Designer for suppliers to European high street chains in Guangzhou, China and was affected by the widespread pollution of the industry. Valerie launched her brand in 2012 because she loves fashion but wants to change it. Like Clare and Francisa, her role is comprehensive but she has a special focus on designing clothing that uses naturally dyed, organic and cruelty free silk.

How does sustainability relate to the fashion designer’s role?

Social and environmental issues can be quite relevant to a designer’s day-to-day work, depending on how much autonomy the designer has in making critical product designs. How designers create products can have a huge impact on the people who manufacture it and the products’ resulting impact on the environment.

For Julia at Sweaty Beatty, sustainability is “about choosing fabrics that are recycled – organic cotton content, making choices that are better, naturally based, as far as possible with a clean supply chain, choosing factories and suppliers who are conscious of their waste and water.” For Julia, It’s not always about choosing the cheapest option. She believes that designers have a “huge responsibility to ask questions, suppliers simply react to demand… if you don’t ask those details they won’t tell you.”

For Sally the freelance accessories designer, “it has meant very different things depending on the price level of product that I’m creating. High end product is made to last, and can be more sustainable, whereas high street has a level of throw-away.” Sally works mainly with leather and PU, so she tends “to look at more organic dyeing methods such as veg dyes.” She also tries to “work with UK production and products so we have more awareness and control of what the materials are and who they are made by.”

To Valerie Goode of Kitty Ferreira, “the ideas of ethics and sustainability are an extension of yourself – these values come from the heart.” To her, sustainability in practice is an antithesis to fast, throw- away fashion.

As well as sourcing, Valerie produces exclusively in London. Keeping the brand’s carbon footprint as low as possible throughout the supply chain. “Sustainability not only runs through the business model but through the products themselves; manufacturing with high end finishing to promote durability and longevity,” she says.

Kitty Ferreira

For Fransisca of BHAVA, sustainability for the fashion industry at the “most basic level you’re trying to avoid materials that are trying to kill people and animals, sustain life.” She also “strives to make long lasting and high quality shoes, using as least toxic materials as I can.”

For Clare of No Such Thing, sustainability is about not wasting materials and understanding the provenance of products. It’s about having more respect for how things are made. Her work with high street companies “showed the vast disconnect between people and their stuff. Such disconnections – they’re producing crap which is going to sell, then will end up reduced in the sale, and then in landfill – constantly moving on to the next thing. It’s frightening how people don’t really think about that.”

How do designers incorporate sustainability practices in their work?

For her stylish women’s cycling gear, Clare uses organic and fair-trade certified cotton sourced from Turkey and end-of-roll or deadstock Tyvek. She also spent a lot of time seeking out non-toxic alternatives to waterproofing finishes. This is, of course, crucial to well performing cycling wear. She tries to source everything as close to her home as possible.

Before joining Sweaty Betty, Julia worked for Adidas where she had much less control over the design and product development process. At Adidas, there was a library of recycled and organic materials to choose from, though they often came at a higher cost. She was sometimes quite limited to certain price points but there was a general mentality at Adidas that doing things better was possible.

At Sweaty Betty, the company doesn’t really focus on sustainability. It’s more Julia’s personal interest than something the business actively engages with. You might think that yogi’s would be more sustainability-aware consumers, but interestingly their customer feedbacks suggests the contrary.

BHAVA is a vegan footwear brand, so Francisca never uses leather and this can be a sustainability challenge. Leather alternatives are often plastic-based and not inherently sustainable, so she looks to work with carbon-neutral manufacturers. She use organic cotton for the shoe lining. Paying attention to quality is also super important to ensure she’s making a product that lasts and won’t be thrown away easily.


Valerie from Kitty Ferreira strives to use natural, non-toxic materials and processes. She sources and produces as close to the UK as possible in order to minimise the brand’s carbon footprint. She also looks to reuse materials or to use dead stock fabrics in order to tackle waste issues.

Sally works with leather and PU, which has unique challenges that don’t apply to other materials or processes. In addition to looking for good veg-tanned leathers, she’s excited about how 3D printing could revolutionise the accessories market in future, in a way that could drastically reduce waste.

The role of the designer in the future

“Making small changes in materials we use and the way we produce could make a massive impact. People are aways looking for the next best thing. I think that people are becoming more aware of the impacts that we are having on our environment. People are also getting bored of throw-away fashion and want something that lasts a little longer,” says Sally.

Francisa Pineda sees how designers, especially independent ones who are building their brand like she is, will increasingly need to adopt strong marketing skills. Today’s internet-driven world, sharing your daily experience online is important. Designers are already seen as the spokesperson for the company. As a person, they can drive brand image. For example, if she’s in Bali at an eco resort, she should be sharing photos from her trip with her customers and community. It shows that BHAVA is more than just a product, it’s part of a lifestyle.

Clare from No Such Thing wants to see other designers better understand the implications of the decisions they make and to think about their fabric choices with sustainability in mind.

Julie from Sweaty Betty sees sports and activewear as market that’s going to keep on growing. Their customers are certainly becoming a lot more aware of their sports gear and care more about technical fabrics and the performance of their clothing. Plus, they want something that looks good too. There aren’t many brands cornering this part of the market yet and doing it well.

Julia also sees high street brands coming out with sustainably-made collections is proof that things are changing. She sees this drive happening due to consumer demand and companies’ need to offer these products. “If people could come in and ask about sustainable products and if your customers are not bothered by price, then why not?”

This article was written by Sarah Ditty, Editor-in-Chief and Stephanie Lau, Editorial Researcher from the Ethical Fashion Forum.

Read the first installment What Does Sustainability Mean To a Garment Technologist?

Activists Slam Ralph Lauren at CFDA Awards for Contributing to Deforestation

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By Lainie Lamicella

This year’s Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Fashion Awards in New York City Monday, not only recognized fashion designers, journalists and influencers, but activists who interrupted the event shed some light on one of the biggest names in fashion reportedly contributing to forest destruction.

Dressed in formal wear for the event, activists from Rainforest Action Network’s (RAN) Out of Fashion campaign, displayed a large banner and handed out balloons and business cards printed with a parody logo of the demonstration’s target, Ralph Lauren. The logo features the brand’s name in its iconic navy and tan but positioned on a circular saw. RAN is accusing the luxury brand of making clothes at the expense of deforestation and human rights abuse and is urging it to adopt new policies that commit to using only forest-friendly fabrics in its products.

“Every year, millions of trees are turned into clothing through the use of forest fabrics like rayon and viscose,” Brihannala Morgan, RAN’s senior forest campaigner, said. “This scandal has been hidden in plain sight for too long, but no more. The time has come for the fashion industry, and in particular Ralph Lauren, to take responsibility for its impacts on people and the planet and to publicly adopt binding policies that prevent deforestation, human rights abuses and climate pollution from being woven into the fabrics Americans wear everyday.”

Morgan added, “There are some brands that are taking action on this issue, like H&M and Stella McCartney, but Ralph Lauren isn’t one of them, and there’s just no excuse. As one of the biggest fashion brands in the world, Ralph Lauren has the ability and resources to ensure that human rights abuses and forest destruction won’t be a part of their next collection.”

In addition to their live protest at the awards, RAN also called out Ralph Lauren over Twitter.Screen-Shot-2015-06-02-at-12.55.11-PM Many supporters of the organization’s campaign chimed in as well.

Screen-Shot-2015-06-02-at-12.55.31-PMRalph Lauren is just one of the brands among the “Fashion 15” group of companies RAN is urging to take responsibility for their supply chains, including Prada, LVMH, Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Vince, Guess, Velvet, L Brands, Forever 21, Under Armour, Footlocker, Abercrombie and Fitch, GAIAM and Beyond Yoga. RAN said it wants the brands to identify negative manufacturing components and develop commitments to protecting forests and human rights.

** This post first appeared on Sourcing Journal here.

Fast vs. Slow : Finding Middle Ground in Sustainability

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By Catherine Salfino


In a world where demanding consumers want everything faster, the term fast fashion has taken on a less than desirable connotation: big conglomerates using unfair labor practices to sell inexpensive, poorly made product. Contrast that with independent makers who champion the idea of producing smaller batches of apparel from better materials, using fairly treated skilled laborers. While plenty of fashion is still made fast and cheap, more of the big players are switching to the middle lane, looking for better materials, fair labor, and increased quality. And this is something consumers appreciate.

Kathleen Fasanella, founder of Apparel Technical Services and author of The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing, says in the past, fast fashion simply referred to efficiently produced apparel.

“It wasn’t a value proposition of presumed defective or lower ‘quality’ items as it is now,” she says. “Fast fashion can use better quality materials, better craftsmanship, and fair labor. We cannot assume they’re not doing it now — I know people who are. However, this raises the contradiction in thinking that anything produced quickly as being ‘fast’ fashion. We must decide if ‘fast’ means speedy crap or just speedy. Conversely, a lot of people are doing things slowly because they’re inexperienced and inefficient; not because they’re better.”

Whether it’s made fast or slowly, consumers are becoming more aware of sustainably produced apparel. Although slightly less than 4 in 10 consumers (38%) say they actually put effort into finding environmentally friendly clothing for themselves, and that is up from 33% who did so in 2013, according to the Cotton Incorporated 2014 Environment Survey. However, nearly 7 of 10 shoppers (69%) would be bothered if they found out an apparel item they purchased was not environmentally friendly.


Additionally, if consumers purchased an apparel item that was not produced in an eco-sensitive way, Cotton Incorporated’s 2014 Environment Survey research shows 4 in 10 (39%) would blame the manufacturer, followed by the brand (15%), and themselves (12%).

That’s why some of the big names in fashion — be they fast or traditional — have taken a pro-active approach to improve their environmental footprint.

Levi’s has implemented sustainability measures for decades. Its most recent programs include the 2013 introduction of the Dockers Wellthread collection of socially and environmentally sustainable apparel, as well as its Water<Less jeans, which use less water in the finishing process.

Meanwhile, fast fashion maker H&M has teamed with Solidaridad to improve environmental conditions in the supply chain. Together they developed a cleaner production program in China titled “Better Mill Initiative,” which supports cleaner dyeing and printing during wet textile processing. Zara’s parent company Inditex has a Green Code to improve environmental policies during production. Its “zero discharge pledge” serves as a guide on the use of chemicals for manufacturing. And retailing giant Walmart even has its own sustainability index that covers more than 700 product categories.

Of course, even with these programs, work remains to be done within the industry. The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has called on 15 major retailers and brands, including Forever 21, Abercrombie & Fitch, Ralph Lauren, and Michael Kors, to help stop the destruction of forests. Around the world, RAN states, forests are cut down to cultivate monocrop tree plantations, whose dissolving pulp is used in a toxic slurry to create manmade fabrics like viscose and rayon.

Unlike viscose and rayon, cotton is a renewable, natural fiber that does not undergo chemical processing to becoming a fabric. On the contrary, an independent research report from Field to Market, the Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, shows the environmental impact of producing a pound of U.S. cotton has fallen substantially over the past three decades. Through modern seed technology, conservation tillage practices, advanced scientific research, and machinery and equipment practices, there’s been a 75% decline in irrigation water used per pound of cotton produced. Furthermore, monitoring by land grant universities in the U.S. found a 50% reduction in pesticide applications has occurred at the same time USDA data shows. Fiber production has doubled without expanding acreage.

Such advances help maintain the positive sentiment consumers have toward cotton. More than 9 in 10 consumers (92%) continue to say they find cotton to be safe for the environment. In fact, consumers rate cotton and other natural fibers like wool and silk (81%) significantly higher in environmental safety than manmade fibers like polyester (60%), and rayon (59%). Additionally, 77% say the claim of 100 percent cotton would be influential to their apparel purchases, followed by Made in the USA (68%), natural (61%), and sustainable (57%).

This natural textile has benefitted from the work and research of Cotton Incorporated, which represents U.S. cotton growers and importers. Cotton Incorporated also collaborates on research with other organizations like the Better Cotton Initiative, whose aim is to make cotton more sustainable by reducing water inputs and promoting more sustainable growing techniques, as well as The Sustainability Consortium and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

Of course, cotton works for both fast and slow fashion. When eco-conscious online brand Zady recently introduced its .02 The T-Shirt, it released an infographic pointing out that cotton apparel can last a lifetime yet, once disposed of, can decompose in less than a year. This, as opposed to synthetic fibers, which Zady says can take 200 years to break down.

Rather than choosing fast over or slow or vice versa, Fasanella says all producers should be more efficient in all aspects.

“There’s room for everyone.”

**This article first appeared on Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor here.