sustainability

For a True War on Waste, the Fashion Industry Must Spend More on Research

Posted on Updated on

by Mark Liu

The rise of fast fashion in Australia means 6000 kg of clothing is dumped in landfill every 10 minutes. The ABC’s War On Waste visualised this statistic by piling a giant mound of clothing waste in the middle of the city. So what to do about it?

A scene from the ABC’s War on Waste. ABC

Sustainable fashion experts advocate abstaining from buying fast fashion, promoting clothing swaps and repairing old clothing. Others suggest buying organic and ethically-sourced clothes or designing clothing using zero waste techniques. The hope is that greater transparency in supply chains will lead to an end to sweatshops and unsustainable fashion practices.

These are admirable initiatives, but they only reduce wastage or delay garments from ending up in landfill. They do not address the fact that the scale of fast fashion is so massive it can easily eclipse other sustainability initiatives. Nor do they address the wastefulness of existing technologies and the urgent need to research new ones.

Even if we could magically stop the global production of all garments, we would still need new, green technology to clean up the waste we have already created. There are long-term strategies for green technologies such as electric cars, but where are the major companies and research institutes developing the next generation of sustainable fashion technologies? The development of new synthetic biology technologies may be the key.

From catwalk to research

I would like to share my journey from zero waste fashion design pioneer to trans-disciplinary fashion researcher to highlight the challenges faced by sustainable fashion and the need for more research.

Ten years ago, I presented my “Zero-Waste” Fashion collection at London Fashion Week. I and other sustainable designers at the time took the waste streams of other industries such as scrap materials and leftover fabric and created our collections from them. I was selected for “Estethica”, a new initiative created by sustainable fashion gurus Orsola De Castro, Filippo Ricci and Anna Orsini from the British Fashion Council. Sustainable fashion was shown on London catwalks next to luxury fashion – a revolutionary step for the time.

I pioneered a way of creating tailored, high fashion garments so that all the pieces of a garment fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle and no waste was created. Conventional pattern cutting creates about 15% wastage of material, even if the pattern has been optimised by a computer. I wanted to systemically change the way clothing was made.

To design a garment with zero waste requires new patternmaking techniques, based on advanced mathematics. Author provided

But the problem with zero-waste design is that it is very difficult to create. It requires a skilled designer to simultaneously imagine the garment as a 3D item and a flat pattern, while trying to fit the pieces together like a jigsaw. It is easy to make an unfitted or baggy garment, but creating something that looks good and fits the body was a real challenge.

Even after all these years, most contemporary zero-waste fashion is still not tailored to the body. I practised this technique for years to master it. It required breaking all the rules of conventional pattern-making and creating new techniques based on advanced mathematics.

These were exciting times. Our fabrics were organic, we made everything locally and ensured everyone was paid an ethical wage. The press loved our story. But problems started to emerge when it came to sales. We had to sell more expensive garments, using a smaller range of fabrics – our materials and labour costs were higher than those of companies that produced overseas. Often fashion buyers would say they loved what we did, but after looking at the price tag would politely take their business elsewhere.

As a sustainable fashion designer, my impact was limited. It was also impossible to teach zero-waste fashion design without explaining how advanced mathematics applied to it. It was time to try a new approach, so I decided to apply science and maths to traditional fashion techniques.

My PhD research explored the underlying geometry of fashion pattern-making. Combining fashion with science allowed the traditional techniques and artistry of making garments to be explained and communicated to scientist and engineers.

Consumers have embraced fast fashion. Shutterstock

In the meantime, fast fashion companies rapidly expanded, with Zara, Topshop and H&M reaching Australia by 2011. They produced massive amounts of cheap products making low margins on each garment. Consumers quickly became addicted to the instant gratification of this retail experience. The size and scale of their production produced hundreds of tonnes of garments every day.

The limits of fashion technology

Fast fashion companies such as H&M have developed recycling initiatives in which consumers can exchange old clothing for discount vouchers. This is supposed to prevent clothing from going to landfill, instead recycling it into new clothing.

However, there are those who are sceptical of H&M’s recycling process. In 2016, investigative journalist Lucy Siegle crunched the numbers and concluded that “it appears it would take 12 years for H&M to use up 1,000 tons of fashion waste”. This, she said, was the amount of clothing they produce in about 48 hours.

A 2016 H&M sustainability report reveals that only 0.7% of their clothes are actually made from recycled or other sustainably-sourced materials. In the report, H&M acknowledges :

Today, this is not possible because the technology for recycling is limited. For this reason, the share of recycled materials in our products is still relatively small.

In fact, their 2016 annual report states that more research is needed:

if a greater proportion of recycled fibres is to be added to the garments without compromising quality, and also to be able to separate fibres contained in mixed materials.

Sustainable technologies strive for a “circular economy”, in which materials can be infinitely recycled. Yet this technology is only in its infancy and needs much more research funding. H&M’s Global Change Award funds five start-up companies with a total of 1 million Euros for new solutions. Contrast this with the millions required by the most basic Silicon Valley start-ups or billions for major green technology companies such as Tesla or SolarCity. There is a dire need for disruptive new fashion technology.

Many of the promising new technologies require getting bacteria or fungi to grow or biodegrade the fabrics for us – this is a shift to researching the fundamental technologies behind fashion items.

For example, it takes 2700L of water and over 120 days to grow enough cotton to make a T-shirt. However, in nature, bacteria such as “acetobacter xylinum” can grow a sheet of cellulose in hours. Clothing grown from bacteria has been pioneered by Dr Suzanne Lee. If a breakthrough can be made so that commercially grown cotton can be grown from bacteria, it may be possible to replace cotton fields with more efficient bacteria vats.

But why just stick with cotton? Fabrics can be generated from milk, seaweed, crab shells, banana waste or coconut waste. Companies such as Ecovate can feed fabric fibres to mushroom spore called mycelium to create bioplastics or biodegradable packaging for companies such as Dell. Adidas has 3D printed a biodegradable shoe from spider silk developed by AM silk.

Although I began my journey as a fashion designer, a new generation of materials and technologies has pulled me from the catwalk into the science lab. To address these complex issues, collaboration between designers, scientist, engineers and business people has become essential.

To clean up the past and address the waste problems of the future, further investment in fashion technology is urgently needed.

*This story first appeared on The Conversation

Advertisements

Young Consumers Are Essential in the Fight Against Fast Fashion

Posted on Updated on

Millennial consumers have started to question how their clothes are made but consumers of all ages need to do more to tackle fashion labor abuses, according to a British lawmaker and sustainable fashion campaigner. Baroness Lola Young said young people are increasingly engaged with political and economic issues and willing to fight on social causes – and labor abuses in the garment industry were no exception.

Young said harnessing this energy was vital to revolutionize the fashion industry which has come under pressure since more than 1,100 workers died in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013. “A lot of young people are very concerned about a whole range of social justice issues and therefore are quite willing to go into the fray when they know what is going on,” said Young, who founded an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion.

She further states that transforming consumer behavior in the West and changing the model of the “throwaway disposable society” is an important way to tackle labor abuses, particularly in the fast fashion sector.

Many big fashion brands have been criticized for failing to improve the conditions for workers in their global supply chains – from poor health and safety standards and long working hours to low pay and bans on forming trade unions.

The Way Forward

According to Young, while young people could often not afford more expensive clothing, she hoped exchange ventures at retailers such as Sweden’s H&M – where customers return old clothes for recycling in return for vouchers – could show a new way forward. She said they are also getting more engaged even as many have concerns over a period of global instability.

“Paradoxically, what feels like current political volatility has made some people sit up and think: ‘What are we doing here? We’ve got to take more control over what’s happening in this world and fight some of these injustices much more openly,'” Young said in an interview. She said different sectors of the fashion industry – from fast fashion to haute couture – had different challenges and will have to take different approaches to the problems.

Yet Young added that fully addressing the issues surrounding the supply chain was a “big ask” for the industry as “we need to look again fundamentally at how the garment industry works.” She further noted, “You really need to look at your business models because they’re not delivering this ethical industry that many of us would like to see.”

Young said that while Western awareness of the issues has grown recently, many people still do not think about where their clothes come from until their attention is drawn by a large-scale event such as the Rana Plaza disaster. Young said one of most effective ways to tackle the problems would be to support organizations working on the ground to implement an effective monitoring system that would empower workers and enable them to fight for better conditions.

She emphasized the urgency of tackling these issues. “Time is running out in relation to the environment, time is running in terms of the dreadful impact that it’s having on various communities and individuals around the world. So you’ve got to get on and do something really really quickly,” she said.

*This story first appeared on The Fashion Law

look8-look8.st
Image: Zara

 

Patagonia’s Business Manifesto Still Ahead Of Its Time 10 Years Later

Posted on Updated on

Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario talks about Yvon Chouinard’s Let My People Go Surfing, and how it continues to shape the brand’s future.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sustainable business practices, corporate transparency, authentic brand marketing, family-friendly and flexible employee policies—flip through the business pages of any paper or magazine, or conference panel discussions, and you’ll find these are all de rigueur right now among progressive brands and companies looking for ways to connect with and retain both consumers and employees. They’re also all things Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard wrote extensively about more than a decade ago in his 2006 business memoir, Let My People Go Surfing.

The small iron works and climbing equipment shop Chouinard founded in 1957 has since expanded into a global brand, reaching more than $750 million in sales, and since current CEO Rose Marcario’s arrival in 2008 as CFO, a compound annual growth rate of 14%, and profits have tripled. Perhaps confounding to some, the company has done this while maintaining a strict commitment to sustainablility in its products and supply chain—whether its using 100% organic cotton and creating neoprene-free surfing wetsuits, to a marketing campaign encouraging people to buy less of its products. Though the company’s core philosophies remain the same, Chouinard has published a 10th anniversary update of his book to “share what we have done in the last decade and what we plan to do in the decade ahead to achieve our goals.”

Chouinard is the founder and owner of Patagonia, and still very much involved in the company, but it’s Marcario who is tasked with reconciling these core philosophies with the company’s day-to-day business. She says one of the biggest challenges is scaling some of the company’s goals, particularly in supply chain management and product development.

“The challenges with what we’re doing, as a global, multichannel brand, are always in the supply chain and product design and development, and seeking out materials, processes, and infrastructure that does have less of an impact on the planet, whether that’s around water, energy, toxicity, or waste,” says Marcario. “What ends up being a major challenge is scaling and building out the infrastructure. I’m really proud of what we’ve done around e-fibers and recycled polyester, but I look at organic cotton and only 2% of the world’s cotton is organic, and I wish we could move the needle more on that. It’s what’s destroying the pollinators, biodiversity, soil health, all these issues. So there are a lot of challenges with getting scale, and in the future we need to do a better job collaborating and helping get to scale for some of these innovations that we invest a lot of time in. But if we can get scale, then you really can change the world.”

While many corporate leaders may see Chouinard’s prescription for corporate responsibility as unrealistic, Marcario can relate. When she first joined the company as CFO in 2008, she too was skeptical of how much the company’s brand image was part of its operations. “In that role you really get behind the scenes to see what’s really going on,” she says. “And I was skeptical, honestly, and what I found was that there was so much more going on than even I had heard as a consumer and someone aware of but outside the brand.”

That Patagonia had its best year ever last year is perhaps the most significant counter argument to skeptics. “The fact we are a successful business, competing in our industry with much bigger and more capitalized players is really the proof that the values and mission of the company are a powerful and important tool, and a model for how business can and should be done in the 21st century, or we’re not going to have a planet to live on, with clean air to breath, or clean water, or healthy soil,” she says.

If it’s not the moral compass that points other brands to think a bit harder about Chouinard’s philosophies, perhaps consumer sentiment will prove more persuasive. Over the last decade, people around the world have become more aware of corporate sustainability and transparency issues, and using their wallets to show it. As Coca-Cola’s environmental initiatives and Unilever’s “Sustainable Living Plan” can attest, corporations have launched (and promoted) broader strategies to make their businesses better reflect this shift in attitudes. Nielsen’s Global Corporate Sustainability Report said earlier this year that sales of consumer goods from brands with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability have grown more than 4% globally, while those without grew less than 1%. In Hong Kong, for example, 49% of respondents said they’re willing to pay more for sustainable goods, up from 42% in 2014.

3063438-inline-s-12-ten-years-later-patagonias-business-manifesto-still-ahead-of-its-time
“One of my favorite photos of pile in use,” says Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard.[Photo: Gary Bigham]
Marcario says that consumer demand is changing, as evidenced in food and organics, with large chain grocery stores stocking shelves with organic goods at levels much higher than just a decade ago. And that change has been boosted by young people and technology.

“I also think there is a generational shift going on, which is impacting and putting pressure on the entrenched status quo,” says Marcario. “We’re seeing younger people pushing for accountability and change, and that’s been a really important aspect of influencing corporations that have been really slow to act up until this point. Or they’ve just been acting in a very limited way, like producing a line of three shirts from organic cotton, yet 98% of what they do is conventional. I think corporations are also being held more accountable partly due to the changes in technology, transparency, the speed of media, and these things are very positive for the environmental movement.”

3063438-inline-s-9-ten-years-later-patagonias-business-manifesto-still-ahead-of-its-time
Worn Wear Tour 2015, Smith Rock State Park, Oregon[Photo: Donnie Hedden]
In his chapter on Patagonia’s marketing philosophy, Chouinard says that Patagonia’s image stems from its complete lack of an advertising formula. “Without a formula, the only way to sustain an image is to live up to it,” he writes. “Our image is a direct reflection of who we are and what we believe.”

Increasingly, the company has turned to branded content and, specifically, documentary films, to convey its message while bolstering that image. Traditionally, the brand had done its storytelling through essays and articles published in its catalog, but now with films like Damnation, Jumbo Wild, The Fisherman’s Son, and most recently Unbroken Ground, available online and some even on Netflix, the potential for impact and reach is much greater.

3063438-inline-s-2-ten-years-later-patagonias-business-manifesto-still-ahead-of-its-time-1
Genetically distinct coastal wolves feeding on herring eggs, north coast of British Columbia.[Photo: Ian McAllister]
According to Marcario, these films have helped its level of engagement jump by triple digits, and the brand plans to continue using film as a creative way to spread the philosophies outlined in Chouinard’s book.

“The films are also kind of models and activist tools, because there has to be some counterpoint to the hundreds of millions of dollars of lobbying and advertising paid for by giant corporations that are poisoning the earth,” says Marcario. “If we can do that in even a small way, we’re reaching more people. We’ve had our catalogs, books like this, and now these films, and we’ll use every arrow in our quiver to help fight the environmental crisis. I see tremendous energy and urgency in the company to double down on these things, and we have to operate on a guerrilla marketing way because we don’t have the budgets big companies do. But the foundation is all in the book. The company history is the same, but the new version has been updated and it’s a great read for anyone interested in creating a responsible company.”

*This story first appeared on Co.Create

What Does Sustainability Mean To a Garment Technologist?

Posted on Updated on

Last month Ethical Fashion Forum launched a new series looking at what sustainability means to different job roles within the fashion industry. In this first instalment, read from three garment technologists, from niche to high street brands about what they do.

Garment technology is an exciting role because it involves so many different areas of the business, linking the supply chain right through to the retailers and end customers. It’s also quite a creative role, responsible for developing fabrics that can deliver the design team’s vision as well as suit customers’ wants and needs.

Here, we get insights from two people working for a well-known British high street brand (doing more than £550 million in annual sales) and Ruth Valiant, from the popular Fair Trade fashion label, People Tree.

What do garment technologists do?

Garment technologists are tasked with working with suppliers both at home and overseas to develop products to a certain specification, this may involve travelling to visit factories and working closely with colleagues based in producing countries.

As the Head of Technical, this role might also entail aligning the brand and technical strategy. This role will need to deliver on the the brand’s long-term (eg. 3 year) and seasonal plans, trying to keep the technical aspects of product development cost effective as much as possible. This role is also responsible for managing a team of product technologists, freelancers and other support staff – one of our interviewees manages a team of 22.

For Ruth at People Tree, her role as Garment Technologist also entails a lot of training: “Some of our producers started as handicraft producers so I have been involved a lot in capacity building. We hold workshops in Bangladesh where all producers get together to learn new procedures and share their experiences.”

How do garment technologists view sustainability?

Sustainability and ethical issues are particularly relevant to garment technologists as they work most closely with suppliers and factories. This role has significant influence in choosing suppliers that respect workers rights and the environment. Though garment techs also need to balance these concerns with commercials goals and this can sometimes prove to be a huge challenge.

In the well-known high street brand, mapping the supply chain helps them to tackle some ethical issues. This means they can understand where products are coming from, who exactly is making them and that they’re always working with approved factories (rather than secret sub-contractors). The company aims to move further down the tiers of their supply chain, mapping not only the cut-make-and-trim factories but also the fabrics and inputs too.

It helps when social and environmental values are built into the brand’s DNA. Even at the high street retailer, the garment techs we spoke to believed this was important. In fact it is part of the job interview process and new employee induction process. Job applicants are asked about their values and reasons for working at the brand, and those who have a social mission are deemed a better fit.

The garment technologists we interviewed from the high street believe that sustainability is about custodianship of both product and the supply chain. It requires having the right knowledge and operating with a conscience. The challenge is how to maintain ethics and still deliver commercially.

For Ruth at People Tree, it’s obvious that social and environmental issues are at the heart of everything they do. People Tree was the first ever Fair Trade certified fashion label and today the brand is one of the most recognised ethical fashion pioneers.

Those who work at People Tree do so in part because of how much they believe that sustainability and ethics are important for the fashion industry.

Ruth explains: “Sustainability to me is about the whole supply chain, from sourcing the yarn to sending production by sea shipment. You need to build up a good relationship with all your suppliers so that they understand the importance of what you are trying to achieve and are like-minded in their approach.”

People Tree x Zandra Rhodes modelled by brand ambassador Rebecca Pearson

How do garment technologists tackle social and environmental issues in their day-to-day role?

Ruth’s role as garment technologist is comprehensive, starting from the very beginning of the supply chain: “We work with the cotton growers to decide what count of yarn we require before it is even planted so that they can guarantee sales to the farmers. We look at using natural trims such as buttons made in coconut, corozo, shell and horn. Handcrafted skills are sustainable as they only use man power, of which there is so much need of in the countries we work in.” People Tree takes a truly holistic view on its practices and how social and environmental impacts are considered with each step.

The high street brand takes a strategy more focused on compliance according to the Ethical Trading Initiative standards, which sets out minimum requirements relating to working conditions, pay and employment rights. This involves regular visits to factories and other production facilities. It also involves working with external auditors and some unannounced visits with the aim of capturing an honest picture of suppliers’ day-to-day practices.

The team works closely in partnership with its factories and suppliers to solve any difficult issues that do arise. The company offers its suppliers support and solutions to change non-compliant practices wherever possible, and if that doesn’t work, they stop working with that particular supplier. These are issues that would have a significant impact on the garment technologist’s day-to-day tasks.

In this company’s particular experience, the better a supplier is on social and environmental issues, the better they tend to be on delivering high-quality work with much less rejections. So in fact, it’s better for their bottom line in the medium to long-term.

People Tree follows the 10 principles of the World Fair Trade Foundation and works with suppliers who do as well.

People Tree

Focus on fabrics

It’s not just about relationships with suppliers, product technologists are also the ones who focus most on the technical aspects of the fabrics.

At People Tree, Ruth tells us: “It is the core of our mission to research and choose natural processes, fabrics and trims that are GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified. We also work with hand woven and hand dyed fabrics in Bangladesh, alongside other traditional skills such as hand knitting in Nepal and hand embroidery in Bangladesh. Due to the work by hand every piece is unique, but must pass quality and fabric testing standards.”

At the high street brand, there is a focus on using natural fibres, especially indigenous cottons from India and China. This brand is very well known for its prints and embellishments, a space in which they find that “artisan tech” is most exciting – especially tie dye and embroidery.

One of the technologists we spoke to from the high street brand also said she loves working with silk and yarn-dyed cloths because of “the hand feel and appearance of silk is so rich and yarn dyes can be very textural and creative.”

Ruth from People Tree agrees that “hand woven is very interesting due to the weaves and beauty of seeing a fabric made by hand, it is a skill that is dying out in many countries.”

Ruth also notes that “fabrics have developed and there are many new recycled and eco fabrics, finishes and printing techniques are developing all the time… and we look to use up any left over fabrics for accessories and use natural fabrics and trims.”

How will garment tech’s role change in future?

The role of garment technologist has changed over the last ten years thanks to globalisation. Fashion brands and retailers now source from countries all over the world. They also sell globally too. The whole value chain has become globalised.

One garment tech predicted that there will be “more of the same” way of working for a while but “ethics will come to the fore.” They do see the industry as changing. How this is reconciled with commercial goals will be interesting, especially for garment techs.

She believed that this is going to mean that retailers will have to work together – at the moment the industry is still very “cut-throat”. There may have to be some “levelling of the playing field.” This is where government will need to come in. She felt that at the policy level, there isn’t yet a clear message on these issues for fashion businesses, but a clarified political agenda would help improve the situation. Customers will also need to be more educated around these issues, helping to increase demand for ethically, sustainably made products.

People Tree works hard to inform their customers and make them aware of what People Tree is doing and what still needs to be done. Though Ruth agrees that ethics and sustainability in fashion “need to be taken on by governments and multi nationals to have a real effect… before it is too late.”

This article was written by Sarah Ditty, Editor-in-Chief and Stephanie Lau, Editorial Researcher.

**This story first appeared on Ethical Fashion Forum here.

Under New Direction, Parsons Puts Sustainability First

Posted on

By Kati Chitrakorn

Set to join Parsons as the new dean of fashion, Burak Cakmak speaks to BoF about his vision for one of world’s most distinguished creative incubators.

index

NEW YORK, United States — Parsons School of Design at the New School is known the world over as the former academic home of Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui and Alexander Wang. This month, the New York-based design school is welcoming a major new addition to its faculty: Burak Cakmak, who joins as dean of fashion.

Selected from 200 applicants by the executive dean of Parsons, Joel Towers, this is Cakmak’s first foray into academia. Succeeding Simon Collins, who stepped down in December after a six year career, Cakmak will be responsible for overseeing a number of courses: the BFA in Fashion Design, AAS degree programs in Fashion Design and Fashion Marketing, and the MFA in Fashion Design and Society.

Cakmak’s career in the fashion industry began at Gap Inc. in 2000, where he served as the senior manager of social responsibility for eight years. Cakmak moved to London in 2008, where he was hired to spearhead sustainability strategies for Kering’s luxury brands, including Gucci, Stella McCartney and Bottega Veneta, as the first director of corporate sustainability. Most recently, Cakmak was vice president of corporate responsibility at the Swarovski Group, where he implemented best practice industry standards across the business.

Given Cakmak’s 15-year-strong background in sustainable design, one of the key initiatives he is bringing to the school is a focus on sustainability.

“When I was at Gap Inc., it was the largest specialty retailer in the world. Because of that, there was pressure from the rest of the world for us to act responsibly. We had to think about how we were managing suppliers and look beyond boundaries in design and production that we normally control,” says Cakmak. “Then, I was hired at Kering to implement the concept [of sustainability] in their businesses. I understood how sustainability worked for a global fast fashion retailer, but at Kering, I had to re-think about what it meant for the luxury business.”

There’s a recognised need for sustainability. You can’t make excuses like ‘It’s not within my control,’ or ‘I didn’t know about it.’

It is Cakmak’s real world learning (“I went from factory to factory to understand how things were produced, what the issues were and figuring out how we could deal with that,” he says) that has informed his knowledge on the complexities of the business, which he intends to apply to his leadership at Parsons.

“There’s a recognised need for sustainability, especially if you’re a large business. We’re at a point where there’s nowhere to hide. You can’t make excuses like ‘It’s not within my control,’ or ‘I didn’t know about it.’ There’s an expectation for all businesses to own up to their responsibilities and they have to go beyond that,” says Cakmak. “What has been positively surprising to me is how much Parsons cares about the topic of sustainability. They try to implement this across the board and in every part of their education.”

It’s a topic that the students are keen to enrich their knowledge on, too. In a survey of more than 4,000 students conducted as part of BoF’s inaugural Global Fashion School Rankings, only 44 percent were satisfied with the standards of education on sustainability offered by fashion institutions. At Parsons, only 41 percent of students and alumni reported that they were satisfied.

Cakmak is set to address this growing need. “It’s a new set of rules that the industry operates in, so it’s important for design students to understand the challenges they will face as they grow, especially once they start producing more than a few hundred pieces,” he says.

Among the qualities Cakmak hopes to impress upon his students is the virtue of diplomacy and how it can be used to affect smart decision-making. “Diplomacy plays a key role in being able to draw up ideas and values. As a leader, you have to be able to convey a message that is aligned with people’s interests and objectives. Even if they’re not fully aligned, it’s about making sure it’s as much of a priority as other priorities, so that things can move forward.”

“I’ve begun speaking to several schools on how we can work together to better define fashion education on a global level,” continues Cakmak. “I’m looking beyond just creating a product. It’s about your overall influence on society and how we can work together to address some of the ongoing challenges today.”

According to Cakmak, it’s important to instil virtuous values in his students given that they have the potential to affect change, whether that means taking a role at a large company or starting their own business. “Graduates play a key role in driving the fashion business. They have the biggest opportunity to do things differently, because, unlike large companies and brands, they’re not constrained by their existing environments,” he says. “This is when we are able to really influence a designer, because once they get into the industry, it’s harder to make those changes.”

What do you think constitutes a high quality, rewarding fashion education? To view the full Special Report on the State of Fashion Education, including the first Global Fashion School Rankings, click here.

**This story first appeared on Business of Fashion here.

Read another story on the same subject here.

SAC launches new pilot modules

Posted on Updated on

SAN FRANCISCO – The SAC has launched two new pilot modules designed to assess the environmental and social sustainability of apparel retailers. The new ‘Environmental Retailer Module’ and ‘Social/Labour Retailer Module’ build on the broader package of Higg tools that track and benchmark brand, product and manufacturing, and complement the existing Higg modules.

Read full article on Ecotextile.com here.

Fast vs. Slow : Finding Middle Ground in Sustainability

Posted on Updated on

By Catherine Salfino

052815_Header

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.

index

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.