Why is it that sustainability seems to suit one business area well, but is rejected in another?
Organic food is a winner, organic clothes – not so much. Is it an issue of quality, brand management or communication?
The dirty little secrets of fast fashion
We have good reasons for addressing sustainability in fashion and apparel. Here are some hard facts that are not so glamorous:
- Each one of us causes emissions of 300kg CO2 equivalent per year, just by getting dressed, which makes clothing the fourth largest source to climate gas emissions from private consumption, after housing, travelling and eating.
- Between 2000-2010 our consumption of clothing increased by 47 percent.
- When you pick up and put on a new pair of jeans, you are the end consumer of 10,000 litres of water used in the production process. If you choose a cotton t-shirt as a top, you add 4,100 litres. It’s ‘virtual water’, because you can’t see it. The water was used in the cotton fields, in dying, and the industrial processing of the fabric.
When you pick up and put on a new pair of jeans, you are the end consumer of 10,000 litres of water used in the production process.
- Nanoparticles and toxic chemicals are frequently used.
- It takes around 1kg of chemicals to produce an ordinary t-shirt.
- Cotton is a pesticide-intense crop – production uses 2 percent of global farmland but more than 10 percent of the pesticides.
- Several of the chemicals used in South East Asia are hazardous and banned in the EU.
This Greenpeace banner says ‘Beautiful fashion, ugly lies? – Inferring disclosure on toxic chemicals in the luxury industry. The ad ‘decorated’ Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele during the February Fashion week 2014.
Shaping the next big step in clothing history
The search for new ways of producing organic garments has resulted in a number of very exciting innovations.
‘The next black’ is a coalition between brands, designers and scientists, that want to take sustainable clothing to the streets with new methods in technology, design and PR.
The designer group Studio XO in North London, uses 3D printing and bioengineering to merge technology and fashion, and the business proved to be working when Lady Gaga, wore their collection in 2010.
With a green tea solution and bacteria, the research project BioCouture creates material that can be shaped and formed into wearable garments.
Also recognising the trend, Aquafil, European textile and fibres provider to the fashion industry, with a 40 percent market share, recently announced they now offer recyclable nylon.
All these three examples provide an end product that is 100 percent organic and compostable – recognised as the key outcome in the trending circular economy model.
Encouraging consumers to buy the collections however, seems to be the challenge for the brands leading the way. Work has started but we’re still at the very beginning of making organic the new black. The industry needs more credible role models which challenge our approach towards fashion, apparel and sustainability.
In short, making organic the new black in fashion is an issue of quality, brand management and communication!
Three tips for making organic the new black
1. Be a risk taker – Be ready to experiment publicly, even if it doesn’t always lead to success.
2. Tell the story – Acknowledge imperfections and talk openly about ambitions and goals. Your policy is your story – Make it a good one!
3. Give your customers a ‘receipt’ – tell them how they are making a difference.