For an industry seasoned to change, delivering sustainability is slow.
A decade ago, the Greenshowroom took over six suites at the five-star Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin to showcase fourteen “Öko-Luxus” (eco-luxury) fashion and lifestyle product designers. Fast forward to 2019, the show-room has grown into a trade-show with 170 exhibitors from 20 countries filling up the gargantuan ex-power station turned events venue, Kraftwerk. Neonyt, as it is now known, is a global hub for fashion, sustainability and innovation, complete with a runway show, networking events, workshops, and since January 2018, the Fashionsustain conference.
Many of the technical innovations presented at this two-day bumper edition, were covered in last season’s report – for everything else, read on.
Less conversation. More action.
A sentiment echoed across the talks, was that there’s too much of it. “People in the industry are tired of this discussion,” expressed Franziska Dormann of GOTS, as Pawel Bronski CEO of Strima quoted Goethe: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply,” while Magdalena Schaffrin, creative director of Neonyt, admitted she doesn’t feel nearly as optimistic about sustainable fashion as she did when she started the Greenshowroom. So what is holding the industry back?
Firstly, sustainability is a hugely complex issue, many factors come into play and there isn’t a simple one-size-fits-all solution. As an example discussed in the first panel on plastic and fashion: creating recycled polyester out of ocean plastic is a great way to tackle and repurpose waste, however, it will still shed microfibres. These mixed messages twinned with corporate greenwashing and daily doomsday rhetoric is bewildering for producers and consumers alike.
Rules and Regulations
In order to set the record straight and confront the sustainability issue head on, it was unanimously agreed that governments and regulatory bodies need to get more involved. Frequently brought up was how Sweden is using tax incentives to encourage repairs, as well as France’s proposed ban on destroying unsold goods. Yet, as Steven Bethell, founder of Beyond Retro, reminded us: “The tools are there, don’t wait for government regulations.” Nor should we rely on the consumer, younger generations, brands, technology or Mother Nature to change things – we are all in it together.
Power to the People
Consumers will have to realise that the most sustainable garment is the one they already own. “Shop ‘til you drop” needs to be replaced with “wear ’til threadbare”and for those who can’t give up the fashion addiction, government-imposed rationing might be more their style. Like all living things, most people have a natural inclination for choosing the path of least resistance, so until personally affected, it’s hard to close the value-action gap.
The global strikes for climate led by Greta Thunberg, therefore, clearly demonstrate that a younger generation are fearing the destruction of the planet; meanwhile incidents like the Burberry burning scandal, Orsola de Castro founder of Fashion Revolution proposed, may have also got people thinking: “Things I save up for literally have no value for the brand.” Brands can’t exist without the customer, so although boycotts and voting with your wallet might seem like a drop in the ocean, if enough people rally around, it can make a difference (case in point: Ivanka Trump’s clothing line).
Besides a coterie of sustainability enthusiasts “people don’t buy clothes to support the environment, they buy clothes for emotional reasons,” spelt out SabinnaRachimova, while Sarah Maria Schmidt of the Beneficial Design Institute affirmed that brands need to put human needs at the heart of the design process. Quite telling was the generational divide when it came to the “stigma” of sustainable fashion – but a quick look at the Neonyt runway show confirms that “granola style” is well and truly a thing of the past.
Industry events are breeding grounds for echo chambers, so featuring speakers from fields that aren’t so obviously connected to fashion or textiles – namely football merchandise, menstrual hygiene and big data – was particularly refreshing and enlightening. FC St Pauli, for instance, are making it easy for their fans to be green by not giving them the choice between a sustainable football jersey and one that isn’t; an approach that many fashion brands could do well to adopt.
Visions for the Future
In an ideal world, we will all wear what we want, made out of materials that cause minimal environmental impact and everyone gets paid fairly. With the 3D and sizing technology available today, brands could already be designing and taking individual orders virtually, which could then one day be made up in a local micro-factory. This will do away with shipping and considerable packaging, as well as excess stock, warehouses and markdowns. Waste is a design flaw, and companies must look at the long-term benefits of investing in resource-saving solutions.
One thing for certain is that change is incremental and doesn’t happen overnight. When brands are churning out ever more product, upcycling and recycling might feel like a waste of time, but all efforts must be considered – what may play a minor part today, could well be what sustains fashion tomorrow.