06 Oct Fashion Trends & Sustainability: Creating demand and changing perceptions
An expert in sustainable fashion and textile circularity, Myriam Laroche has worked in the clothing industry for nearly 25 years. In 2009, she decided to devote herself exclusively to the sustainable development of methods and strategies for the design, manufacturing, distribution, marketing and reusing of clothing.” ONResearch discusses the issue of sustainability in the fashion industry and about the need to change perceptions.
Sustainability is fast becoming a ubiquitous concept and a buzzword for many industries. When we talk about sustainable fashion, what aspects does it encompass?
Sustainable fashion encompasses all the actions taken to create, market, sell and dispose of fashion products that will have the least impact on the planet and on humans. Every element must be taken in consideration: water & energy consumption, human and animal wellbeing, chemicals, carbon footprint, social impact, waste, durability & quality.
At this moment there is no one way to be sustainable, as there are 7.8 billion eco-fashion recipes. Each individual and each brand is unique. So, each one must develop their own unique recipe based on their human, material, technological and financial resources, as well as their values and beliefs. They must choose which elements they will prioritize, execute them well and consistently improve every year.
There is a global push for sustainable fashion, but at the same time the fast fashion industry is growing exponentially. What do you think are the biggest changes that will impact supply chains in the fashion industry over the next couple of years and how will the search for sustainability affect these?
The biggest change will focus on the integration of circular economy. How to use, recycle and re-use textile waste? Of course, the goal is to keep the clothes in their original form as long as possible, but when it is not wearable anymore, we have to find ways to put it back in the supply chain. For new products, the circular economy should be considered at the design and pattern making level. All design schools should make it part of their program and should offer training/specialization for experienced designers. I want to see more “Garment Dismantler” experts. If the garment is not wearable anymore, we should attempt to dismantle the product in the smartest way and find function(s) for each piece of the product. What can a sleeve, a collar, a leg, a waistband, a cuff… become? Can we reuse it as is? The recycling of all individual pieces (buttons, snaps, zippers, laces…) should also be part of the process.
Right now, the sustainable fashion movement is being mostly led by environmentalists or other stakeholders that were never part of or never worked in “regular” fashion. Sustainability is a no brainer for them. What we need right now is for everyone to join forces. I am calling leading “regular” fashion designers & apparel architects to seriously get involved. It is time to go back to the drawing boards, reinvent patternmaking and make trendy, sophisticated, classic and beautiful collections that follows circular economy rules.
The fast fashion industry is notorious for being one of the highest contributors to global pollution. However, at present, the narrative on sustainable fashion equates it to expensive fashion. How can we scale sustainable fashion and address the question of affordability?
I think the word expensive should be replaced by fair. Sustainable fashion should be fair priced. The consumer must understand the amount of labour and work behind the making of sustainable apparel. There are so many steps, processes and people that are invisible to the consumer. It also means quality over quantity. The price should follow the quality of the product, and brands that make sustainable clothing should make quality and durability a priority. I do not mind paying more than usual, but I am expecting the garment to last, which at the moment is not always the case.
In your career, you have advised many fashion brands on sustainability issues. What are the biggest stumbling blocks or barriers faced by fashion brands (large or small) when it comes to being sustainable?
Whenever I work with brands, I can feel that even if the intention of decreasing their carbon footprint is sincere, sustainability is seen as an additional task in in addition to their busy schedule. It is heavy, and it is mostly seen as an expense and not an investment.
My approach now with clients is that even before creating a green strategy, I ask to meet with as many the employees as possible, even the ones who are not directly involved with sustainability. It is about creating a team buzz and having everyone excited about what and how they can contribute to a greener planet. The more the people are excited, the more interested and involved they become. And this in turn reaps benefits for the entire company.
Another obstacle is that there is not enough offer and not enough demand because many brands have not yet started to develop green strategies. Some believe it is just a trend and other brands do not have the resources because they link sustainability to additional expenses. This is not true. It is about starting even at a small scale. I now give an “eco fashion toolbox” to as many businesses as I can through a half day training. So, more businesses can jump on the green road and create more demand for sustainable products.
In dealing with changing consumer choices and public apathy, what are your thoughts on creating greater awareness on sustainability issues in regard to consumer behavior?
Creating awareness is key, but I believe it must be created without blame, anger, shame and guilt if we want the consumer to take action. Making it easy to understand why a brand is sustainable is also key for the consumer to buy sustainable. It is through authentic brand story and narrative, transparency and sharing of information that trust will be established. It must be simple and visual, almost like kindergarten teaching.
If you can forecast one trend in sustainable fashion that we are likely to see, what would it be?
The re-invention of patchworking. Done in a beautiful, non-hippy and sophisticated way, it is almost like an illusion. Blending the scraps into garment, through patternmaking or as ornament, so we do not notice it. Also, decreasing textile waste by reintegrating it in the supply chain is the new trend and will become the new normal. The brands who are already applying or exploring this concept will be at the forefront of what fashion in the 21st century is.
Interviewed by Suddha Chakravartti, Editor-in-Chief at ONResearch, on September 30th, 2020.