• Produces annual plastic microfibre waste, equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles.
These are but a few statistics to shed light on the scale of the challenge at hand. Indeed, the panel opened with the extremely pertinent question, ‘What does sustainability mean in fashion? And is it really achievable?’ Recently, sustainability seems to have become a buzzword, having different meanings to different people and businesses. The most common view merges eco-friendly consumption with fair trade principles but sustainability in the fashion industry spills into a myriad of other areas as well. Indeed, according to Vandana Jaglan, Officiating Principal, Satyam Fashion Institute (India), ‘a sustainable environment starts with you. The main notion we have in sustainability is to increase the longevity of the products. We as consumers, manufacturers and decision-makers, need to think of ways of increasing the life of the product’.
From a business perspective, consumer awareness, in using a carrot and stick approach, will be critical to incentivise corporates to transform their business processes to become more eco-friendly. Currently, consumer awareness isn’t necessarily translating into purchasing behaviour. Once consumers genuinely start rewarding companies that are socially conscious and ethically oriented in ensuring, for instance, fair wages, the use of organic materials, circular production lines, and so on, then we could expect tangible improvements in sustainability in the industry at large. Currently, some fast fashion brands such as H&M are making laudable efforts on this front, but ‘other, smaller parts of the industry are hardly awake’, in the view of Emily Baines, Senior Lecturer, De Montfort University, (United Kingdom).
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR SUSTAINABLE FASHION?
On whom does the responsibility of sustainable fashion fall? Is it the producer – through achieving economies of scale in processes that are environmentally sustainable? Is it the consumer – through her conscious consumption choices? Is it the government – through regulation and appropriate policy design?
Understandably, the onus of sustainable fashion lies on all of the above in fairly equal measure. However, producers and fashion businesses need to step up to the plate in drastically altering their processes, making systemic changes happen, and developing strategies concerning energy use, waste management, organic material use, and so on. Governments, on their part, need to make environmental sustainability in general and fashion sustainability a policy priority, and provide a practical framework within which businesses can operate moving forward. A robust regulatory framework needs to be complemented with incentives and support systems to enable the transition for fashion businesses. Finally, consumers need to hold corporates to account by rewarding and sanctioning corporate strategies, processes, and outputs. We as consumers need to be more willing to make the trade-off between keeping up with latest fashion trends and caring for our wellbeing and that of our ecosystem. Gradually and promisingly, fashion start-ups the world over are innovating and lowering the purchasing price of sustainable clothing, thereby making the transition to a greener industry easier.
Sonia Jetleey, Fashion Designer: ‘We need to slow down and alter our purchasing habits – less is more. Instead of purchasing clothes from fast-fashion brands, we can choose quality over quantity and support local business, artisans,