Reinventing Fashion with Chatham House
Updated: May 16, 2019
I've been working on composing this article for a while now.
Often when we talk about fashion, the aspect of sustainability is rarely mentioned. This is not really surprising, since we usually don't think of fashion as a major contributor to Climate Change. And, as much as I hate to admit it, it is quite the contrary.
That's said, the reason why I am writing this article in particular at this moment is to encore a recent event that I went to -- 'Reinventing Fashion'.
Hosted by Chatham House as a part of their series of panel discussions on 'Reinventing...', the event brought together multiple stakeholders in the industry, from policy makers and campaigners, to business leaders as well as material scientists.
There were fascinating insight pointed out by the speakers, often reflecting how destructive the fashion industry has been to the environment.
From the fact that the apparel and footwear industries contributed just as much as the aviation industry in 2017 (accounting 5% of the global CO2 emission) and using 4% of global freshwater use; to there is a 400% increase of garments consumption just within the past 20-30 years.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The panel discussion concluded by the stakeholders pointing out various measures which could improve the industry.
This includes having greater transparency in the manufacturing process, having brands using market competition to push forward their competitors in adopting more environmental friendly policies; as well as identifying the importance of supporting the back end (in this case, the manufacturers in Asia) to actually make the changes feasible.
While it is certainly comforting to see the industry coming up with innovative ideas to tackle the issue, what I found missing were the talks on how to become more sustainable through improving the design as well as the quality of the garments.
Certainly, I have no doubt that by improving the fashion industry through better cooperation between the businesses and the manufacturers and using more naturally-dyed fabrics, the environment would totally be benefited to some extent.
However, the real problem that was overlooked during the discussion (and also something which I want to address specifically) is just how much garments in the market are neither designed or made with materials that are meant to last for a long period of time.
Surely we could argue that we are becoming more environmental-friendly because of the improvement of the process of clothing-manufacturing. But fundamentally, we are just deluding ourselves since we still need to dispose our old garments on a regular basis.
This is quite unfortunate, I have to admit. Say even if you could find versatile pieces with a lower price point, high quality and durable garments always come with an expensive price tag.
So what could be done from here, you may ask?
First off, it is crucial that we start from a raising-awareness point of view. If we could inform our friends and families that each time we make an unnecessary clothing purchase, we are further securing the fashion industry's position as the 5th most polluting industry; we are more likely to buy what we really need.
Then, by changing the way we think about the relation between us and our garments, as in clothes are not meant to be thrown away whenever they are out of season, we could start to acknowledge that each individual garment has a greater value in itself.
From there we could be more thoughtful and make more careful decisions when we decided to purchase a specific appeal or the footwear. For example, think about how by investing in multiple versatile and durable pieces you could form a capsule wardrobe, even though you might have to save up for them at the beginning.
The brown suede jacket from Dunhill (picture above), which I own, is a perfect example on how I considered that it would be a great matching piece before I decided to add that to my wardrobe.
It is certainly a rather idealistic approach to say everything would be better if everyone could have the notion of sustainability in mind when making a purchase, given the circumstances that we are so detached from this idea fundamentally.
Nonetheless, I think it is quite important that if we really care about the environment, we need to inform the fashion industry that we demand for something which is more versatile (and perhaps timeless) and has a higher quality from a consumer perspective down the road.
By doing so, big fashion companies would have more incentive to work on popularizing garments made with higher quality fabrics, as well as make them more affordable for everyone. Of course, the incorporation of new technologies would be additionally helpful as well.