For fashion to move forward in sustainability there is only one method: turn around the system.
To the date, sustainable fashion doesn’t exist. You can use organic cotton, but you can’t control dyes, and at the same time you end up transporting the garments by plane, with its due amount of CO2 emissions. “What is good it’s the enemy of what is perfect”, speaks strongly, but also with resignation, a high position in one of the biggest distribution groups in the world.
Sustainability implies a holistic vision, not only focused in garments, but also in stores or in the carbon footprint that transportation of merchandise emanates. The term, for now, is so big that any fashion company that grew around it, points in any direction to avoid the so feared greenwashing, one of the industrie's more dreaded term.
Lack of communication, however, doesn’t imply that the pieces of this puzzle are not moving. Action moves discreetly and slowly but steady. “Collaboration is the new innovation”, adds the same executive. The only way for the sector to become sustainable its if all its actors are sustainable too. If Nike or Adidas don’t work this way, there is no way other sportswear brands can. If there is no lobby, there is nothing: no investment, no progress, no prices.
Giants started clumping in SAC or in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Fashion is the only market able to clump its giants to move forwards in this direction and create workshops to put pressure around sustainability to spin the system 180 degrees.
The challenge is so big that with only one organization its almost impossible. Starting from this, Canopy started its engines in 2000 to protect millenary forests, Textile Exchange started soon after, to promote cotton produced in sustainable crops, and then, Better Cotton Initiative arrived, to support small producers that where left out of the global market formula.
Also, at the beginning of the century, organic cotton producers stepped forwards creating the Gots distinctive, to claim a respectful way of dealing with the harm of transgenic crops. The change was already running. Later, Sustainable Apparel Coalition appeared in the search for the perfect scientific formula for sustainability.
Collaboration is the new innovation
Criticism towards the current situation of the fashion system is real. “From several years change has been in everyone’s mouth, but up to the date, the change hasn’t been made”, points Gema Gómez, from the Slow Fashion organization, turned today in a consultant specialized in sustainability and a sustainable fashion showroom. The entrepreneur, one of the pioneers in exposing today’s fashion system, is not positive about the future: “I don’t think that the current model will evolve unless there is a huge turn in the market, but the market is lazy and fast fashion is very easy”.
Gómez, leader of Fashion Revolution organization in Spain, rejects the ideas of change that big corporations reunited create. “They continue to work with big scale economies, using natural resources in a massive way, and I don’t think this is going to change any time soon, specially because emerging economies copy the big economies way of performing”, explains the expert.
If there is no lobby, there is nothing: no investment, no progress, no prices.
Gómez considers that consumption will tend to diversify, and new models will arrive, linked to rent or secondhand sales, “up to the point that the consumer will only buy what makes sense to him”.
As a matter of fact, fashion that is considered sustainable, didn’t take the easy road. A lot of its pioneers have been through big difficulties or have ended up closing. On of the first ones to close was the new yorker Suno, in 2016, despite commercializing in Net-a-porter and Neiman Marcus and dressing celebrities like Michelle Obama, Beyoncé or Taylor among others.
Another pioneer of the movement was Edun, founded in 2004 by U2 vocalist and his wife. LVMH acquired 49% of its capital in 2009 but in 2018 decided to disinvest. Downfalls went up to 86.4 million dollars. In Spain, two projects Hence and We Don’t Kill Animals, also ended up closing.
It hasn’t been an easy road, not even for the big ones. Patagonia, author of the statement: Don´t buy this jacket, was also in Greenpeace blacklist, next to The North Face, Columbia or Mammut, listed with companies that used toxic components to waterproof its garments. However, at the same time other companies started showing in the eco movement in fashion, linking the concept of sustainability with a bunch of good practices.
Business models like Stella McCartney, Everlane, Reformation or Eileen Fisher move forward almost on their own, trying to match high cost of working with sustainable fibers and a production that stays away from low cost.
All of them are involved in more than one lobby, that they share with distribution giants. From Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) to Canopy or Textile Exchange, all of them know that if they want to make a move in the current system, they need to do it together.
“Companies work together to develop programs that slowdown the environmental damage and promote the social good, and this implies a lot of collaboration efforts”, explains the president of the SAC, Amina Razvi, who adds that “bigger organizations can scale sustainability to a global scale and turn it into the new law of the industry, but all the actors play a major role to develop and improve sustainability’s performance”.
Smaller companies have better chances and are more powerfull than what they think, because they can adapt and adopt responsible practices faster than some of the big ones, points Razvi, that also adds that small and big companies “working together can help influence a wider market”. “All of them are interested, despite their size or business model, to start moving in this direction”, states the president.