The problem with working in a global marketplace is that it's global. Deep, right? Stop rolling your eyes. What I mean is that there's more to putting together a global brand than logistics. Cultural differences are a big part of the potential success or failure of any venture--and that goes for ethical fashion as much as for any other.
An example. We're all agreed that re- and upcycling are a big part of sustainability. Everyone likes funky preloved clothes, right?
In Asia, and China particularly, there's a massive stigma around second-hand clothing. There's a strong tradition of make-do and mend, and clothes are generally only binned when they're worn beyond repair or the owner has died. This means there's little market for second-hand, and in a country where superstition still has a powerful sway, many people believe that these clothes have a ghostly connection to their previous owners, and won't go near them.
Things are changing, but gradually. As fast fashion starts to slide into focus in the Asian market, consumers are adopting Western patterns of consumption--not great. And status, a important factor in Chinese society, plays a part too. Christina Dean, head of Redress, a Hong Kong based charity aiming to raise awareness of sustainability in the Chinese market, says:
"When it comes to fashion, people want to look good and they certainly don’t understand the negative environmental impacts embedded in their new reflection. They are already overwhelmed by the vast quantities of fashion brands and designers and so the concept of sustainable fashion is as alien to them as some of the new names.Economically, people still expect sustainable fashion to be more expensive, but because sustainable fashion doesn’t have the kudos that ostentatious brands do, few consumers will want to pay more if this doesn’t translate into higher status."
It's not all bad news. Some educated types are starting to see the dangers inherent in this buy-and-bin approach, and the notion of second-hand clothes is starting to lose its stigma as fashion leaders pick up the notion of sustainability and make it fashionable--much in the way that icons like Livia Wirth and Vivienne Westwood have in the UK.
Sustainability faces the traditional problem of same same but different as the global market grows. Assuming that one message will work across the board is a schoolroom error, and it's down to people like Christina to make sure that this rapidly expanding market doesn't make the same mistakes that the West has.
For more on Christina and Redress, check out this great interview on Urban Times.