A fascinating symposium in New York last month saw some of the most inspirational voices in sustainable fashion talk to an audience of bankers. The aim of the event, hosted by Credit Suisse, was to show that new ways of thinking about fashion could be the key to significant rewards, both financially and for the well-being of the planet as a whole.
The symposium speakers were prepared to address some key issues behind sustainable fashion: not least the meaning of the word itself. Soraya Darabi, head of e-tailer Zady, heaped special scorn on those that use it as a kind of catch-all buzz-term--much in the way that 'green' became co-opted into virtual meaninglessness in the 90s. She said:
“It is really hard to understand if someone says the products is sustainably produced—what do they mean? Do they mean the catch phrase version of sustainable, or do they mean it is authentically sustainably produced?”The key, Darabi believes, is in transparency, in knowing where and how your raw materials are sourced, and how the people who handle and transform those materials are treated. That's a chain that stretches from farm to closet, and it's vital to get a handle on the complexities of that network if you want to understand sustainability.
With this in mind, the experts argue, a change is arising where people are becoming more connected with the stories and people behind their clothes. There's a great opportunity for ethically-conscious retailers to catch the leading edge of that wave of interest. Things are changing, and it's important to see that to be able to benefit from it. Jill Heller of The PureThread said:
“I think people are starting to understand that shopping for clothing, can in fact, link them with something bigger. One thing to really look at is fair trade. Are the workers being paid fairly? Are they being treated fairly? Are the labor conditions safe in the building? Are there reasonable hours of work? I think it is a very important to look for fair-trade certifications on the garments.”The experts were withering of the fast-turnover, high volume output of the traditional, seasonal fashion model. By stocking winter clothes just after the bank holiday, or swimsuits after Christmas, stores are invoking a model that urges us to buy and keep buying. Sustainability is, Jill Heller argues, about rejecting that model, and making the most of what's already in our wardrobe. If we're buying clothes that are of good quality and designed to last, there's no need to buy every year.
“We don’t need to consume as much. We probably have a closet full of clothing that you can figure out how to reuse and restyle; like shopping your closet, meaning take a fresh look at it.”The event was a success largely because sustainable fashion is no longer viewed as a niche interest. It keys into notions of fair treatment and respect for dwindling resources, that are becoming ever more important in this rapidly-changing world. There are still challenges to starting a sustainable fashion business and making a success of it. But if the bankers of New York are prepared to listen, then we're already making massive progress.