Some fashion brands are known as daring pioneers in the field of sustainability. From Patagonia with their ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ campaign to Kering and their open source Environmental Profit and Loss methodology. Though what is it that makes fashion a unique draw for those consumers intrigued by sustainability? It could be the creative and fun element it introduces to topics typically branded around science and fear. Or it might be fashion’s intrinsic link to individual expression and a way to display our values, for example about the environment.
Take a walk down Oxford Street and the average consumer might not be aware of the steps some clothing brands are making towards more ethical and sustainable ways of doing business. Though in the sustainability community, there have been some pioneering approaches, which can be used to demonstrate how this industry reaches us in a different way. H&M’s conscious campaign with the symbolic green label tells you a garment is made from sustainable materials. However their recycling boxes are particularly interesting given clothing is, despite current consumption-ist myth, a durable good. We mustn’t forget the majority of the environmental impact of an item of clothing occurs after you’ve bought it, given to the amount of water and chemicals used when washing and caring for your clothing, before it ends up in landfill causing waste. Clothing offers an opportunity to involve the consumer in the story of their environmental impact.
Levi’s is another brand encouraging consumers to engage with the lifecycle of its products by offering a repair service. They’ve also created the ‘water less’ jean, which is manufactured with less water but also encourages consumers to wash their jeans less often. Nike has been a major brand to have its reputation suffer through ethical accusations. Now their Ocean waste trainers are the must have for street culture. Fashion reaches across cultures, race and time - which might be seen more obviously in other markets such as China or India where traditional clothing and it’s meaning still forms a fundamental part of communities.
Patagonia is known for their bold marketing campaigns, which are getting a lot of ‘regram’ attention on social media at the moment. Fashion brands aren’t just some of the most popular brands to follow on Instagram, but they depend on social media as a visual and creative industry. This extends the industry’s reach to the infamous millennial generation. The desirable catwalk image of fashion models is in stark contrast to the images millennials see of polar bears and waste when confronted with phrases such as ‘climate change’ or ‘act sustainably’. Could the image of fashion help sustainability re-brand itself?
In more serious business terms, it can’t be denied that Kering’s pioneering approach to its Environmental Profit and Loss leaves much inspiration for other industries. The industry’s supply chain is one of the most complex and hard to trace, involving multiple suppliers, makers, farmers, and their environmental impacts. Yet this fashion group has produced a framework for beginning to assess a range of factors, which could come to pull on your Profit and Loss. Not had a read yet?
We could take a more ‘philosophical’ approach to what makes this industry unique. Many people who work in the fashion industry are drawn by its link to identity and human expression. I personally see fashion as the most powerful universal language we have. Obviously some people are more keen to spend time considering how what they wear is a reflection of their personal identity or values. Though all of us are prone to being judged based on what we choose to wear, since the unconscious brain instantly processes an interpretation of another’s character on first glance without speaking a word - otherwise we’d all have no reason not to wear jeans and T-shirt to the next Crowd event.
Whilst attending the Crowd events, I wondered how many people could be ‘wearing their values’ by choosing a suit made ethically from organic cotton. I wonder, if as consumers shift their attitudes, they will feel unfulfilled by not being able to represent how they feel about climate change through what they wear.
Fashion is just one industry, which is represented at the Crowd events, but maybe this industry has a certain powerful influence over engaging us with sustainability, which other industries will never have. I look forward to helping utilise this power.
Marianne Caroline Hughes is Founder and CEO of Knowlabel.
Photograph: Flickr/ Kristin Ay.