What It Means to be Sustainable
When people ask me what I do, I am sometimes loathed to admit that I work in fashion. It is not the glamorous industry it sells itself as but rather a vast and reckless monster, bulldozing its way through the seasons.
Then I remember the reasons I was drawn to it: creativity, freedom and inclusion.
I am on a mission to rediscover these lost aspects of the industry. After all, it is we who have caused their loss and therefore it is our job to fix it. As designers we must ask ourselves if this is the kind of industry we want to work in. I know what my answer is and I’m trying to do something about it. And ultimately, whether consumer, retailer or brand, we all have a part to play.
I reached this point in my career as a corporate designer several years back where I couldn't remember why I chose to study apparel design in the first place. The realities of my day-to-day job of course included a lot of the necessary, mundane tasks to bring a line to life, but those weren't what bothered me so much. It was the overarching reason for why we were all there. It wasn't about creating something together that was good and would improve lives; it was about doing whatever it took to make more money in sales than our competitors. About cheaply copying the trends and not so much about having a clear voice of our own.
Now, before this starts to sound like a typical millennial sob story filled with 1st world problems, let me just say that there is dignity to be found in most any job, if approached with the right attitude. My problem was that I was having a difficult time figuring out how to do that in a way that was helpful to myself and others. I found myself struggling more and more with self doubt about if I even had what it took to be a designer, and that's not a good place to stay in for too long. I finally had the courage to realize that not all jobs are appropriate for all people, even those with the "right" set of skills. It took my taking time off to travel and volunteer overseas to figure out that fashion wasn't the issue in and of itself, but rather the current direction that the fashion industry has been moving.
I realized that I could complain about the state of things, or I could try to do something. Anything. I didn't start making the ties myself out of this need to make men's accessories (granted, I get bored easily and would have found another project if it wasn't this one), but it was out of a desire to be part of The Change I wasn't seeing many others trying to affect:
The fashion industry is one of the biggest employers in the world, and the power it has as a result of this truly gives it the ability to change lives. But instead of using this power for good, it uses it for exploitation.
Fast Fashion is cheap, it’s low quality and it requires minimal effort – phrases I’m sure no one aspires to align themselves with.
As consumers, we have become so used to the low price and fast turnaround of our garments that some argue that we can never go back.
Well, I have more confidence in the consumer.
In terms of style, Sustainable Fashion has a bad rep. But sustainability is separate to the well-chosen colour and perfect shape of a garment.
Sustainability is about how and under what conditions a garment is made. Has the fabric dying process caused water contamination? Can the person who made it afford to feed their family? Is it made well enough to last?
Sustainable Fashion is just Fashion, but respecting people and the environment at the same time.
I don't think it's too late to turn this ship around. Did anyone think that organic food would be so (relatively) mainstream 20 years ago? I remember the first time I walked into a Whole Foods; I was so confused. "Where are all the normal cereals??" If it can happen with food, why not with clothing?