2016: we are at a stage where the fashion industry produces 150 billion garments a year. Fifty percent of bought garments end up in landfill after being owned by one buyer. How do we acknowledge and work with this issue at a time where our generation is fed with the idea that shopping is a hobby?
Crisis of Stuff leads by example here: we need to take this problem out of books and circles of professionals who dedicate their lives to sustainability. What’s vital is to create events where the industry, designers and citizens can come together to learn about the challenges at hand, share ideas and take action. Some of the questions that were thrown into the room by Kate Black to be discussed were: How do we deal with this? How do we raise awareness about what’s wrong with the industry? If pushing against big corporations like Inditex and H&M is too hard, how can we start working with them? Can we offer alternatives and make them popular, so that they could just sweep over the big corporations in the future? We took note of the four most relevant talking points, which we think are vital to anyone involved in fashion in 2016.
1. The crisis of a cultural situation
“Shoplifting used to be a hobby, now shopping is.” – Orsola de Castro
The late capitalist mindset of buy buy buy is slowly wearing out, and what’s truly at the heart of the crisis of stuff is fast fashion: cheap garments that are made to fail after a short period of time. Recently, Orsola did a project with 13-16 year old girls from a housing estate in North London, where they discussed the current oversaturation of clothes in the industry, and proceeded to visit second hand stores with the girls, most of whom had never set foot into a shop of this kind. This, however, is not because they consciously made the decision to frequent Forever 21 instead of thrifty places like Beyond Retro, but because our culture feeds us the idea there is no other option.
Orsola’s concerns here are: where do we want to bring our future generations to shop and how? How do we engage with the full spectrum of our population? How do we put this seed of thought about sustainability into the heads of every sector of our population to make them reconsider their choices?
“This cultural perception of shopping however is reversible, and it is reversible for the very fact it’s cultural.”
2. Brands will not stop us from consuming, but we can impose economic loops
High street giants are not going to try and stop us from consuming, that’s one thing we can be certain about. But what if they could get raw material (cotton, polyester, nylon) cheaper, with less energy and a smaller carbon footprint through recycling? Rather than buying cotton and making a garment; having several people wear it; compost it; then burn and landfill it, everything could be regenerated. Chemistry is now advanced enough to be able to chemically recycle nearly every component of a garment, even to divide mixed fabrics: pulling out the nylon or polyester molecules and regenerating fibres.
3. Get political
Change has to happen gradually, it won’t happen overnight. So instead of boycotting big brands, why don’t we start working together with them; influencing the people that have the power to shift the situation? As an example, why don’t we start demanding from these brands that they, very simply, gradually start paying a living wage to their employees? On average this would only add 30p per garment, which is not a lot for us, but it would upset the table of incomes for all manufacturers. To start a shift, we need long term aims and plans. In the fashion industry, this means legislations. We have to be political about our clothes, we have to be pushing for the things we want. Get involved, know where you’re standing, find the MPs that are proactive in your areas and influence.
4. Increase the quality of life
“We have the technology to recycle all our clothes and end starvation, but why don’t we execute it?”
Steven Bethell: “Education, legislation and entrepreneurship, these are the three pillars of how I would deal with the crisis of stuff. It’s much the legislation that restrains the entrepreneurs, but at least it directs them.”
Orsola de Castro: ‘‘I’m an entrepreneur myself and I am completely with you on that, but we are looking for more here than just our investment, we are not just looking at the return of money, but the return of quality of life. Historically, we can see that ideologies fall. We’ve had the fall of monarchies, we’ve had the fall of communism. We are seeing capitalism as expanding and changing and obviously we are at the worst possible moment to judge where the world is going. It’s easy to be negative. Inevitably that could be another mission: if one wants to be positive, there could be a more conscious capitalism, which looks at solar power, green farming, not at the CEO of fast fashion, making more in his lunchtime break than a garment worker would make in a whole year.”
Beccy: “We have solutions to survive this planet. The principle of Singularity University, which is a Silicon Valley think tank, gave an incredible talk recently: We have the technology to be without oil. We have the technology to recycle all our clothes and end starvation. We have them, but why don’t we execute it? Because our infrastructures are really difficult to change: mindsets, human behaviours, habits. It’s not about the technology, it’s about what we’re all going to do with it to change our behaviours and spread that message.’’
Words by Jelly Luise
Orsola de Castro: A pioneer and internationally recognised opinion leader in sustainable fashion. Founder of ‘From Somewhere’ label, co-founder of Esthetica, co-founder of Fashion Revolution Day and mentor, keynote speaker as well as Visiting Fellow and Practitioner at Central Saint Martins.
Prof. Rebecca Earley: Coming from a print (BA Hons Loughborough, 1992, MA, Central Saint Martins, 1994) background Becky set up her studio B Earley with aid from the Prince’s Trust, Arts Council and the Crafts Council. She is also a design researcher at UAL and an industry consultant and ‘divides her working life between Central Saint Martins where she is Director of TFRC, Chelsea College of Arts where she is a principal and co researcher in TED, and Sweden where she is key part of the research consortium work for MISTRA Future Fashion and the EU Horizon 20202 project, Trash-2-Cash.’
Steven Bethell: With over 20 years of experience in the field, Steven is the CEO of Beyond Retro and its mother branches Bank & Vogue in Canada as well as sister branches in Sweden. With the Beyond Retro label using reclaimed materials for production and his ‘career-defining passion for sustainability’, Steven is a leading example of shifting the market to a more sustainable one.
Kate Black: Founder of Magnifeco.com and EcoSessions, of which this panel discussion formed the first edition. Kate is also the author of ‘Magnifeco: Your Head-to-Toe Guide to Ethical Fashion and Non-Toxic Beauty’, which released October 2015.