BfG News Issue 11 - Editor's Column: Sustainable Fashion

01 Apr 2008|Added Value

cate-hunt2005 was the year of the Primark effect; the year when the fashion tables turned and all of a sudden an £12 jacket was in Vogue’s hit list. Since then the concept of fast, cheap thrill, throwaway fashion has become a cultural norm, the affordability of style never more democratic.

But with the concept of sustainability creeping further into our consciousness – ‘less is more’, ‘reuse’, ‘recycle’ – how are fashion brands going to respond? This strikes at the very heart of an industry that has grown on the notion that more is better  – indeed as Dax Lovegrove, Head of Industry & Business Relations, WWF pointed out at Added Value’s recent ‘Branding for Good’ Summit   “the fast fashion industry is unsustainable.”

Just as we are seeing across other categories, this debate is beginning to change the way we think, consume and behave. Ideas that would have been deemed harebrained a few years ago are now not only working but turning into profitable businesses. When Blake Mycoskie decided to start his shoe company (TOMS) on the idea that for every pair sold, another pair would be given to a child in need, you can bet there were a few raised eyebrows.  Barmy? Try visionary.

So now the inspiration for change is here, it’s forcing us – consumers, business and brands – to be more creative and resourceful with what we have.  Whether it’s a radical overhaul of the business like M&S (e.g. carbon footprint labels, fair-trade cotton, non chemical dyes), working out how to replace unsustainable materials (e.g cotton/wood for bamboo), or finding new uses for new materials (e.g. the antibacterial properties of sasawashi, a new eco fabric made from natural Japanese washi paper) – the fashion industry is well placed to have a huge positive impact on the future.

But brands will need to be brave enough to take the lead. Consumers are overloaded and confused with ethical, and in 2008, fashion isn’t one of their priorities compared to other issues such as waste recycling and food packaging*. More importantly, it is an area which will require greater behavioural change from mainstream consumers – I think we’d all agree that it’s easier to switch to free range organic eggs than to give up the thrill of a bargain high.

So, where to start? Creating a sustainable fashion industry will require brands to challenge their current paradigm; how to create more value through less physical product?  To thrive in this emerging world then, brands will need to find fresh, engaging ways to create desire.

Cate Hunt,
Cultural Insight Director, Added Value UK

*Source ‘Branding for Good’ Research 2008

prev next