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"And that changes how you think of your clothes. It changes what you demand from them, and from the people who make them, and from yourself."


Last week at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, journalist Vanessa Friedman of the Financial Times, who recently landed the most influential job in fashion journalism as chief fashion critic of the New York Times, gave the following keynote around the subject of sustainable fashion.


By Vanessa Friedman

Reduce, revise, regularise.

“I have to warn you: I don’t have video. I don’t have power point, but I do have props — we’ll get to those in a moment. First, I have a confession to make: I am not going to talk about what it says in the program I was going to talk about.

And I fully intended to get up here and talk to you about language, specifically the language we use to discuss the ethics of clothing, and how it is vague and unclear, and while that might work for the Constitution of the United States, (…) it does not work for consumers, who have no idea what we are talking about when we talk about eco this and ethical that. That’s why my speech has the title it has, which is shamelessly recycled from Greenpeace.

But the more I thought about it, and the more drafts I wrote, the more I realised there was a problem with the language that was far more granular, and that I could not overcome. And it was this: Sustainable fashion doesn’t make any sense. It’s a contradiction in terms.

Look it up. According to the Oxford Dictionary: Fashion is “the production and marketing of new styles of goods, especially clothing and cosmetics.”. Sustainable is “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” See the problem? On the one hand we have the pressure to be new; on the other, the imperative to maintain. Sustainable fashion is an oxymoron. It’s Jumbo shrimp. It’s a down escalator. It’s terrible beauty. It’s resident alien.

The driving force of fashion today is planned obsolescence – something is in, then it is out; skirts are up, then they are down; today it’s green, tomorrow, blue – which is itself by definition about something that is the opposite of sustainable.

And it’s not just the aesthetics of the clothes themselves we are talking about here; it’s the machinery that backs it up. 

Because in order to sell all these new clothes and make the end point nearer and nearer, there are now new fashion collections coming out four times a year instead of two, and sometimes even more than four, (…). And to keep growing revenues and reaching customers, brands are opening more and more stores in second tier and third tier cities, and different neighborhoods of the same city, an accumulation of outlets that at a certain point starts to cannibalise itself and is thus – what? – unsustainable.

Today fashion is disposable – and it is supposed to be. Because what the situation we are in now — more and more and faster and faster — sounds like, more than anything, is a runaway train. And you know what happens to runaway trains: they crash.

We all know how we got here – and while some will blame the corporatisation of fashion with its associated need to show ever-increasing quarterly results, and others social media with its constant demand for new content, and others the minute attention span of consumers, and I would say it’s really all of the above. Agree or disagree, however, the question now is: what do we do?

Most of what we’ve heard about today involves addressing the situation as it is: given the charge towards continuous consumption, and granted, lots of livelihoods depend on it (and lots of tax dollars are generated by it), what can companies do in the manufacturing and cleaning process to make the actual production of these garments better. That’s what the panel was on earlier this morning. And that is fine, except it ignores one half of the consumption equation – the consumers – and presupposes that nothing is going to change; that this sort of endless desire for new stuff, which is tied to the making of new stuff is the status quo now, and you can’t go backward. You can’t change history. But you can learn from it.

And here is what I have learned: we need a new phrase. Once upon a time my grandmother saved and saved to buy a nice leather handbag, and once she had it, she had it for decades. Her fur coat? Same story. Her cashmere sweaters – you know the little cardigans with beading on the edges that were so popular in the 50s – same. She knew how to wash her garments—by hand usually — and how to hang them, and how store them, be it for the next season, or the next generation. What she had – what she built – was a Sustainable Wardrobe. 

And that, it seems to me, is a concept that makes an enormous amount of sense. That is a term I can get behind. And that is, I say to all of you, what each and every one of us, as consumers, should be doing. It is about emphasizing the value proposition inherent in each item you buy and consciously selecting it– maybe because it has an ethically conscious aspect you appreciate, (…) or maybe because you know the amount of handwork that has gone into it (…) - The point is that the decision about what constitutes value is yours, and you need make it. And that implies, I don’t think you can really get around this, some level of investment over, and in time.

And here’s what’s interesting: I know I am not the only person to be thinking like this. When I speak to designers, “wardrobe” is a word that comes up again and again. Some brands – and I am not going to name names here, but some major international luxury brands – are thinking less about what new store they can open, and more about adding special features to existing stores; less about a whole new product dump and more about making products that are so special – from the handwork to the materials – and so limited in nature that they are the opposite of disposable. And they are doing it because it is in their economic interest just as, I would argue, it is in the economic interest of the consumers.

We hear a lot about – and this is my favourite new acronym – the IWWIWWIWI generation – the I want what I want when I want it millennials, which is the sort of thing that seems on the surface antiethical to this sort of wait and plan and research and want approach. But the other thing the research about millennials shows is that they also say don’t actually need to own things; that social media is such that consumers are increasingly getting their fix virtually – by pinning – with their actual purchases made much more consciously. And it strikes me that, with its combination of technology and speed and very deliberate purchasing — that is a very modern kind of balance to achieve.

Is it sustainable?

Not almost exactly. Not definitely maybe. Yes.

Source: fashioneditoratlarge.com posted by Melanie Rickey.




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