STATE OF AFFAIRS: FASHION BRANDS ON SUSTAINABILITY Fashion and sustainability: much ado, but how much of it is more than a silver lining to an otherwise polluting and unethical industry? I set out to Copenhagen Fashion Week to hear what the fashion brands there had to say on the matter. Interviews conducted at the CIFF, Vision (picture) and Defining Scandinavia Fairs, Copenhagen, January 2013. Participating brands were the green suitcase, Robe, Senze of Joy, Octopus, Cream, OiSoiOi, Louise Roe, Gestuz, Mayla, I am Mosh, P&T Furs, Blui & Marc Lauge Design. Wonderful. Special. Ethical. Fur. Colorful. Natural. Fashionable. Notebook at hand, I’m scribbling down what the fashion brand representatives answer me when I ask them what the three words are that describe their brand. Their tone of voice covers the spectrum from enthusiast to hesitating to downright skeptic. They seem to smell that I am up to something, and they are quite right: this question is a test to see how many brands spontaneously associate themselves with sustainability. Admittedly, suppressing my prejudgment while asking the question is a tough job. The halls of the fashion fair are gigantic and filled to the brim with next season’s clothing, surrounded by white walls and lightning that make the interior about as cozy as a hospital from the late 70’s. The atmosphere doesn’t exactly breathe ecological concern. And yet, the answers to my first question exceed expectations. When optimistically counting all terms such as sustainable, organic, ethical and natural, 30% of the interviewed brands mention some sort of sustainability as one of the top three characteristics of their company. The infinite stacks of clothes that make up the scenery inspire to thereafter ask the sellers and designers whether they believe that are too many clothes in the world. Again, the question is met with some hesitation, but also with some sincere contemplation. The answer is evenly divided. About 50% answers no,
often while giving me a somewhat pitiful look as I clearly do not understand the world of fashion. Clothes are good, therefore more clothes must be better and too many clothes are an impossibility. At the brand Marc Lauge I receive the further explanation that the answer is no, because the customers want more. Words that open an interesting yet possibly pointless debate on whether supply or demand has the responsibility over the amount of produced clothes. The other 50% that answers yes, seems to suspect where this interview is going. How do you see yourselves as a provider of clothes in a world that is already oversaturated with clothes? It’s the only logical question following the establishment that there are too many clothes in the world. The interviewees positively surprise me with their answers. The brand Senze of Joy poetically specifies that there are too many clothes that aren’t ment to be. They, amongst other brands, bid me to belief that they don’t intend to be a part of fast fashion. Answers vary, but come down to the same thing. Long lasting quality. Make less. Durable style. Never overstock. Locally manufactured. Natural. All of them seem to indicate one thing. Within the world of fashion, they are anti-fashion. Lauren Bowey and Rebecca Hardey from the green suitcase, supplying Denmark and beyond with fully recyclable clothes. The question that rounded up the interview was How do you see the life of your clothes? 60% answered that their clothes would actively last in a wardrobe for a long time (five years or more). The other 40% said their clothes are fashion-bound and don’t last longer than one season. Topping everything was the company P&T Fur, represented by three girls surrounded by colorful fur coats. They discuss the matter for a minute and then agree that P&T is the H&M of fur - providing fur that lasts one season.
Most brands struggle when the question is narrowed down to how they see the end of life of their clothes. Some defensive answers are uttered, such as, when it’s worn out, it’s worn out and once it’s sold, it’s the responsibility of the customer. Only 20% provides clothes that are recyclable, of which the green suitcase deserves a special notice. They bring clothing to the market that fits within the Cradle to Cradle-recycling principal, which is the eco fashion equivalent of fully sweating out the flue. Another special notice here is to be made for OiSoiOi. They look me straight in the eye when they say We know we are selling things that nobody needs. But OiSoiOi uses natural fabrics only, hand crafted under good working conditions. By buying our things the customer creates honest jobs for many Vietnamese women. As can be concluded from this survey, many fashion brands are yet to join the sustainability trail wagon and accept that there is no inexhaustable supply of fabric and cheap labour to binanually redress world’s fashion devotees. Inspired by the more eco and ethical focused brands it also contentedly concludes with the notion that fashion has the great power to put consumption habits to the benefits of planet and humanity. It is time to take on the corresponding responsibility. Text by Kira Van den Ende. To be published at ecosmagazine.com