The Anatomy of Sustainable Fashion

Written by Nora Locskai, originally posted on Eco Fashion World 

Photo courtesy of Eco Fashion World via Copenhagen Fashion Summit

What makes fashion sustainable? At the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, with Actress Connie Nielsen at his side, Stefan Siegel, the Founder of the contemporary designer community, NOT JUST A LABEL unveiled plans to start a platform that helps young designers solve the challenges of the industry through sustainable design.

Re-start Fashion is a practical guide in 5 steps for designers and start-ups who “are already sustainable to a certain extent as they design individual clothes in small quantities,” and wish to make the next step in becoming sustainable.

According to the guide, sustainably designed clothes are the ones which are fashionable, longlasting and represent a clear added value to the customer through the protection of the environment or local communities. In addition, their production is carried out in a transparent supply chain with the design aiming at reducing waste production.

Stefan Siegel believes that sustainability is still a taint (of weak design), this is why for instance on the NOT JUST A LABEL site they have decided not to communicate the sustainability features of collections. Siegel, who was recently named as a future fashion visionary by Fashion Critic Diane Pernet, beleives that sustainability has to be the mainstream way to approach fashion design, even if business incentives to do so are still relatively low. “This is just simply the right thing to do,” concluded Stefan over a chat at the lunch break, when I asked him about the business setbacks and financial obstacles of implementing the 5 seemingly easy steps.

Even if the tips of the Re-start guide are targeting the whole value chain of fashion production and retail, the tangible outcomes of sustainability endeavours presented at the Summit, did not and most probably could not follow this holistic approach.

Photo courtesy of Eco Fashion World via Copenhagen Fashion Summit
Photo courtesy of Eco Fashion World via Copenhagen Fashion Summit

The sustainable fashion show of Nordic designers for instance, taking place in front of the Copenhagen Opera was very much focused on environmentally friendly materials rather than functional or longlasting design. Besides the ’regular’ organic and recycled materials, Tencel and Newlife (polyester made through the recycling of plastic bottles) were the favorites of the handful of Scandinavian designers, including Filippa KMarimekko and Barbara I Gongini, who participated in the Summit’s Design Challenge.

Photo courtesy of Eco Fashion World via Copenhagen Fashion Summit

Helena Helmersson, Head of Sustainability and Catarina Midby, Head of Sustainable Fashion at H&M presented another approach towards sustainable (fast) fashion, which can be summed up as a gradual increase of the closed-loop production, as well as the steady extension of the Conscious Collection lines. During the course of a fiery discussion on the raison d’etre of fast fashion with Livia Firth (Fashion Revolution Day co-founder), Helena Helmersson stressed that for H&M sustainable fashion is about increased quality of garments coupled with the intention to reduce raw material use through its clothes take-back scheme.

Photo courtesy of Eco Fashion World via Copenhagen Fashion Summit

For Vanessa Friedman, the Fashion Editor of Financial Times who is to replace Suzy Menkes at the New York Times as of May this year, sustainable fashion “doesn’t make sense”. In her wonderfully inspiring speech, she spoke about the “other part of the equation: sustainable consumption” and proposed to shift the focus of the sustainable fashion narrative towards sustainable wardrobes. “And that, it seems to me, is a concept that makes an enormous amount of sense. (…) The point is that the decision about what constitutes value is yours, and you need to make it. 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.”

In conclusion, Friedman pointed out after the day long discussion that sustainable fashion has too many faces and that “we still don’t know what sustainable fashion means”, trying to avoid taking sides with either Livia Firth or Helena Helmersson during the panel discussion on ethical supply chain management.

My impression was exactly the opposite: the industry knows exactly what sustainable fashion means, and whether this knowledge translates into actual results depends largely on how fashion lovers demand more of it while shopping. Helmersson was clear about their inhouse trends when she mentioned that they experienced a 21% increase in demand for sustainable fashion between 2012-2013 at H&M. Friedman also hit an optimistic tone talking about millenials, saying they are actually more conscious when they make purchasing decisions, even if they are notorious overconsumers of social media.


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Eco Fashion World's mission is to promote eco fashion companies through informing consumers of their options and linking them to where they can find the products. Also, it provides an extensive resource to mentors in the eco fashion industry. Let's build this eco fashion community - together!

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