Susana Colina: Eco-Friendly Designer Lives Green

susana colina

MONTREAL, CanadaSusana Colina is an eco-friendly designer who approaches her work with a minimalist attitude and creates with a global clientele in mind. She only uses natural and organic fabrics because she believes it’s important for her products to benefit the environment and those who wear them. Colina simply lives green and experiments with organic cotton, hemp, soy fabrics, lyocell and bamboo fibres. In fact, the Brooklyn-based Venezuelan designer has always felt at ease and comfortable within nature and believes that her eponymous collection reflects her carefree attitude in life.

Aspirational Beginnings

Fashion designers are creative individuals throughout their lives and Susana Colina is no exception. She has always dreamed of being a fashion designer and has wanted to pursue this career from a young age. However, her hometown did not offer any fashion design programmes and her family wanted her to pursue a postsecondary education. Consequently, she enrolled as a graphic design student to find her artistic style and to learn about abstractionism and modernism. Colina thought she would simply go to a fashion design school later on. As Colina recalls:

At some point, I decided to start designing what was in my head and wanted to put it out there. That moment arrived only when I was comfortable enough to show what I was doing.

Living Green

Susana Colina is known for her eco-friendly designs, but she began with a different concept at the beginning of her career. She used regular fabrics to build her first collection until she began to re-evaluate her lifestyle choices. Colina has been a vegetarian for six years now and feels healthiest at this moment in her life. Her vegetarianism made her more curious about eco-friendly techniques as she wanted to live a purer life. After some research, she found a plethora of alternative fabrics and connected with them immediately. Since then, she has gone to thousands of trade shows and done a lot more research to find the best eco-friendly fabrics.

Colina explains that there are even variations of the organic and natural fabrics that we know since there has been an increased demand for them: “It felt like me. At the end of the day, that is what my collection is about. What is funny is that for years, I was trying to come up with a name for my collection that would not be my own name. However, it did not feel right.”

I realised that this project reflects so much of who I am that it should have my name. I use organic and natural fabrics because that is a reflection of the lifestyle I have.

Minimalist At Its Finest

Her Autumn/Winter 2015 collection consists of clean and refined lines that have an elegant edge to them. Colina envisions professional women who frequent art galleries and work at fashion magazines when she designs her clothes. She keeps her designs simple because she thinks it is important for women to express their style and to accessorise as they please. She has tried to create elaborate designs on paper, but she finds herself editing them to their most minimalist portion. As Colina recalls: “I like minimalism. I respect the lines. When I start designing, one thing is having it on paper, another thing is on a fabric, which will tell you where to go. It is part of nature and part of the original fabric. This is the way I am built and these are the shapes I will give you. I love it because I create a lot from that.”

Susana Colina
Finn Dress Autumn/Winter 2015
Susana Colina
Faxa Dress Autumn/Winter 2015
Susana Colina
Fara Sweater Autumn/Winter 2015

The Confines Of Creativity

There are many challenges to maintain an eco-friendly brand. Prior to the fashion industry’s interest in sustainable fabrics, Colina had limited options, not only in the choice of fabrics, but also in their texture as you could not find the flexible fabrics that you can get now. Hemp was the first fabric she experimented with and she found it almost impossible to iron at the time since they were mainly for furniture. She had to be realistic about the types of shapes she could create, but she finds these challenges rewarding because of its benefits to the environment.

By getting to know lyocell and bamboo, you get a real sense of what you can build because it is not your typical flawy chiffon.

The Eco-friendly Community

Sustainable and eco-friendly cosmetics are also integral to Susana Colina’s life. Her last photo shoot featured a natural and organic makeup artist who opened her eyes to a whole new world of possibilities. She loves the message and the idea of a community around herself who support her values. She says that she would even use organic light bulbs or cable wires to support her cause. There is a strong eco-friendly community and she wants to support it in any way she can.

An Ethical Matter

The Bangladesh factory collapse in 2013 was a disastrous affair where thousands of lives were lost. It brought instant awareness about the consequences of fast fashion and many companies signed a petition that advocated for better work conditions, a cause that Susana Colina firmly supports and practices in any way she can. She knows everyone who participates in the process of making her clothes, from the person she buys her fabrics from to the seamstresses who make her clothes. “Everything I create, I create here in New York…so, I know how well the people that work for me are doing. That is really important for me,” Colina concludes.

Eco-Footwear: A Holiday Must-Have Essential

Sydney Brown

SAN FRANCISCO, United StatesSydney Brown is a must-have luxury footwear this holiday season. The label is earning great eco-credentials for its feel-good footwear that is sexy on your feet, yet extremely gentle on the environment. Therefore, we are delighted to get an intimate look at the shoe brand, the person behind the creativity, and why you should add a pair to your holiday wish list.

Sydney Brown A Pioneer in Eco-conscious Footwear

Sydney Brown is a pioneer in eco-conscious footwear. Every collection is made of sustainable and recyclable uppers with eco-friendly materials including faux-nappa, cork bonded to organic cotton, recycled plastic bottles, sustainably-harvested Alder, reclaimed wood, eco-copper, coconut insoles, fibre and natural rubber. And, for all animal lovers, it is also consciously constructed free of animal products like leather and fur! Each pair is an investment because of its timeless design, thoughtfully handcrafted by artisans in its atelier based in Los Angeles to outlast many seasonal trends.

In its 6th season, the collection is every bit as amazing as it sounds. The 2015 Spring/Summer Collection is greatly influenced by Japanese aesthetics, giving off simplistic elegance that is essential to any wardrobe. The brand combines dynamic designs with stylish comfort, and features a variety of styles from classic wooden heels to more casual-chic wedges. The collection is inspired by “El Matador Beach” in Malibu. With landscape textures, subtle shapes and a striking palette of muted shades to emphasise sculptural lines, surfaces and detailing, over embellishments. Accents of metallic, metal heels, slide sandals and flatforms add just the right hint of shine to glam up any holiday outfit.

Sydney Brown, an American-born designer based in Los Angeles defines luxury by the goods being made consciously and with sustainability. It is inspiring to know that her creativity is in part an effort to reduce animal cruelty and methods that negatively impact the environment. The distinct perimeters in which she abides by for her label — to respect the workers, animals and earth — is something that the whole fashion industry should follow. Her approach is unique in that she draws influence from the Shinto religion of Japan, where all objects have a soul, and uses that concept as the foundation for her designs. As Sydney comments:

It takes about 20 hours to create a pair of shoes. I imagine a little piece of me being passed along, and aim to create a ‘cradle to cradle’ life cycle on every single pair I work on.

Sydney Brown Eco-footwear
Sydney Brown

Sydney Brown Interview

Below is our exclusive interview with Sydney Brown. An intimate look on Brown’s journey to becoming an eco-friendly footwear designer, her recent 2015 collection, and the essential pair of shoes from her collection for this holiday season.

What steered you towards designing eco-friendly shoes?

I had been a vegetarian for over 20 years and I always felt conflicted about buying leather but not eating meat. I started the shoe line as a sort of reaction to there being no sustainable, animal-friendly luxury footwear options on the market.

Why are your shoes considered eco-conscious?

Along with Dr. Kate Fletcher, my sustainability advisor, we have developed the core tenets of the brand to revolve around the concept of “reverence for life”. This respect for life is extended to three spheres: human — working conditions, fair labour practices, foot health and shoe comfort for wearers; animal — no materials derived from animal products; and environment — minimum use of hazardous substances and non-renewable resources, low energy and water consuming materials and processes, and minimum waste production.

Sydney Brown Eco-footwear
Sydney Brown 2015 Spring Summer Collection Ankle Boot

How did you come to use these materials?

Leather is an amazing material because it is so malleable and durable. To find alternatives has been extremely challenging and a learning process. We are now in the stage of developing many of the materials in-house, but still source some of the technical fabrics in Italy.

Why is the Japanese culture a predominant inspiration in your collections?

I lived in Japan for ten years. I initially went there to do a masters programme in sound design. I was working on sound architecture for a specific venue and ended up apprenticing and partnering with an incredible Japanese designer. He worked with me for over 10 years on all aspects of formal design and Japanese aesthetics.

Can you explain how Japanese aesthetics is different from the American one?

Fashion in Japan, as everything in Japan, comes from a completely different place. For example the primary elements of Japanese design focus on materials, textures and surfaces rather than embellishments. This creates a minimal effect for which many of the major Japanese designers (Rei Kawakubo, Yoji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake) are recognised. In Japanese street fashion, from my experience, the looks are much more deliberated upon – every aspect of an outfit is really thought out. It is always fascinating to me that the combinations that would look totally ridiculous on me, look amazing on many of them. I still do most of my shopping in Japan as the subtle elements – from the beautiful salmon colour of a kitchen knife, to the incredibly soft indigo hemp of a bathrobe – are so amazing.

Aside from designing shoes, what other passions do you have?

My other biggest passion is my music festival. I organise and curate an annual electronic music festival in Nagano, Japan called Taico Club. It is a charity festival with all proceeds going to the tsunami relief. In 2015, we will have our 10th anniversary, which is very exciting!

Is your SS15 collection available now and how do we get our hands on a pair?

The SS15 collection will begin shipment in December. Custom orders are available now through the website. The shoes range in price from $400 – $600. It is sold in upscale boutiques throughout the world.
Mona Moore and H. Lorenzo in Los Angeles, Gimme Shoes in San Francisco, Assembly NY in NYC, The Acey in the UK, Umasan in Berlin, and many more. Please check our Stockists list for a full listing.

What future plans do you have for the brand?

We will soon be launching sneakers for both men and women and a men’s collection is in the works.

Which pair of Sydney Brown shoes from your 2015 Spring/Summer collection would you say is an essential this season?

The Heeled Clogs and Open Toe Heels would be the most fitting. The texture of the cork paired with the stained wood on the Heeled Clogs adds an element of luxury. The metal on the Open Toe Heels creates a bit of flash for the holidays.

Which style in your collection would you say is your favourite and why?

I wear the Clogs on a daily basis. They are low enough to run around in and high enough to be somewhat sculptural.

That said, subtlety is the new glitz! Ditch seasonal embellishments and opt for edgy, metal block-heels and wooden platform shoes in soft hues of beige, sand, nude and metallic in place of winter whites. This is the season’s new minimalistic, holiday-chic look without being overly flashy. In fact, the sleek architectural designs offset the busyness of seasonal festivities. Not to mention, any efforts to reduce negative environmental impacts of fashion would be applauded by the green community. Thus, you are doing your part in keeping the earth green, and look fashionable at the same time!

Eco-fashion could not be more glamorous. Go ahead and indulge in your shoe fetish without feeling guilty. Celebrate the season by giving the gift of stylish, fashion-forward shoes from the Sydney Brown collection: a chic alternative to leather shoes for the style-savvy individuals. The animals and environment will thank you for it!

Sydney Brown Eco-footwear
Sydney Brown 2015 Spring Summer Collection Wedge Clog

Confetti System Redefines Sparkle

Confetti System - Giant piece for PS1/MOMA

NEW YORK, United StatesConfetti System is a New York collaboration between two longtime friends, Julie Ho and Nicholas Andersen, who make creative and festive “party” decor. Using tissue, metallic paper, Mylar, cardboard, string and a lot of glue the duo make elaborate pinatas, garlands, fringe, banners, pennants and flowers. Adding glamor to any space, Confetti System has been hired by many hot retailers, taste-makers, rock bands, and fashion houses to create an inspirational focal point of the lackluster decor of concert halls, store windows, and runways.

Confetti System: The Inspiration

The shaggy geometric shapes transform simple materials into elegant objects that make any room or display feel unique, spontaneous, and playful. Inspired by Nicholas’ Hawaiian upbringing and Julie’s Taiwanese-Chinese background, Confetti System’s scenes evoke memories of leis, lanterns and lucky envelopes. Julie has been influenced and interested in dioramas, like the ones at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, since she was a little kid.

The idea of installing art and being able to change the environment of a small space always fascinated her. Nicholas on the other hand was always wanting to make things by hand as a child and dove into every imaginable craft project. Together they have carved out a genre of decoration unto itself that is in seriously high demand.

Our work is an expression of our combined cross cultural memories, drawing inspiration from rich sensorial experiences within temples, clubs, and other places of healing.

Confetti System - Gold Mylar
Confetti System – Gold Mylar

Confetti System: The History

Started in 2008 over Ho and Anderson’s love of DIY and creating special environments for celebrations, like their friends birthdays, weddings and holiday parties, Confetti System has since designed spaces for clients such as J Crew, Opening Ceremony, Bergdorf Goodman, Beyonce, Mercedes Benz, Gagosian Gallery, Lanvin, PS1/MOMA, Teen Vogue, Interview Magazine and the American Ballet Theatre,to name a few!

Both Ho and Anderson have backgrounds in prop styling and met on a photo shoot way back in 2001. They never thought that making paper objects would become a wildly successful internationally known business!

They started off by making “party” objects for friends and this soon developed into a multifaceted genre of design that is hard to categorize since the pieces made look just as good in a private home as they do in a store window. As Ho and Anderson like to say they are “decoration designers”, clearly blurring the lines between art, design and craft.

Confetti System - Paper flowers
Confetti System – Paper flowers

Confetti System: The Projects

Each project that Confetti System embarks on is unique and requires a thoughtful concept to work with each individual brand and environment. It is very different making garlands for the J Crew window compared to the travelling tour of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs! Their various colour tones and continual use of gold and silver metallic have been fashioned into more than just decor, including masks, curtains, and jewellery. Their painstakingly detailed work has been reaching mega audiences across the globe and becoming the go-to décor of the so-called “gliterati”.

Just recently, Confetti System styled the new flagship store of J Crew in London with large scale quintessentially iconic British items. Ho and Anderson spent five days putting together the corner window display after having fabricated everything in a Brooklyn studio and shipping it flat-packed to London. Jenna Lyons, creative director of J Crew, has continually chosen to work with Confetti System on various projects because their talent and concepts are always expanding and creative.

This past summer they did their first instillation at MOMA/PS1 in New York City which was a large scale piece of movable objects that could be rearranged daily to enhance and change the visual perception.

Each piece was hung from a pulley that allowed us to raise and lower each element and create hanging compositions with our piñatas, metallic walls, flower branches and oversized fruits.

Your Party!

To say that Confetti System is the reigning king and queen of party decor is an understatement, so if you are looking for something festive this holiday season look no further! The original series of party-inspired objects using paper, silk and leather which are now available on their online store, so everyone can decorate their own party with glamour and glitz this holiday season!

The Responsible Fashion Company

The Responsible Fashion Company

MILAN, Italy — The so-called era of ‘liquid modernity’ is now embracing a new era of complexity, uncertainty and systematic doubt. We are at the point of an economic revolution, where the paradigms and business models of consumption are changing and the neo-consumer — better described as a ‘consum-actor’ or ‘consum-author’ — is both a user and an active part of the complex consumption dynamics. This is positively contributing to rethinking, rebuilding and redesigning the rules of the market. Furthermore, a new slow fashion movement has started an era of critical and participatory consumption characterised by a strong new opposition between ‘to be’ and ‘to use’.

The Responsible Fashion Company (the new Greenleaf Publishing title by Francesca Romana Rinaldi; co-author Salvo Testa) presents an exploratory journey into the relationship between fashion and corporate responsibility offering challenges and opportunities of sustainability in the global fashion industry.

The Responsible Fashion Company
The Responsible Fashion Company

About the author

Francesca Romana Rinaldi is Professor of business strategy in creative and fashion management at Bocconi University in Milan. She is a faculty member of the Luxury & Fashion Knowledge of Management and the Master in Fashion, Experience & Design Management.

“I graduated from Bocconi University in business management with a focus on internationalisation strategies. Since then, I have been focusing my didactic, research and consulting activities on the fashion industry,” Francesca explains. “I have been working for Bocconi University and SDA Bocconi for 8 years now and last year, I was honoured to become Director of the Master in Retail & Brand Experience Management of Milano Fashion Institute, a consortium of Bocconi University, Catholic University and Polytechnic of Milan.”

In 2010, Francesca started the Bio-Fashion blog to give voice to firms, opinion leaders and associations on themes referring to fashion and sustainable lifestyle, hence the idea of this book:

My interest in responsible fashion started many years ago in London, while I was visiting an exhibition on innovative and eco-sustainable textiles. Since then, I started collecting sources, talking to relevant opinion leaders, associations and managers.

Francesca is also an international consultant for companies in the fashion and luxury sector, mainly on topics regarding digital strategies, brand management and business sustainability. Additionally, as a freelance journalist, she contributes to specialist magazines both in Italy and abroad.

The new paradigms between information and consumption

The Responsible Fashion Company starts with an introduction to the new consumption paradigm (Fabris) that involves the neo-consumer in a role of producer-designer-client. Today consumers are more informed on the products they buy: using new technologies and e-commerce, they can gain knowledge and awareness that can be used by companies to develop goods and services facilitating the evolution’s process.

“New technologies and the web are important tools that companies can use to be more contemporary and to allow greater involvement of the customers, both in the creation of the product, communication and distribution,” Francesca comments.

Technologies can help to increase the transparency (and traceability) of the value chain, help customers to get closer to the companies, make the shopping experience very special or just make the process more efficient… and more sustainable.

For example, we can mention LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) as a new type of consumer who makes his daily purchases paying close attention to the quality and origin of products (preferring to eat – for example – only organic food) and pursuing a lifestyle based on ecological sustainability in accordance with his health and of the planet.

The book also includes, to better describe the Fabris’ paradigm and the expression “collaborative consumption” (Botsman), an innovative way of consumption based on a more critical participation for a new era: that of sharing and shared consumption.

A new model of responsibility in fashion

The Responsible Fashion Company presents a new fashion management model based on three variables:

  • Ethics
  • Aesthetics
  • Economic efficiency

“Companies can be more transparent if they know and are able to create new partnerships with their suppliers to ensure quality in the value chain and traceability of the product. In this regard, Patagonia is among the best practices in the fashion industry. Of course the escape of know-how must be prevented but it is possible to be successful and transparent. Another great example is the IOU Project, which shows the story of each item involving the customers in completing this story,” Francesca highlights.

“Both examples decide to have a consumer-centric approach where the customer is involved through the community: Patagonia shares strong values via its environmental blog. The customer could also be involved in the storytelling around the product: the IOU Project asks the customers to complete the story of the product by uploading an image of the purchased product or asks them to become trunk show host.

The book aims to demonstrate how fashion companies can define a new social agreement better managing the three variables mentioned above: “In the book we affirm that long-term equilibrium can be achieved only by integrating economic goals, essential for the remuneration of capital and labour, with others that refer to the relationship with the environment, society, culture, art and territory, media, institutions, legislation and more importantly, the ethical dimension,” continues Francesca.

The way to generate value for all the stakeholders is integrating ethics and aesthetics in the value chain.

Fashion and the environment

There are various criteria for eco-sustainability in fashion: The Responsible Fashion Company, with the help of experts and professionals, including Claudia Reder (material researcher at Material ConneXion Italia, an international library and showroom of innovative and sustainable materials) and Giusy Bettoni (founder of CLASS, a showroom with international partnerships entirely dedicated to sustainable fashion), explores the main ones.

Eco-sustainable fashion means responsible fashion taking into consideration and relating to the environment and society. Fashion companies can carry out their activities in a responsible manner beginning with choosing and using local products as fabrics to control the value chain and being in direct contact with manufacturers to guarantee good traceability and evaluation of the supply chain to the end-consumer.

The book gives positive examples of sustainable fashion: Sinterama Group (an important benchmark for the production of polyester filament yarn) has made a strategic decision to engage in responsible innovation bringing Newlife to the market, a technological platform offering a wide range of recycled polyester threads of high quality. Its performance derived entirely from post-consumption plastic bottles collected and processed by mechanical and non-chemical means.

Newlife was chosen by Armani and Valentino for Livia Firth on her first Green Carpet Challenge, and also used by Max Mara (Innovation in the value chain). At the end of 2006, Ilaria Venturini Fendi created Carmina Campus: bags, accessories and furniture from re-used materials (Recycling). Zara, the fast fashion colossus, launched on 9 December 2010, the world’s largest eco-sustainable flagship store in Palazzo Bocconi, Rome (Greentailing).

As Francesca says: “Many criteria can be used to consider eco-sustainability in fashion such as reducing, reusing and recycling resources (water, energy, raw materials) along the value chain. The use of organic and natural fibres, vegetable dyeing, vintage practices and second-hand are just some of them.”

The advantages are not just related to the lower impact on the environment but also to the reduction of costs in the long term.

Brunello Cucinelli: Sustainable luxury

Chapter 8 of The Responsible Fashion Company, analyses the case of Brunello Cucinelli (an Italian luxury apparel brand) as a responsible fashion company’s model.

The group works according to an ethical model based on the dignity both of people and of work paying great attention to the quality of life and the human capital of the company. The company’s philosophy is also expressed by great attention to the beauty of the workplace.

The entire collections – epitome of “essential luxury” – are the expression of a contemporary “art of living” and designed on a solid foundation of tradition and high-quality artisan manufacturing.

As Francesca says: “Brunello Cucinelli is a great example of ‘an ethical and humanistic company’ that decided to ‘give back’ what has taken from the territory (Solomeo, a small town from the Middle Ages in the centre of Italy). The soul of a company today is to be at the centre of the society, being the link among all the stakeholders, employees, consumers and citizens.”

The Responsible Fashion Company shows how fashion and luxury executive companies, by deciding to integrate ethics and aesthetics in their value chains, can be ‘executive’ contributing to economic, social, cultural and moral progress at the same time. Francesca points out:

This book has been written especially for the (actual and future) managers of the fashion industry, trying to provide them with tools and ideas to innovate their businesses.

“They are important agents of change: the journey of responsibility is the result of a decision making process that can be catalysed by managers informed and trained on the issues of responsibility, being able to inspire and motivate the work of the other employees. Only in this way, the virtuous cycle of responsible fashion could be activated to generate value,” Francesca concludes.

Sustainable Fashion: From Niche to Necessity

ethical fashion forum

TORONTO, Canada – Coco Chanel once said: “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” As our world changes socially, environmentally and economically, our ideas and lifestyle choices as consumers and global citizens have begun to change as well. This shift raises many questions about the sustainability of our current fashion industry practices, what this will mean for young people, and what we should be doing to ensure a more viable and innovative fashion industry for our future generations.

With recent global incidents such as the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, dramatic climate shifts and increasing conflict over natural resources – sustainable fashion and ethical business models are transforming from a niche to a necessity.

The Social Impact of the Fashion Industry

The Rana Plaza Building collapse that occurred in April 2013 was a tragic way to bring to light the situation many workers face in some of the leading garment producing regions of the world. With limited workers’ rights legislations and poor enforcement of these regulations where they do exist, working conditions are extremely unsafe. Furthermore, low wages and a lack of direct market access lead to workers receiving little remuneration for the garments they produce, while large retailers earn hefty margins. These conditions further the poor quality of life and future prospects while increases inequality among workers. The results of these practices is a fast fashion retail strategy that focuses on bringing trends to the market in the most efficient way, which brands such as H&M and Zara have embraced.

The Environmental Implications of Fashion Industry Practices

Current fashion industry practices have led to global resource depletion and other irreversible damage to the environment. Considering that it takes 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton, equivalent to a single T-shirt and a pair of jeans, the depletion of natural resources such as fresh water is foreseeable. The drying up of the Aral Sea in central Asia, widely considered “one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters,” can largely be attributed to the fashion industry. Once considered one of the four largest lakes in the world, the body of water has shrunk by three quarters since the 1960s, gravely impacting the livelihoods of those who rely on the lake for fishing and agriculture. This tragedy is the result of decades of uncontrolled irrigation by cotton farmers in Uzbekistan, one of the world’s largest cotton exporters.

Resource depletion is not the only harmful effect of fashion production. Fashion supply chains have led to the usage and dumping of toxic chemicals, cruel treatment of animals in producing fur and leather, and millions of tonnes of unwanted textiles ending up in landfills each year.

Sustainable fashion and ethical business
Aral Sea: The shrinking of the Aral Sea is widely considered “one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters”

The Economic and Political Effect of Fashion

Even more frightening is the tension that is arising from growing inequality. While the billion dollar global fashion industry takes advantage of cheap labour and raw materials in developing nations, it is the workers in these regions that are paying the true cost of this production. Per Tamsin Lejeune, Founder and CEO of Ethical Fashion Forum:

The basic premise for all conflict is inequality.

The inequality is perhaps most evident at pictures of Rana Plaza, where clothing with popular brand labels can be identified scattered amongst the rubble. The pressure and unrest that is resulting from the depletion of resources and growing inequality is increasing the instability in many already volatile regions.

A Sustainable Solution

What will our future generations face if we continue to focus on profits, cheap prices and fast fashion? Lajeune believes that if we do not change how we produce and consume fashion, the future will look dire and “we will not be able to consume the way we do for much longer.”

Global outcry and action against the damage done by the fashion industry has led to a focus on sustainable and ethical fashion. For Lejeune: “Ethical fashion represents an approach to the design, sourcing and manufacture of clothing which maximises benefits to people and communities while minimising impact on the environment.” By work towards poverty reduction, sustainable livelihood creation, and minimising or counteracting environmental concerns, the movement is transforming our approach to production and consumption.

Sustainable fashion requires numerous stakeholders to build the ecosystem necessary to penetrate mainstream fashion. These stakeholders include not-profit organizations providing resources, advocacy and other support, governments creating the regulation necessary to encourage ethical enterprise, fashion retailers and consumers.

It can be argued that fashion retailers play the most critical role in bringing ethical, fashionable products to the market. One of the largest retailers to embrace a sustainability agenda is the Swedish brand H&M, a company that is paradoxically also heavily associated with fast fashion. As Emily Scarlett, PR Manager for H&M Canada commented:

Respect for the environment is an integral part of H&M’s business and we work actively to limit the impact that our business and that of our suppliers, stores and logistic centres have on the environment.

ethical fashion forum
H&M: Swedish Retailer H&M is embracing sustainability through their Conscious collection and other initiatives

The company created a sustainability strategy in 2009, which includes broad commitments such as being “climate smart”, adopting the “reduce, reuse and recycle” philosophy and strengthening communities, as part of their Conscious campaign. These goals are being translated into tangible actions, which included donating 3,555,687 garments to charitable causes in 2013, using 340 million fewer litres of water in denim production last year, and being the first brand to sign the Accord for Building and Fire Safety in Bangladesh.

Is it Sustainable Fashion Sustainable?

As with all disruptive ideas, sustainable fashion is facing a number of criticisms, which include questions over the viability of the business model, the true motivations of large brands embracing sustainability agendas and whether it is possible to quantitatively measure sustainability. While Lejeune recognised that there are “incredibly pioneering and inspiring” ventures taking very critical first steps, the movement clearly requires growth. According to her, this growth must include a shift in thinking when it comes to the fast fashion model, more collaboration within the industry and more accountability from retailers.

One key gap Lejeune identified is an absence of global governance, as regulation tends to vary enormously from nation-to-nation, resulting in a lack of standardised benchmarks to measure the impact of ethical fashion initiatives. There have been efforts to bridge this gap through engaging independent auditors, building databases for best practices, conducting research and developing financial reporting standards that measure a triple bottom line of financial, environmental and social impact. In fact, both Nike and Puma now release triple-bottom line accounting reports to transparently present their ethical impact each year.

Another prevalent issue is the negative criticism given to fast fashion brands such as H&M. By focusing on their Conscious initiatives, H&M is trying to integrate sustainability without “transferring any possible cost for creating our products more sustainably to our consumers,” said Scarlett. “All these things are investments, but we want to utilize them to strengthen our customer offer rather than just transfer a cost from one point to another to the consumer.”

What Will the Future Look Like?

If we do not change our behaviour – our future generations could see a world where workers continue to be exploited, resources become even scarcer leading to more irreparable damage and conflict, and profits are more important than values. However, we could reverse this trend if we focus on the triple bottom line, by ensuring that the processes we use in supply chains are ethical.

Fashion development is supposed to be a creative and aspirational process. With the industrial revolution and a focus on mass production, much of this changed. Creativity was replaced with efficiency and quality with quantity. Our future should not and cannot be that. Our future should be one where people consume less and value the items they consume more, all companies adopt a vision of sustainability and the supply chain becomes an empowering and inspiring process.

H&M has seen the value and demand of adopting such principles. “We have seen really strong reactions from our customer, employees and stakeholders,” said Scarlett. “Specifically in Canada, we collected over 200,000lbs of garments for our garment collecting initiative last year alone which is phenomenal. Our staff tells us they appreciate working for a company that has a sustainability focus and they like educating customers and friends on the work we do.”

What can we, as consumers, do to work towards such a future?

  • Educate ourselves on the supply chain process for our favourite brands.
  • Support ethically-conscious and sustainable brands.
  • Consume less and consider upcycling, recycling and reusing our garments.
  • Join the movement by advocating for and raising the profile of ethical fashion

As our climate changes, our political values evolve, our economies see turbulent shifts and our social consciousness progresses – these changes must and will transcend into our ideas and discussions around a more sustainable fashion industry.