The apparel industry has a dilemma — its growing market of global middle class consumers wants their fashion fast and cheap, but the planet can’t sustain the current rate (or trend line) of resource consumption or environmental impacts. Author, editor, FIT assistant dean of the School of Art & Design, and sustainable fashion expert, Sass Brown, gives us an insider’s take on the seismic shifts pushing the fashion and apparel industry towards less wasteful systems and technology, new heights in design, and far more responsible corporate citizenship when it comes to resourcing, environmental impacts and social justice.
GoGreen Conference: From an insider’s perspective, what is the incentive for the fashion industry to address sustainability and social impact concerns?
Sass Brown: First and foremost there is the knowledge that they are doing something worthwhile that goes beyond mere profits, and aligns them better with current attitudes and values in the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. The fashion industry has always prided itself on being cutting edge, so leading by example by integrating systemic change inside their own industry has major PR benefits to a consumer who is becoming more and more conscious in their consumption, and voting with their hard earned dollars.
GG: What kind of change have you seen in the past five years in terms of industry and designer attitudes towards more responsible supply chains and ethical production? Is this trend a blip on the radar or a meaningful shift in “business as usual”?
SB: There is no doubt this is a major shift in values in corporations as well as the consumer behaviour. The fashion and related industries is a major global employer, and as such has the ability to impact the planet through the changes they make. The past few years has seen more and more designers building new models and systems instead of blindly following the existing fashion system, which is unsustainable by definition. The first wave of sustainable fashion designers concentrated on making more conscious material or production choices but within the existing systems, the newer designers are no longer trying to conform to the models which are wasteful by definition, but forging their own models and building new systems.
GG: What role is technology playing in driving sustainability in the fashion industry? Has it affected design as well as production and sourcing? Are there key technologies that are especially promising in this area?