We work in a system where we no longer care about quality and value. Because there is no transparency throughout the supply chain, we like to ignore the fact that people all over the world suffer, making the garments we buy. I am convinced that we can all agree that our fashion system should not work this way. But to achieve change, we need to rethink and counteract. If we succeed to revolutionize the system from the inside, it will be easier to change it; and any small feat is a change for the better.
Let us start with cross-industry cooperation. This would be beneficial to all of us – to make products and concepts better and more embedded. This way, a new system could be developed, and we would start to complement each other, focusing on usability, sustainability, materials and design.
Zero Waste Fashion includes different ways of working with material in shape, such as knitting or crocheting. But there are also ways like smoking and folding to get a simple piece into shape. I would also like to mention the Zero Waste Pattern, which I see as a way to stick with the patterns for fashion, but without generating all the fabric waste.
Plastic combined with natural materials – no problem – as long as it can be divided for disposal. As long as different materials can be separated, they can still be recycled. However, if we continue to use fabrics with a mixture of e.g. cotton and polyester, recycling will not be possible, unless we create a way to separate these fibers at some point in the future. But until then, we should think about the afterlife of our designs as early as in the design stage, since the material life on this planet is not over after they are disposed of.
If compostable materials are used, recycling would usually mean to compost – which is absolutely fine, since this way the nutrients return to the earth and new plants grow.
The design lives from the fabric it is made of. But we tend to pretend that the decision to choose a sustainable fabric from a regenerative source or a more sustainable alternative, in general, is not in our hands. In fact, it is up to us as designers to make an informed decision and understand that we are responsible for the likely damage that could be or has been caused by choosing a bad option.
I am constantly working on the treasure-section on fiberstorm.ch to make sustainable materials more visible and accessible.
Many dyes are known to be very harmful to the human body and the environment. Depending on where we work, there may be a purification system for the water after the dyeing process – but most production countries don’t have one, so they end up with colorful but toxic rivers and soils. There are natural alternatives for these dyes, which do not always have the same intensity as chemical dyes. But we should take a closer look at the processes and factories and find a solution that is satisfactory for all parties involved and explore new ways.
An important factor of sustainable work is transparency. Transparency over the entire supply chain, the chemicals involved, the wages paid etc. This also includes the transfer of knowledge to give other designers better access to sustainable sources. If finding good suppliers and production studios were easier, designers could favor them over those they had chosen to support due to lack of time and effort to invest in better options.
As long as access to good and affordable sources remains difficult due to lack of information, there is no urgent need for designers or clients to reconsider their decisions, since excuses tend to be an easier way of handling poor choices. More transparency throughout the industry would force companies to be more sustainable, since their lacking would be more obvious and therefore their support would lessen.
The cradle-to-cradle principle separates the natural and technical material cycles. The aim is to have circular systems that work, provided these two cycles do not mix. In order for the cradle-to-cradle system to function, it is important to understand that the designer does not carry the responsibility to do everything on his own. The designer only needs to know where they can go to acquire this knowledge. This means that our task is to know where we get the information and materials from, who can recycle them and also what is still missing or not yet as developed as we want it to be. We should already think about the product’s afterlife while designing, since that is the only way to ensure the product’s functional capability in a circular system.
Apart from a timeless design, the garment quality must fulfill high standards in order to assure that pieces can be worn over longer periods of time. Quality issues can be caused by unreflective design, wrong material choices, production with lack of time, chemical treatment… in other words: by saving money and time. So be generous with your designs!
According to my definition, reflected design is aesthetic, practical and long-term. We should stop making products that do not fulfill these criteria, because they will never be the perfect product someone will buy and then own for a long period of time. Well reflected design brings joy and is more appreciated that way.
The use of fabric is crucial for fashion. But the damage that fabric production can cause is not discussed enough. When buying fabric, we should only buy GOTS certified fabrics. Even though there are many different certificates, GOTS is preferable, because it respects most of the 17 goals the United Nations set for sustainable development.[i]Only by using certified materials can we assure our customers – and ourselves – that the least possible amount of damage has been caused in production. The same applies for FSC-certified paper and wood.
Learning and understanding how to create a zero-waste pattern is essential and should become the basis for garment design. This will ensure that no fabric waste is created during the production of the designs. This design system also has an influence on the own design language and can even be called a design method.
I think that in the context of sustainability we should not forget to preserve old techniques. Their use in designs makes them more valuable and special. Given that these techniques influence the way the garment lies on the body. They create volume, shape and simply give the feeling of wearing something special. That’s what differentiates simplicity and timelessness.
Fashion is a fast-moving industry. Increasingly, more and more new trends hit the market to create greater revenue and as long as the market is consumed by the notion of selling more, faster and cheaper, everyone involved will suffer. We should start to take more time, to reflect on design, make less and lessen the pace, and therefore create better, more sustainable results. We would also rid ourselves of the stress of long workdays if we decided to find our own rhythm instead.
The distance an article of clothing travels – from fiber to being sold – is incredible. We move it back and forth – in fact we are acting in a globalized industry. This was definitely not the case in the past. We had a nice and strong textile industry in Europe where fashion used to be different in all areas. Now, there are hardly any reminiscences left on our continent of our once flourishing textile industry. Smaller businesses are starting to recultivate this tradition since it is also much more sustainable not to ship material around the globe several times before its use.
Since leather production has a huge impact on the environment, we should reject the use of leather and fur. There are so many beautiful natural alternatives. I am currently investigating the sustainability of some of these alternatives in order to provide insight to those that I think should be supported.
We should also continue to look for alternative fabrics or fasteners – or whatever our heart desires for our work – because there are so many nice alternatives currently being developed. Therefore, stay up to date on fiberstorm.ch!
With prints we encounter a similar problem as with dyes. Depending on which process you choose for prints, there are different difficulties, but the dye problem remains the same. For printing there is the option of screen printing, where many toxic chemicals are used to apply to the screen, or the option of digital printing, which has an enormous energy consumption. There are certainly better options than conventional printing, and it is up to us to find the ones that work for us.
When we begin to rethink our design over its original life cycle, one way to do so is through circular design. Circular design suggests that an item of clothing is planned to be modified, dyed, reused, to be given or be a part of a new design. You can redesign a circular designed piece several times until you finally need to recycle it. This way of thinking makes a lot of sense, especially when using plastics, as they have a life span of about 200 years.
Timelessness is the key to longevity. If designs are no longer made and bought to fit the current fashion stream, but to fit yourself, the purchase of new clothes would be drastically reduced, because you would then love what you already have and maybe just feel the need to have only a few, but special items.
The appreciation for material, time, resources, art and handcraft is getting lost in the fashion system. This is not really surprising considering the huge amount of available materials, lack of transparency and a competition-driven economy. How could this be any different if designers or salespeople already do not attach any value to the articles. This is a huge problem, since it is then up to the buyer alone to value, appreciate and care for their possessions.
We should all set ourselves the goal of counteracting the current stream of fast fashion and the way we handle our clothes with no appreciation. Interestingly, we could think about slow fashion as a modernization of the traditional costume, the Tracht. In earlier times people appreciated the few clothes they had. They were made with hand embroidery, smok and other time-consuming techniques, but this made the Tracht even more valuable. It is a beloved garment that is worn every day and makes the person who wears it feel simply wonderful! We should have less again but love it all more in return.
We should deconstruct the current fashion system back to its roots. It does not have to be linear. We don’t have to ship our products around the globe to make them cheaper to produce, because that way we can influence it much less than we’d like. We should ask ourselves why we are, where we are, how we act, who we support and why we do this. Break the rules, work the way is best for you and not what is best for the system.
For materials that cannot be recycled or composted properly, upcycling is an acceptable option for the time being. This way we give the material a value and extend its life span. But it must be mentioned that this is not an ideal course of action as it does not keep materials in permanent cycles.
Good sustainable practice also includes the economic viability. Therefore, it is essential to develop new sustainable business models that include financial security. Today the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey suggest that labels should follow the RESOLVE idea (regenerate, share, optimize, loop, virtualize,exchange) for a more sustainable practice. This is a start for sure, but in my opinion, this will never lead to a fully sustainable business because they continue to operate in old systems. To interrupt this pattern and achieve a fully sustainable industry, we need to think in terms of new business models. These new business models should be designed to ensure the survival of the brand while benefiting the planet and people.
Both designers and consumers should pay more attention to what we create and buy. We should be clear about what or who we support, who will benefit or suffer and why we do what we do. More awareness starts with recognizing that a certain material does not feel good on the skin or with thinking about other options other than throwing a garment in the trash. There are many ways to focus on consciousness and awareness and every one of them is right.