The "fashion month" in New York, London, Milan and Paris may have ended, but the best of SS16 may remain unseen as Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Tokyo kicked off only this week.

The Paris shows may have ended (and with that, the major fashion month) but the best of SS16 may remain unseen as Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Tokyo kicked off only this week. With the eyes of the fashion crowd facing the east, so do ours, and we can’t wait to find out what the city (birthplace to some of our favourite designers) has in store. We are especially excited to see the collection of DRESSEDUNDRESSED, the International Woolmark Prize-nominated brand that brings a consistent flow of unisex, casualised formalwear in collections where every detail is justified, Japanese style. Keep track of all shows, taking place between 13-19 October, here

"Sustainable fashion” is a lot of things. How would you guide our readers in becoming more sustainable?

Every other week, Make it last’s sustainability expert Anna Brismar of Green Strategy answers questions about fashion and sustainability. Have a question you want answered? Send it here. And read more about what sustainable fashion really is, or at least how we define it with the help of Anna, here.

This week’s question:
“Sustainable fashion” is quite a broad concept, covering many different forms of more sustainable fashion. How would you guide our readers in becoming more sustainable in relation to fashion?

Anna Brismar: In general, people have different relationships to fashion, both in terms of how ready they are to follow trends, and also how much they care about creating a special look, style and wardrobe. Thus, people’s attitudes to new street looks and high-end fashion styles vary widely. For some people, keeping up to date with the latest in fashion is a natural and highly important part of their everyday lives. For others, looks and trends play no role at all in their lives. Still, as modern human beings, we all need to wear clothes and shoes, and we all sometimes need to access new pieces, for example when our old shoes are worn out or when our clothes break or become unfit in size.

Yet, when it comes to choosing fashion in relation to sustainability, there are even more aspects involved. At a conscious level, choosing more sustainable fashion depends on our understanding and perception of the concept “sustainability” in relation to fashion. What does “sustainable fashion” mean to me? Can fashion really be sustainable in the true sense? Moreover, our behavior in relation to fashion and sustainability also depends on our deeper concern for sustainable development and social or environmental challenges at hand. Also it depends on how strongly we believe in our own abilities to influence the state of the world. In other words, do we care about making a difference in the world? And do we believe in our ability to make a change? Or do we think that our own actions are just drops in the ocean, with no significant impact on the larger picture and our own future?

Despite such variations among people, we here assume that people today are generally quite informed, concerned and willing to make a positive difference in society – and thus ready to make some conscious, more sustainable, choices in relation to fashion too.

Based on this assumption, what forms of sustainable fashion would a person most likely prefer? Is it possible that certain forms of sustainable fashion appeal stronger to some people, while other forms are more attractive to other persons? I believe so. Here are four potential sustainability motives that could guide us in making more sustainable choices in relation to clothes and other fashion item. 


Sharing for Sustainability

Some people may believe in sharing as a central strategy to achieving sustainable development, and may feel comfortable sharing things with others, such as clothes and accessories. These persons would be likely to advocate rent/lease, swap and loan as important forms of more sustainable consumption. Passing on clothes to others through second hand and vintage would also be natural choices for this group. Here, we can expect younger people to be well represented, as they tend to experiment more freely with different looks, often by borrowing clothes from friends and relatives or buying clothes second hand. Fair & Ethical fashion also rhymes well with the notion of sharing, as part of solidarity values.

Creating for Sustainability 

Some people believe strongly in “creative actions” as a central strategy to contribute to a more sustainable society. Such persons are likely to create new fashion items, either from pre-existing materials (such as fabrics at home) or from second hand garments, vintage pieces and/or recycled materials in stores, or by using new virgin material, perhaps organic or fair-trade certified fabrics. It could be upcycling of an old garment, for example transforming an old men’s shirt into a children’s dress. Or it could be the design and making of a new original piece, for example a unique tailored dress, which has been custom-made according to personal taste and fit. Participatory design (“fashion on demand”) is another creative action, whereby the consumer is part of the last design phase and allowed to choose his/her preferred combination of fabric, style and fit. Repair work is yet another creative choice to prolong a garment’s lifetime and sustain our wardrobes.

High quality for Sustainability

Still other people tend to advocate the design and manufacturing of high quality products that are long lasting in both quality and style. Sustainable fashion here becomes synonymous with High Quality & Timeless Design, but could also be equivalent to Green & Clean (that is, organic, non-toxic or overall environmentally friendly products). Here, we would expect to find more mature fashion consumers who have found and settled for a preferred style and who are not so eager to experiment with new looks. Ordering clothes on-demand (custom-made or tailored) for the sake of quality is another typical feature of this group.

Innovating for Sustainability

The last group of consumers is, by definition, “innovation advocates”. These persons tend to put their hope for sustainability in new and advanced technologies (such as laser cutting and water-less dyeing), innovative materials (such as recyclable polyester and milk fibers), and/or production methods (such as new chemical recycling methods). Finding the preferred forms of sustainable fashion (see circular diagram) is not as obvious as for the other three groups. Yet, clothes made from innovative yarns or using new dyeing techniques (for example DyeCoo’s) would here be natural options for these consumers.

In sum, the above four sustainability motives are identified based on the assumption that people have different views on how sustainability can be most effectively and successfully achieved in society. Individually or in combination, these four sustainability motives could help guide consumers in finding their most preferred form of sustainable fashion.

What choices can designers make to contribute to a more sustainable fashion cycle?

Every other week, Make it last’s sustainability expert Anna Brismar of Green Strategy answers questions about fashion and sustainability. Read more about what sustainable fashion really is, or at least how we define it with the help of Anna, here.

This week’s question:
Designers have a significant role to play in moving away from planned obsolescence towards a more sustainable fashion industry. What choices can designers make to contribute to more long lasting fashion?

Anna Brismar: Yes, the fashion industry has been dominated by the strategy of planned obsolescence since at least the 1950s. We now need to move away from this unsustainable industry norm towards more sustainable production practices. As a designer with influence or control over design and material sourcing, there are various choices to be made to prolong the lifetime of a garment. Of course there will always be trade-offs and practical limitations involved, but knowing one’s possibilities and preferred choices is a first step in contributing to a more long lasting and sustainable product. Here are some key aspects to be considered in the process of design and sourcing:

Choice of fabrics and other materials

An important part of the design and sourcing process is the choice of fabrics and other materials:

More sustainable fibers: Organic and/or locally produced fibers, as well as fibers from recycled textile waste, are to be preferred as opposed to conventional and virgin fibers (see MADE-BY’s fiber comparison). Similarly, other materials in the garment, such as thread, buttons, zippers, and prints, should also be sustainably produced and sourced. Using yarn from recycled textiles is a growing trend that we will see more of in the coming years.

Durable fabrics that last in quality: The fabric also needs to be as durable as possible, i.e. it must not easily tear, break or wear out. Some fabrics are more sensitive than others, but will still last long if they are cared for in the right way.

A good mixture of fabric fibers: The “weakest part” of a garment will always be the limiting factor. Clothes sometimes contain a mixture of different fabrics. For example, if a blouse contains a mixture of silk and viscose, the silk parts may be the first to break and will thus limit the garment’s life expectancy. Likewise, other materials, such as the thread, buttons, zipper and prints, should also be durable. Plastic prints are often quick to lose their texture, which can be seen on many children t-shirts, thus reducing the overall durability and lifetime of the garment.

Color pigments and dyes: The fabric should also be chosen with respect to dyes and coloring pigments, opting for both durable and non-toxic alternatives. Some dyes quickly lose their color intensity and may not be ideal on certain clothes. For example a black cotton skirt may easily fade after some washes, while a black wool skirt will look well longer. Thus, the challenge is to use a dye that fixes well onto the fabric, or use a coloring technique and shade that fades with beauty.

Ethical supply chains: The supply chain of the garment’s fabric and other components should be transparent and ethical, which includes workers’ rights and conditions and animal welfare.

Easy to wash and care: All the material in the garment should be selected and combined to enable easy and gentle care, in terms of washing, drying, ironing, etc. Fabrics that do not require frequent washing, such as wool, may be a better option than cotton on certain clothes. A mixture of different materials demanding very different caring practices are not optimal for easy care.

Choice of design, style and fit

Choices related to design, style, and fit are also crucial aspects of making more long lasting products:

Long lasting design: Garments should be designed to look good and feel comfortable for as long as possible, ideally for a lifetime. As we know, successful fashion trends return, and some design pieces become wardrobe classics while other styles become long-lasting essentials.

Customizable and adaptive design: Garments can be designed to allow for adjustments in terms of size and fit. For example, a blouse can be designed with horizontal straps to adjust the size around the chest. Likewise, trousers can be designed with an elastic band or straps at the waist, to enable resizing of the waistline. The same garment can thus be made to fit two body sizes, for example 36 and 38, thus allowing for slight fluctuations in weight over time.

Design to facilitate repair: An essential design strategy to prolong a garment’s life expectancy is to allow for easy repair. This practice is sometimes called “modular design” or “circular design”. (In modular design, the garment is designed in modules that can be easily taken apart to enable easy repair and redesign.) For example, children’s jeans may be designed with knee patches already from the start (stretching all the way to the side seams). The patches should have separate seams at the knees that are easy to rip when repairing. Hereby, replacing a worn-out knee patch is facilitated and the new patch is less likely to fall off compared to a circular patch.

Zero-waste cutting: Pattern making and cutting practices are also part of the design process. There has been intensive research in this area in the last years, to develop new pattern making and cutting practices that minimize textile spill and enables more effective use of the fabric.

Design on demand: Finally, making fashion on demand is a very promising strategy to make consumers hold on to their garments for longer as they are taking an active part in the design process (primarily in its final stages). This practice is sometimes called “participatory design”.

This summary is by no means exhaustive – there are surely other important design choices and sourcing practices that could have been mentioned here. Thus, for further reading, please see Fletcher and Grose (2012) and Gwilt and Rissanen (2011).

Photos: Natalia Vodianova by Jean Baptiste Mondino, Numero 37

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