This study seeks to answer the question of how the concept of sustainability applies to local fashion production and to explain the connection between global fashion industries and fast fashion business to the sustainability fashion products.
The Designers Speak
Sustainable fashion is defined differently depending on who is asked to define the concept. Freda Giannini, Gucci creative director defines sustainable fashion as, "Quality items that stand the test of time -- it is the concept of sustainability, symbolized by a timeless handbag that you wear again and again, and can pass on…" (Friedman, 2010, p.1)
Oscar de la Renta, designer and brand founder stated that sustainable fashion "…implies a commitment to the traditional techniques, and not just the art, of making clothes." (Friedman, 2010, p.1) Oscar de la Renta designer stated that today, she worked in the same manner that she learned first "in the anteliers of Balenciaga and Lanvin 50 years ago. We need to ensure that the next generation of seamstresses and tailors have the skills necessary to develop clothes that are not only beautiful but extremely well made." (Friedman, 2010, p.1)
It was stated by Anya Hindmarch, designer, brand founder, and initiator of the 'I am not a plastic bag' initiative that she would define the ideal as "locally sourced materials that don't pollute their creation or demise (preferably recycled) and with limited transportation to achieve the completed product." (Friedman, 2010, p.1) Dries van Notem stated "Most of what we currently refer to as sustainable fashion "is a contradiction in terms. It refers to how the fabric used for a new garment has been produced ... Yet, I believe, we need to consider this issue from a more macro and profound perspective. Though a cotton may be unbleached, we need to examine how it arrives to the manufacturer or to us the wearer. What was the 'carbon imprint' of its delivery, for example." (Friedman, 2010, p.1)
II. Defining 'Sustainability'
It is reports that the words including 'sustainability', 'green', 'eco', 'organic' and 'ethical' "are increasingly a part of the fashion conversation." (Friedman, 2010, p.1) It is reported that the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva hosted an EcoChic fair, that featured a 'sustainable fashion show'. Featured in the fashion show were garments created by designers that are well-known out of natural fibers which are reported as having been "manufactured in the most sustainable way." (Friedman, 2010, p.1)
It is additionally reported that the London Fashion Week features an exhibit called Estethica devoted to 'eco sustainable fashion' and the Fashion Institute of Technology joined forces with the University of Delaware and the Parsons design school to mount a sustainable fashion exhibit entitled "Passion for Sustainable Fashion" that is to feature student-created clothes that have been designed and manufactured in "an ethically-sourced and eco-friendly manner." (Friedman, 2010, p.1) Oscar-nominated actor Colin Firth's wife has reported that the only thing she will wear on the red carpet is 'ethical fashion'. (Friedman, 2010, p.1) The problem is that the individuals and institutions citing those two words in combination do not appear to really know what they mean. Sustainable is referred to by the London College of Fashion as "harnessing resources ethically and responsibly without destroying social and ecological balance…it does not go so far as to pin down how that might evolve when attached to the word 'fashion'." (Friedman, 2010, p.1) Friedman (2010) states that this "…lexicographical fuzziness is not a problem unique to the style world -- by which I mean the world of high-end fashion, the glossy, global brands that capture the imagination and position themselves as leaders, in every sense of the world. (High street fashion, with its worn today/tossed tomorrow ethos, brings up entirely different issues when it comes to sustainability.)
The UN itself doesn't have an agreed definition of "sustainability." The food industry has for years been wrestling with the slippery nature of terms such as 'lite', 'organic', and 'grain-fed'." (Friedman, 2010, p.1) Ethical questions are accompanied by questions relating to sustainability and Friedman states that this is a question of economics. It is noted by the international market research company of consumers that as they "…demand more from the companies they do business with, they'll want more scrutiny on ethical claims than ever before." (Friedman, 2010, p.1) It is reported to be difficult as a brand to "attach words to your actions -- you have to understand specifically what you mean by that word and be able to prove." (Friedman, 2010, p.1) Friedman states that a fashion brand may as it is 'eco' but "…in the mind of the consumer this means something entirely different to what the brand itself intends. And that way lies not consumption and balance sheet growth, but confusion." (Friedman, 2010, p.1) The question of what pre-organic cotton actually is after investigation reveals that it is "cotton form a farm that is on its way to being organic, so it's not organic at all." (Friedman, 2010, p.1)
Friedman cites the case of the recycled shoe and states that in reality the recycled shoe is just a plastic shoe and not all recycling authorizes accept shoes thereby creating for the consumer a situation in which the consumer is "filled with distrust and doubt, not just about these products but about all such products and all similar claims." (Friedman, 2010, p.1) No matter how complicated the explanations provided there is a need for a shorthand method of communication specific information concerning initiatives. The problem stated by Christian Kemp-Griffin, chief mission officer for Edun, the sustainable fashion brand created in 2005 by Ali Hewson and her husband Bono, the lead singer of U2 when interviewed at the Copenhagen conference, "…is there is no cohesion in this space. We're all just doing what we can but, because there's no official anything, no one knows the answer." (Friedman, 2010, p.1)
When the company Edun launched its business, the mission identified by the brand was such that the company was "driving sustainable employment in Africa -- not anything to do with the earth. But, four years later, it has expanded its definition; specifically, Kemp-Griffin said at the conference: "We found it was very important for us to know what was happening with the source of our cotton ... not just the manufacturing, but with the farmers." (Friedman, 2010, p.1) The creative directors of Helmut Lang stated that in terms of this evolution that they believe "sustainable fashion is clothing that continues to be relevant -- that can be worn for years. It is the opposite of disposable fashion. It is about quality of fabric and construction, intelligence of design, and the ability of a concept to withstand the test of time. [This additionally] extends to working with factories and mills that work in an ethical environment with regards to the employees and the environment." (Friedman, 2010, p.1)
Friedman asks the question of why it is that fashion didn't "start at the beginning, and pin down succulent and broad language of sustainability." (Friedman, 2010, p.1) Friedman states that the answer is in part since for a great length of time "fashion brands sensed they needed to engage with the questions on some level (just in case), they didn't really want to explain what they were doing. Their tentative forays into combining luxury and environmentalism were more defensive than offensive." (Friedman, 2010, p.1) The reason stated is because "…an industry predicated not on need but desire is one that is often associated with indulgence and excess. To add a moral dimension is to invite charges of hypocrisy." (Friedman, 2010, p.1) The World Wide Fund for Nature is reported to have published a report entitled "Deeper Luxury" which sought to grade the 10 largest luxury brands that were publicly listed in 50 various eco and ethical categories and the result is that none of them scored higher than a C+. (Friedman, 2010, paraphrased)
Purchasing fashion that is truly sustainable is a great challenge according to The Economist -- The Intelligent Life article entitled "Sustainable Fashion." It is reported that it is "eco-hogwash to boast that something is better because it is made from natural or renewable fibers. Cotton may be natural, but most cotton consumes large quantities of pesticides, fertilizers and water during production. Organic cotton makes no promises about whether nasty chemicals were used in dyeing and finishing, and fair-trade cotton has lower environmental standards than organic. Furthermore, organically grown cotton plants tend to be less productive, which can drive farmers to hack out new agricultural land from wilderness and forest. GM cotton, which requires fewer pesticides, may be more sustainable than organic -- but no eco-clothing company will touch it." (Intelligent Life, 2011) It is reported that upcycling, a process where waste products are converted into higher value products is realizing some success and that involved is turning left-over skins of salmon into swimwear by niche designers and a high street collaboration is reported in Britain between From Somewhere, upcycling designers…