Innovation And Sustainability In Fashion

A recap from part one of PSFK’s Innovation in Fashion Salon that looks at how sustainability is driving the fashion business.

Yesterday’s PSFK Salon at the Soho House in New York brought together two panels around Innovation in Fashion. The morning’s first discussion featured Simon Collins, Dean of the School of Fashion at Parsons, Christina Liedtke, Founder of Christina J. Paul Couture and Gill Linton, Founder of Byronesque, speaking about how sustainability is driving the fashion business.¬†Given that aesthetics and style concerns drive the industry both from a brand and consumer perspective, it became clear from the get go that in any conversation around fashion, the fashion itself has to come first, meaning that sustainability has to naturally co-exist alongside these expectations.

Collins noted that in a capitalist marketplace, it’s difficult to define sustainability as it has many different meanings from environmental concerns to economic ones. While it may be impossible to retrofit solutions on top of the existing model of manufacturing, distribution and consumption that address all of these issues, he feels that it shouldn’t be the goal anyway. Instead, the focus should be on changing behaviors as we move forward without being confined by the ingrained attitudes that already exist. This could take the form of things like new materials, processes and/or messaging.

This was echoed by Liedtke, who felt that designers needed to take a creative approach to how they source and use materials in their lines. While these alternatives from local fibers to upcycled textiles and plastics might be in short supply, finding ways to incorporate them into the finished product is an important step towards better practices. However, she noted that simply putting these materials into the marketplace wasn’t enough on its own, believing that brands need to take a central role in educating the consumer about why these choices are an important.

Linton agreed that the consumer decision-making process was in need of a reboot, feeling that the industry has conditioned people to expect their clothing to be cheap and readily available. The collective result is a homogeneous look that is far less interesting and much more disposable. To combat this, people need to be taught to buy less and choose well, looking to garments with stories to tell that create value beyond dollars and cents. Acknowledging that not everyone can afford to buy from boutiques and smaller labels, she points to vintage as a way to accomplish this. Contemporary fashion works because it makes shopping very easy and exciting, and that same thinking needs to be applied to how vintage is packaged, moving it away from dingy and dispersed, to more curated and accessible.

Because of many the challenges involved in bringing sustainability into mainstream fashion, real change will have to rely on the efforts of both brands and consumers, and will likely happen in stages. This notion of appealing to the environment, investors and a customer-base is perhaps best exemplified by an anecdote volunteered by Collins, relaying one (unnamed) major fashion brand’s response to the possibility of selling a “zero-waste” denim line in their stores,

“if we add an eco-friendly line, what does that say about the rest of our clothes?”

A conundrum indeed.

Keep up with future PSFK events here.

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