Sustainable fashion – is it really possible?

sarah-dorweiler-357724Can we consume less? 

Fashion products are now cheaper and more disposable than ever before, encouraging the ‘use and dispose’ culture.

How come we still do not have the technology, innovation or policies in place that can solve this problem?

Can we expect people to consume substantially less? With a growing population and consumption this would be highly challenging, and some may think impossible. Expecting all consumers to suddenly become more environmentally and ethically conscious is very ambitious and unrealistic. Creation of a slow consumption movement could help reduce levels of consumption. However getting buy-in from the general public would be difficult, as many aspire luxury lifestyles.

Unsustainable material?

After the industrial revolution, technology and innovation in the fashion industry developed faster than ever before.  “Nylon” called the Miracle Fibre was one of the biggest innovations in fabric as it did not wrinkle or shrink.

This was a revolution in fabric production and the start of petroleum based fibres.  The innovations back then were the outcome of industrial enhancements. Such innovations did not give any thought to longer term consequences. Excessive use and irresponsible disposal of plastics resulted in this;

Nylon
https://guardian.ng/sunday-magazine/nylon-plastic-and-effects-on-environment/

There are now many successful initiatives to clean the oceans and use the waste materials.

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https://nylon.com/articles/stella-mccartney-winter-2017-campaign

So what do we do with all this waste?

Having witnessed all the harmful aspects of the industrial revolution, individuals and organisations around the world are now seeking to create better and more thoughtful innovations, actively seeking to reduce and reverse all the harm that we created . A very good example of such an innovation is a new recycled fibre created by an Italian company named Econyl which recycled waste nylon from fishnets etc. to high quality materials.

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http://www.econyl.com/regeneration-system/

In recent years, there have been many new innovations in the fashion industry, with a particular new focus on creating sustainable fibres. These include the cellulose based fabrics made out of tree pulps, which are sustainably forested and bio-degradable, Pinatex (Pineapple leather) etc. However we don’t see so much of clothes made of these fabrics on the high streets.

Undoubtedly there are some barriers to sustainable fashion, including dramatic rises in pricing (due to higher production costs, including ethical considerations) as well as limitations in variety/ choice. In my experience these barriers create challenges in any attempt to develop a sustainable clothing range.

Supply chains in the fashion industry can be quite complex, as there may be a great deal of grey areas that can be left uncontrolled. This is where the governments and policy makers should be proactive, with rules and regulations that force the manufacturers to establish necessary actions in order to avoid unsustainable production processes.

A highly effective strategy could be for governments and policymakers to play a proactive role in the creation of ‘green supply chains’, including appropriate ‘certifications and labelling’. This would help establish truly sustainable production and consumption networks that will facilitate a move to a better future in the fashion industry.

 

A sustainability leadership journey..

I had decided to launch a fashion business at the age of 23 with the idea in mind of not re-defining fashion but re-defining how it was made.

This is how Rakha’s journey started back in 2010. At the time I knew almost nothing about sustainability however, I knew that I did not want to make clothes from synthetic or low quality fabrics. I was keen on the idea of creating clothes made out of natural and environmentally friendly materials that were high quality but also affordable.

After few years, as the business grew, I realised that subconsciously I was drawn into the fast fashion culture, creating new collections every month, with insufficient focus on sustainability and durability. As a result, my initial idea of starting a sustainable fashion business almost vanished. At this point I had taken a decision to stop trading, with the aim of relaunching Rakha as a truly sustainable brand. Of course from a purely business perspective this was not a wise decision. This was my (Rakha’s) turning point, and the start of a long sustainability journey, with the ultimate aim of making Rakha a completely sustainable women’s wear brand.

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Currently Rakha brand creates collections made from approximately 80% bio-degradable and %20 recycled, and all certified materials.

Continuing my journey at CISL my goal is to find out how I can reduce the use of raw materials in Rakha’s supply chain thus reducing its reliability on natural resources. Even though all materials used by Rakha are sustainable, there is a great deal more to be done in order to make improvements needed to achieve a complete closed loop supply chain. From a different perspective, at the start of my sustainable fashion journey four years ago, a majority of customers did not care about where the materials were sourced from, how the garments were created, or the wider social and environmental impacts of these processes. With an increasing interest in and awareness of sustainable fashion a growing number of people are making a conscious effort to avoid fast fashion. However, this is still not the mass market and in my view there is also a great deal of marketing and communication that needs to be done.

While Rakha’s biggest challenge is to reduce the use of its raw materials usage by 50% within a 2 year period, by using biodegradable recycled materials, the challenge of communicating this to the mass market still remains. Achieving this 2 year target while growing Rakha’s customer base will be the key measure of my success.