Essay: Sustainability and fashion

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  • Subject area(s): Environmental studies essays
  • Reading time: 14 minutes
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  • Published on: August 31, 2019
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  • Number of pages: 2
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Most of us know what fashion is, and most of us have an idea about what sustainability is. But when it comes to the relationship between the two, we can very easily find ourselves on new ground. Is it even possible to think fashion and design without responsibility? It is. And we do. On a daily basis design is carried out, manufactured and consumed without the slightest concern for responsibility.

One could easily be led to believe that the relation between design and responsibility is fairly new however, designers have at all times considered this relationship.

As a result of fast changing fashion trends and declining apparel prices, consumers tend to renew their wardrobe more frequently, buying more garments than ever before. This trend leads to a continual growth in production of textiles, use of non-renewable resources, and increasing disposal rate. At the same time, people are becoming more environmentally conscious.

Sustainability has become a popular subject for research in the textile and clothing field in recent years. Several handbooks have been published to help designers, retailers and consumers make informed decisions. Environmentally conscious fashion blogs and shopping sites recommend sustainable products to their growing lists of subscribers (Fletcher, 2008) .
Respected, high-end designers and retailers such as People Tree (UK), and Katharine Hemnet (UK) pioneered sustainable fashion in the 1990s and earlier. They used fair trade fibres, recycled waste into raw materials, ensured safe conditions in factories, paid living wages, and employed artisans in developing countries (Fletcher, 2008). In 2005 Peter Ingwersen founded the Danish brand Noir – Ingwersen wanted Noir to be the first luxury clothing brand to incorporate social responsibility into the business model and blend organic and fair trade principles with mink, leather and similarly luxurious materials. The founding idea behind Noir was thus to create socially conscious fashion in an industry that is not otherwise known for its commitment to social responsibility. In other words: “We want to be known as the first brand to turn corporate social responsibility sexy” .

Recently, sustainability research and development has again become high priority for couture design houses, niche retailers, specialty chains, small businesses, and mass retailers. There is also some discussion on how to get corporations and researchers to take action, implementing ecologically and sustainability today, rather than waiting for consumers to change their behavior.
Sensing a paradigm shift in the near future, retailers of all price points are incorporating some element of sustainability into their operations or have future plans to do so. Now, mass retailers including Marks and Spencer, Top Shop, H&M, Gap and Levi’s are integrating sustainable materials into their product lines, with the use of organic, recycled and rapidly renewable fibers. Companies are implementing policies to ensure better treatment of the more than 26 million people worldwide involved in textiles and clothing production (Black, 2008).

Sustainability in fashion has not yet reached the ‘tipping point’ to motivating widespread change in consumer behavior. Consumer’s clothing behaviors have profound impacts on the environment, including purchasing behavior, clothing care, and final disposal.

A lack of education or general understanding of environmental effects may be the underlying cause for most consumers’ present unsustainable behavior. Clothing labels are inadequate in informing the average consumer about the entire lifecycle of clothing, and there is little widespread understanding of globally accepted sustainability standards and certifications (Black, 2008). Price may also prevent some consumers from purchasing sustainable fashion products. A consumer’s willingness to pay, combined with perceived value of the design, have a great influence on the purchasing decision, even for the ecologically conscious consumer. If a product is too expensive for consumers to afford or not profitable for manufacturers, it cannot be considered sustainable, which is one of the greatest challenges of producing sustainable fashion.

Consumers’ decisions on how they care for clothing, including detergent selection, water temperature setting, and drying method have significant effects, due to the chemicals in detergents or bleaches, amounts of energy used, and emissions released into the atmosphere (Fletcher, 2008; Black, 2008). Garments that need to be laundered frequently multiply the impacts. A t-shirt, for example, is washed 30-40 times during the consumer use phase (Black, 2008). Clothing disposal also has lasting effects because the decomposition process of certain fabrications can span several dec-ades. Unlimited options exist in terms of recycling, re-use, repair and redesign to keep end-of-lifecycle fashion products out of landfills (Black, 2008; Fletcher, 2008).

Personally I often hear people talking about how we need to take more care of the environment. It is becoming serious business for most of us, that we cannot keep growing and putting all kinds of things into the ground or the animals, if we want to preserve the planet and the reason. We are mov-ing away from ‘more and cheaper’ towards ‘less and better’. Quality over quantity – in every aspect of life.

This being said, I find that most of the people talking about this very seldom actually put action into words. It seems like everybody’s talking about it, but no one actually takes it that last step further. To actually do something about it!

Purpose/Problem definition

Re-design of Used Clothes as a Sustainable Fashion Solution – Consumer Interest and Experience
The primary aim of this mixed methods study is to explore the viability of a service or business in redesigning used garments as a sustainable alternative to disposal.

Research Questions

Three over-arching research questions will guide this study in order to identify;

1) a profile of the potential consumer,
2) which garments have potential to be re-designed,
3) recommendations for future redesign businesses.
RQ1: Who are the potential consumers for apparel re-design?
i. What demographics describe potential consumers? (Who are they?)
ii. What might interest potential consumers to use a redesign service?
iii. How will consumers self-report their clothing behavior?

RQ2: What garments have potential to be re-designed?
i. What garment categories are most popular for redesign?
ii. What attributes of garments will be re-designed?
iii. What is the extent of re-design requested?

RQ3: What might be some of the best practices for the re-design process?
i. What must a redesign business provide (re-designer’s skills, facilities, supplies)?
ii. What are the desired points of entry and levels of involvement consumers wish to have in the process?
iii. How should re-design be marketed to attract the attention of potential consumers?
iv. How does consumer satisfaction influence their willingness to pay, recommend to others, and length of continued wear of the garment?


Through focus group discussions and questionnaires with closed-ended items, I seek to answer who potential redesign consumers are, and thereby the appropriate target market for the service.
I want to collaborate with the focus group participants to conceptualize practical, executable rede-sign plans for used garments – garments that the participants bring themselves.
After the garments have been re-designed they will be presented to the participants, in order for them to give feedback. These suggestions may be used to develop recommendations for a future redesign business.

Artefact Analysis of the garments?

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