Essay: Sustainability and fashion

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  • Sustainability and fashion
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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?


The term sustainability ranges widely, but in order to have a specific aim and more focus, I have decided on the part of sustainability that has to do with expanding the life-cycle of the actual garment.
The focus group will be a challenge – first of all finding people who want to participate, people who do not already have a relation to me or each other, and people who have different backgrounds in order to get a broader perspective and different opinions on the study.
I will have to prepare myself, and my questions in a way to gain the most from the group meetings. Furthermore, I have to decide how many participants is enough/good for the process. Also the num-bers of participants will affect the amount of garments to re-design – and in the end affect the time range for the assignment.
Because participants volunteer for the study, it is likely that they want to minimize the time they invest in the collaboration.

3. Literature/Theories/Empiri
• Definitions
• Sustainability
• Sustainable Consumption
• Fashion
• Sustainable Fashion
• Clothing Disposal
• Slow fashion vs. fast fashion
• (Sustainable) consumer behavior – trend types, PEJ ‘Trends til tiden’
• Attaching emotional value to clothing – Donald A. Normann (teapot slides) vs. other source
• Clothing disposal and recycling
• Clothing redesign – created/added (Verganti – design-driven innovation)
• Part conclusion – (opsumér, sammenlign teorier og bring videre med til næste del)
Prior to discussing the present study and its purpose, it will first be important to clarify the follow-ing definitions and concepts to ensure the meaning is understood throughout this assignment.

There may be as many definitions of sustainability as there are groups trying to define it. However, different ways of defining sustainability are useful for different situations and different purposes. A variety of definitions of sustainability, have been written into books to inform and educate about sustainability indicators, or ways to measure sustainability. One of these definitions is as follows, “sustainable means the capability to continue producing food and fiber indefinitely and profitably without damaging the natural resources and environmental quality on which all of us depend” (Bell & Morse, 1999). A consensus must be established so we know when and how we can or have achieved sustainability. Certain conditions must be maintained in order to consider a product or pro-cess sustainable, including quality of service or product, human quality of life, and overall well-being of people (Bell & Morse, 1999).

Sustainable Consumption
Consumption is sustainable when consumers reduce the quantity of goods they consume and choose products made through processes that support social and environmental integrity. Sustainable con-sumption involves pre-purchase, purchase, and post-purchase components.

“Fashion is a dynamic social process by which new styles are created, introduced to a consuming public, and popularly accepted by that public” (Sproles, 1979, p. 5). People in Western societies feel the need to “keep up with fashion,” even to the point of competing with one another to purchase the newest, most recent trend. Consumers, in their efforts to be fashionable, constantly demand new-ness, which in turn causes a frantic push for retailers to stay ahead of the trend curve, producing disposable, trendy items faster than ever before (Black, 2008).

Sustainable Fashion
Fletcher defined sustainability in the fashion industry as conducting business to promote human well-being and to preserve natural integrity. To Black, sustainable fashion is a paradox because of the nature of the business which profits from the rapid turn of cheap, trendy clothes in high volume. Sustainable fashion includes all aspects of a garment’s lifecycle: fiber cultivation, fabric and garment production, manufacturing, distribution, consumer laundering, reuse, and final disposal. Many sus-tainable raw materials exist, such as organic cotton, lyocell (regenerated cellulosic fiber), recycled polyester, and other post-consumer sources. Sustainable production also includes safe conditions for workers, low-impact fiber production fabrications, and dyestuffs, recycling of industrial by-products, and low-waste pattern cutting (Black, 2008; Fletcher, 2008).

Clothing Disposal
Clothing disposal includes recycling, reusing, and throwing away unwanted clothes. Recycling might entail down-cycling old clothes to rags, or up-cycling into other garments (for example, sum-mer tops made of brightly printed vintage scarves). Other methods of disposal include donating to charity, passing down to other family members, swapping with friends, selling to consignment shops, throwing in the trash, and selling on eBay or Trendsales.

Slow fashion vs. fast fashion
As more is learned about slow fashion, it has become clear that it is not just another term for ethical fashion or the antithesis of fast fashion, but a process that embodies the direction of the textile and apparel industry to incorporate more conscientious decisions at all levels of the textile and apparel complex from retailers to consumers (Fig. 1). Slow fashion is a means to combat the consumption issue which addresses the lack of sustainability of the fashion industry as a whole (Johansson, 2010). The slow fashion process challenges apparel firms to make the effort to include sustainable, environmental, and ethical practices into their designs, to select production methods that emphasize quality, craftsmanship, and experienced labor, and to educate consumers so that they can play an active role in making informed decisions regarding their apparel selections. Many companies are now integrating sustainability into the apparel design process (Gam and Banning, 2011; McAspurn, 2009). Unlike fast fashion which is focused on quickly adapting popular styles, sustainable design incorporates reflection throughout the design process (Niinim¨aki and Hassi, 2011; Leerberg et al., 2010). Designers are now encouraged to design using the cradle to cradle concept as it motivates designers to design a product with all stages of the garment’s lifecycle in mind including what hap-pens to the garment when it is no longer in use or discarded (Gam and Banning, 2011; Gam et al., 2009). Sustainable design does not come without challenges. One of the first challenges for compa-nies has been obtaining more sustainable textiles, such as organic cotton or recycled plastic bottles. Another challenge to sustainable practices is the force of constant change brought on by fast fashion retailers (Gam and Banning, 2011). Slow fashion continues to focus on the quality of a garment and the practices with which it was made. In order to be successful, retailers need to educate the con-sumer about the processes used in the creation of their apparel. Despite growing technology, con-sumers still have little access and knowledge concerning the business practice claims of many com-panies (Gargi and Ha- Brookshire, 2011). Consumers are looking for transparency today (Dilys et al., 2009). This need for transparency is a key element within the concept of slow fashion. Many professionals within textiles and apparel have begun to realize the importance of addressing prob-lems that exist in our current textile and apparel value chain. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is directly tied to accountability among apparel firms which has led to an increase in the need for transparency in the supply chain (Perry and Towers, 2009). Bad CSR practices can lead to bad pub-licity and loss of brand value (Perry, 2012). With stores such as H&M and Zara, fast fashion is not likely to disappear in the near future (Tran, 2008). As more of these retailers, such as Zara, have faced CSR challenges due to negative publicity regarding poor working conditions in their factories it has become clear that adjustments need to be made to the fast fashion model (Perry, 2012). The slow fashion process encourages rapport building with labor groups, however, which supports better planning and long-term relationships as opposed to the uncertainty derived from a continual empha-sis on reducing labor and production costs (Fletcher, 2007).

Sustainable consumer behavior
Researchers have attempted to predict sustainable consumer behavior from people’s moral or ethical values. However, sustainable consumer behavior varies among product sectors, and consumers’ ac-tual behavior is not always consistent with their values, due to external variables such as price, quali-ty, or convenience

Attaching emotional value to clothing

Clothing disposal and recycling

Clothing redesign
A trend among celebrities, DIYers, fashionistas and eco-activists may prove to be the most eco-friendly way to dress. Redesigners are recycling their wardrobes to stay fashionable without buying new.
Redesigned fashion reaches from the haute couture houses of Paris to online DIY communities: from 15,000 dollar coats made from old gloves to women pledging not to buy any new clothes for half a year. It’s a step beyond buying vintage or secondhand; redesigned fashion is about making old clothes- whether worn out, out of style or simply unloved- new again.
Considering that most of our clothing is being discarded before it is truly worn out, the most eco-friendly fabrics are those which already exist.
Redesigning used clothing may sound a bit anti-fashion, but even haute couture designers like Mar-tin Margiela, who worked for Jean-Paul Gaultier before starting his own Paris-based fashion house, has a line of “garments remodelled by hand”. Margiela’s reworked designs run in the thousands of dollars- a coat made from old gloves in his 2006 collection went for $15,124-, but the redesigned trend hits every price point.

Wardrobe recycling can range from massive surgery to simply paying to have things fixed instead of throwing them away.
“new thrifters” are choosing to hold onto their clothes longer with a bit of professional help

The apparel design process
First, we must clarify what steps are necessary in the design process. Knowing the order of the steps will establish agreement between consumers and redesigners for what is expected at each stage and will reduce uncertainty or anxiety in regard to the final outcome. Researchers have studied the ap-parel design process for more than 30 years, in both classroom settings and professional work envi-ronments in the apparel industry. Although there are variations in the delineation of design process steps and sub-steps, in general, the apparel design process can be simplified to three major steps in-cluding problem definition, creative exploration, and implementation (LaBat & Sokolowski, 1999).
The basic concepts of the design process are similar across disciplines but the apparel design process differs from other industries because products cycle through stores quickly, due to seasonally-driven demand and fashion trends.
LaBat and Sokolowski (1999) conducted a meta-analysis on design processes in a variety of disci-plines, including environmental design, engineering design, industrial/product design, and clothing design. They found many of the same steps were used for all types of design and summarized the design process in three major steps: 1) problem definition and research, 2) creative exploration, and 3) implementation (LaBat &Sokolowski, 1999).
Step 1, problem definition and research, can be broken out into three sub-steps: initial problem defi-nition, research, and working problem definition. First, the client must communicate the design problem in their own words. Next, designers conduct research to understand needs for both the user and the market as a whole. Lastly, the client(s) and designer(s) negotiate and agree upon a working problem definition, establishing criteria that will later be used to evaluate the success of the design (LaBat & Sokolowski, 1999).
Step 2, creative exploration, involves four main sub-steps. First, preliminary ideas should be generat-ed without concern of practical constraints. The goal is to brainstorm as many diverse ideas as possi-ble. Second, user and production constraints are re-introduced in order to winnow out nonfunctional ideas or reformulate ideas into executable design plans. Third, prototypes mesh the design criteria and constraints into something functional. Finally, prototypes are evaluated by the client and de-signer based on the criteria. The best one will move forward into implementation, or if none of the prototypes are acceptable, the process starts over (LaBat & Sokolowski, 1999).
Step 3, implementation, is the stage in which the object is produced. Cost and time to produce are now precisely calculated, methods of production are selected, andsales potential is discussed. As the production process is underway, additional adjustments may be made to optimize efficiency and/or reduce cost. In some cases, the design solution cannot be applied immediately, so a timeline for im-plementation is established.
In the design process described by LaBat and Sokolowski (1999), clients or consumers need not be involved in every stage because often designers are paid for their creative abilities, technical skills, and time needed to solve the problem. The client’s role in this model is limited to communication of needs, critiques, approvals, and implementation.
This study seeks to transform the client from consumer into an active co-designer. How do we make this leap, especially since most consumers are not trained designers and may not feel comfortable or confident in acting as the co-designer?
This answer may be found in co-design literature.
Customer co-design
Before diving deeper into customer co-design, it is important to define the concept.
Adding the term customer to co-design implies the fact that the co-design process is carried out to-gether with the customer who will finally receive and use the result of the co-design process, i.e. the product. Hence the customer actually acts as a co-designer of his own product, even though he or she is not trained as a professional designer. Therefore, taking all these aspects into account, the fol-lowing definition can be finalized:
Customer co-design describes a development process in which the customer and provider collective-ly ideate, elaborate and create a design specification for a product, which is purchased by the cus-tomer.

This collaborative redesign process contributes to ecological sustainability in two main ways. First, redesigning used garments avoids disposal, which often is done with little regard to environmental impacts (Raboldt et al., 2010; Ha-Brookshire & Hodges,2009; Birtwistle & Moore, 2007). Second, this co-design process keeps production and distribution local, which avoids high transportation costs and depletion of nonrenewable fossil fuel resources (Fletcher, 2008). A potential third out-come after consumers experience collaborative redesign could be heightened awareness of possibili-ties of redesign and a new view of clothing in general.
The raw material costs for collaborative redesign of used clothing will be minimal because the major-ity of the fabric will come from the post-consumer clothing.
In this study there are no labor costs since all the design and creative work is carried out by either myself or volunteers. However, labor costs would be intensive for the design and creative work, customer service, and sewing. The challenge will then be to deliver these highly involved and per-sonalized services at a retail price that ensures the seamstress and designer are compensated ade-quately for their work and the business earns a reasonable profit, while maintaining affordability for consumers.

4. Methods/Analysis/Process
The purpose of this study was to explore the viability of a of a service or business in redesigning used garments as a sustainable alternative to disposal.
The study aimed to test the process of redesigning clothing with consumers and to develop sugges-tions for best practices for consumer collaborative redesign.
The procedure of this study included two scheduled face-to-face meetings with participants. In the first meeting participants filled out Round 1 individual questionnaires, participated in Round 1 fo-cus group discussions, and collaborated with each other and myself in a creative explora-tion/ideation workshop. Garment redesign and construction was performed by myself and a team of tailor students. The second meeting consisted of returning the garments to all participants, adminis-tering Round 2 individual questionnaires, and discussing the Round 2 focus group questions.

Participant recruitment and characteristics
First off, I conducted a group of 5 fellow tailor students, whom volunteered to help free of charge after a thorough presentation of the study. The feedback was incorporated into the final versions of the questionnaires and interview schedules used with actual participants.
Participants were recruited through three main approaches. First, I posted signs around common areas of EUC Syd advertising the study. The signs included a general description of the research, my contact information, and the requirements of eligibility: women and men over the age of 18 will-ing to collaborate in the redesign of one used clothing item from their wardrobes (see Appendix A).

Surprisingly, no one who replied to the signs actually showed up to the focus groups and thus were not counted in the final number of participants or anywhere in the data. Once they understood the time requirement for the study (approximately two to four hours), it is likely that they were not mo-tivated by a special interest in fashion or the environment to invest their time.
Second, I visited four classes at Syddansk Universitet to speak about this research opportunity. I shared stories from my industry experience, information about sustainable fashion, and examples of past garment redesigns. However, this effort yielded only three participants, two of who wanted to understand more about the design process itself for their own professional development.
The third approach, recruiting through word of mouth, was the most effective. There was a local interest in sustainable fashion, recycled, and upcycled clothing, so once I connected with the inter-ested, committed participants volunteered and followed through with focus groups.

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