Fashion is one of today’s most central cultural expressions. With our clothes we communicate who we are, but also who we want to be. Fashion can be creative and playful, a way to confront boundaries and challenge outdated norms. In addition, fashion is also an important industry; In Sweden alone, the industry employs almost 60,000 people, most of whom are women. But the influence of fashion is not entirely positive. Next to the oil industry, the fashion and textile industry is considered to be the most polluting in the world. The reasons are several – from raw materials produced in unsustainable ways to clothes being thrown into the garbage when the consumer is tired of them and wants something new. The clothes that, on the one hand, create jobs and joy in many people’s everyday lives, on the other hand, contribute to an increasingly polluted world. For a long time it was hard to see how these seemingly different stories belong together. Today, we know better: they are two sides of the same coin.
We are now facing an emergency situation. But the question of how fashion – production as well as consumption – can be more sustainable is far from easy to answer. There is no universal cure. Clothes are at the same time basic goods and luxury consumption, so the solution is not a ban or to simply stop buying clothes. The goal should rather be to reduce overconsumption, that we use the clothes we already have – more often and for longer periods. Instead of scoldings and prohibitions, we will convey good examples: We should highlight new solutions and alternatives of how a more sustainable fashion can look, rather than pointing finger to those who have not come as far.
One way to circle the problem is to think both deep and wide. We should ask ourselves what stories of fashion are communicated – how can we share the positive development that already takes place in Sweden and in the Nordic region? It’s about changing the narrative, encouraging new consumption patterns and ways of understanding fashion. At the same time, it is important to be concrete and study the development at the level of detail, so that knowledge about the technological and digital progress made will benefit more. One of the biggest challenges is the knowledge gap between companies and consumers. How can information about sustainable alternatives be communicated transparently and credibly to consumers, and what communication tools work best in the environments where companies and customers most often meet, like in department stores, via digital platforms and on the store floor? In addition, from a more general perspective, how can we most effectively create the best possible version of a a closed loop? Critical questions about the possibility of recycling should be asked early in the design process already, and, of course, how the garment can be transported from factory to wardrobe.
The question of the sustainability of fashion is far from new. On the other hand, it has gained a new topicality with the climate change we already see. For this reason, the entire fashion industry is facing a common challenge. Business models that were lucrative just a few years ago have often played their part. The growth of the future must be done in a way that does not harm nature or ourselves. At the same time, it is a fact that no-one can do everything by themselves, but that everyone can do something. Therefore, we now want to go from word to action, highlight the good examples, and pave the way for a more concrete way of making fashion sustainable for everyone’s best and for our common future.
Philip Warkander, PhD in Fashion Science at Stockholm University