Where To From Here?

Jacinta FitzGerald, programme director of Mindful Fashion New Zealand, reflects for Fashion Quarterly on fashion’s most unforeseeable year and ponders, what’s next for sustainability?

The fashion industry contributes significantly to the challenges our world faces today. From climate change and biodiversity loss to pollution, inequality, and modern slavery, you name it, and our clothes have a link.

Prior to 2020, momentum was building on addressing these challenges, albeit slowly. The industry was making some progress towards more sustainable practices with many companies starting to take action, and innovations emerging in design, materials, and production technology. However, progress has been haphazard, due in part to the highly complex nature of the challenges.

Global Fashion Agenda has been measuring the industry’s progress on addressing its impacts since 2017. It notes that while gains were made in 2018, in 2019, action was not nearly enough to outrun the industry’s own growth. Growth expected to further increase 81 per cent by 2030. And herein lies the challenge. In an industry where the core business model is built on growth and increasing volumes of production, how do you turn off the tap?

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a tumultuous year for the fashion industry. When Covid-19 struck early on, everything was thrown into turmoil and survival became the top priority. Cities came to a standstill, businesses were forced to stop trading, and orders were cancelled.

Clothing retailers have been hard hit in most countries, faced with long-term store closures, huge supply-chain disruptions, and shifting consumer sentiment. Fashion spending plummeted in April, with only essential services allowed to trade in New Zealand. Buying local became very important to New Zealanders as we realised the effects of the pandemic. Research shows that ‘local’ and ‘price’ became the two most important factors in purchasing.

At the same time, the disruption to global supply chains has created increased demand for manufacturing locally. As well as removing the shipping challenges, local manufacturing allows brands to produce smaller production runs more quickly. Giving them an oversight of the entire process and the ability to respond rapidly to market demands.

The future of fashion that’s emerging from 2020 is based on collaboration, on diversity of people and ideas, on honesty and transparency, and it works through circular systems that are renewable and regenerative. It no longer operates on a high volume–low cost model; instead, craft and skill are prized, and quality valued.

We are seeing innovations emerge that prioritise people and nature, in the form of fibres that regenerate soil or are made from food waste; fabrics that store carbon; manufacturing hubs that build strong communities and pay living wages; resources that are regenerated into the same if not better quality at the end of use. Thinking in circular flows at all stages of the fashion system, from fibre to production, to use and end of life, will help us reduce our resource consumption and make sure there is no waste.

The industry is starting to come together to solve its common challenges. Mindful Fashion

New Zealand is a collective of clothing and textile businesses that have united in a common vision of an innovative, full-circle, and thriving future for the industry, built on a foundation of sustainability. With members ranging from designers and brands to manufacturers, fabric suppliers, academic and research partners, Mindful Fashion is creating a unified voice for the industry and using the power of collaboration to address common challenges such as government advocacy, sustainability action, and circular innovations.

I am optimistic and encouraged by the greater responsibility businesses are taking. But it’s not enough. To be in line with The Sustainable Development Goals, we must also shift our mindsets towards more consideration of our actions at all levels. It takes all of us — government, business owners, employees, lovers of fashion and citizens across the globe to make change happen.

Read the full article here, and visit Fashion Quarterly here.