The wave of change
Mar 28, 2020
These times of drastic changes in our day to day routine are a great opportunity for us to reflect on the impact of how we normally operate. Being secluded from our usual patterns of acting may allow us to stop, have a look a the big picture, and maybe start fresh(er) when this situation blows over. Change our impact on our immediate environment, our family, our friends, jobs.. but also on the greater one. Everyday, we see encouraging words from people coming to terms with the fact that our way of living is not sustainable. And the current situation is yet another proof of it.
Although mentalities are evolving, choices are often ill informed. Big corporations purposefully complexify labels, re-brand, re-market to fit consumer’s evolving ideas; but the reality is often gloomier than they let it appear. This is true in most sectors of industry, and fashion is no stranger to it. An ever growing giant, estimated at a 2.5 trillion dollars in 2017, growing around an estimated 4% yearly, who unfortunately tends to be under less scrutiny than other high polluting industries. It’s all happening so far away.
And the truth is we want more of what they have to offer. In a world where our basic needs are often met, it is understandable to see the consumers money go towards product that can feed their need for belonging and social needs. Fashion, helped by heavy marketing, promises to do just this.
1- The fast fashion world - If it itches, scratch!
“Special discount”, “Shop now”, “Free delivery”…Every time we go online, numerous adds aim to lure us into buying textile goods for an unbeatable price. Same when we walk around town. Always in stock, always available for cheap. If the latest t-shirt we like costs 9.99 euros, is available in 2 clicks and will be home in 2 days, why should we think about it? Even if we end up not liking it, we’ll just put it aside in an already overflowing wardrobe. No need to think much right? At least that’s what the industry is telling us. Do it now, it’s easy, and the cost is non-engaging. But is the price we are paying for the actual one?
In order to make a profit in such conditions, you need low production costs. First comes the material. Wether it’s a natural or synthetic fabric, you have to rely on heavily polluting industrial methods. And if you think natural is better than synthetic, think again. Beside being the most water consuming crop (between 7,000 to 29,000 liter for 1 kilogramme), cotton is massively dependant on pesticide. 24% of the world’s insecticides and 11% of pesticides are used to grow it. Synthetic is made out of petroleum and although it presents some advantages (not polluting and destroying arable lands) it is also highly polluting as the fibres do not break down and end up contaminating our oceans. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 35% of micro-plastics that enter the ocean come from synthetic fibres.
Then comes industrialised manufacturing. From chemical dye, to sweatshops, to global transportation and massive wastes; once again, none of the carbon footprint, nor the human cost is featured in the price shown to the consumer. Same goes with global distribution of manufactured goods. But the cost is real, and if not payed by us, it will be paid by future generations.
Of course, we think about none of this when the shiny blinking add shows up on the screen of our smartphone. And who could blame us for it? We just want a piece of clothing. If the choice ultimately falls on the consumer, it is our duty as brands, not only to manufacture and distribute in a way we believe to be as sustainable as possible, but also to educate.
2- Another approach - Local, less and slower cycles.
Truth is, we are only as good as what we know and our generations, from Xennials to GenZ, know abundance at cheap prices. The great perk of industrialisation is not something that will be given up easily. But, as exposed previously, we now know things about our industrial process that reveal the true cost of our habits. Educating on these matters, as well as providing smart alternatives, should be the priority of the actors of each sectors of industry.
With its means of production mostly relocated around the world, especially in Asia, the challenge is tough for fashion. It seems dubious that we will solve it without breaking down this global approach to production. As long as we will choose to manufacture in parts of the world that do not have the same labor, industrial and ecological regulations, we will not be able to change things. So, as for other sectors, local seems to be an answer.
Within Europe, some countries still have a lively and evolving textile industry; Portugal in particular. Devastated 30 years ago, it know accounts for 10% of their exports and growing. This renaissance is based on a cluster-like model: all segments of the value chain can be found in the country, mainly in the northern areas around Braga and Porto. These clusters give Portugal several competitive advantages including speed, flexibility, adaptability, and technical development. The technical developments are pushing a more eco-responsible production at competitive prices, and the cluster model allows for a better oversight of the production process. As, a brand, we are fortunate enough to be based in Portugal, but manufacturing here is a viable option for many European players if there is no reasonable local alternative for them.
Although we are today able to shift towards a more local approach, we would not be able to support the level of production that is currently the one of major Asian players. So we need to make less, but better. Products that have a longer lifespan for consumers that understand that buying an article of clothing is an engaging act that needs to be committed on pieces we truly like, that have a sustainable production approach, mindful of working conditions. Despite evolving technologies, these do add a bit to the price tag, but that number is closer to closing the loop on the real cost of making a garment.
As a small brand, manufacturing a limited amount of pieces, our approach is not to disrupt the system single handedly, but to be a part of the positive wave of change. This is why we are a proud member of the Catalyst organisation, a community of Portuguese fashion players that support sustainable initiatives. If we all do our part, the consumer’s choice will be well informed, purposeful, and easy.