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the sustainability of the fashion industry in a nutshell

 Sustainability in the fashion industry has taken several directions over the years: green, ecological, sustainable and circular. With the rise of fast fashion in the middle of the last century, a counter-narrative was born: a call to use materials and raw materials in a sustainable way, as well as respect for people and animals. April manifest eight years since the Rana Plaza disaster, at which point sustainability definitely came to the fore. Although the sector is still far from where it wants to be, important steps have been taken.  fashionbeautypalace

After much research and interviews with various organizations and experts, a new hypothesis has emerged: The sustainability of the fashion industry is anything but linear. There are progressive initiatives, but there are also companies that only add years or even that are not actively thinking about sustainability. The term "sustainability" was already defined by the United Nations in 1987, but it took a long time before the word sustainability was integrated into the fashion industry. In the case of "circularity" something similar has happened. It took at least ten years before the word was used by brands. Therefore, in this article you will not find a linear timeline, because the development of various trends is intertwined. Because,  techgeeksblogger

Echo

Let's start by talking about the term "eco". Today, in the year 2021, it is the term that companies continue to use to describe their initiatives, collections and products. Willa Stoutenbeek, a sustainability expert and founder of the Amsterdam brand and communication agency W. Green, says she doesn't see a very clear difference between "eco" and sustainability. According to Stoutenbeek, brands still use the term "Eco", but for her it has a slightly old-fashioned connotation. triotechdigital

"Green fashion" is defined as a brand or line that tries to minimize its impact on the environment and, often, on the health of consumers and workers, according to the United Nations. Sustainability expert and author of "This is a good guide - to a sustainable lifestyle" Marieke Eyskoot, also defines eco-friendly fashion as one that is made with respect for the environment. Eco is short for ecology, which is the study of the interaction between organisms and their environment. By now, many people know that fashion production can have very negative effects on workers because of the conditions in which they work and because of the chemicals used in the production of clothing. Eco fashion is often close to the term "ethical fashion", which was also defined by the United Nations in 1987. Ethical fashion focuses on issues such as living wages, working conditions, animal welfare and vegan fashion. Eyskoot also claims that "green" fashion and "fair" fashion are different, as the former takes care of nature and the latter is made in good working condition.  computertechreviews

The effect of the fashion industry on the environment and people was increasingly taking center stage in the 1980s and 1990s. A good example is the icon Katherine Hamnett and her eponymous brand. Hamnett is now known as an advocate for sustainability, but in 1989 she began to analyze her business herself. "We didn't expect to find anything wrong," she told Vogue UK in a June 2019 interview. Hamnett commissioned research on the environmental and social impact of fashion. "Thousands of accidental poisoning deaths in the cotton industry, people working in the worst working conditions bordering on slavery; every fiber and process had a negative impact." Following the investigation, Hamnett switched to organic cotton and brought its production to Europe,  gethealthandbeauty

An organization that is now well known was also founded in 1989: Clean Clothes Campaign. This global network is dedicated to improving working conditions in the fashion and sportswear industry. Currently, 230 organizations are linked to the Clean Clothes Campaign. With the creation of the Clean Clothes Campaign, interest from the United Nations and examples like that of Katherine Hamnett, the focus is beginning to shift towards best practices in the fashion industry. But, as history has shown several times, it takes a great catalyst to make people truly reflect.

In the early 1990s, "eco fashion" took center stage when several reports came to light about fashion companies that manufacture their clothes in sweatshops. In these small workshops, items are manufactured in poor working conditions. In 1991, activist, journalist and writer Jeffrey Ballinger published a report on a Nike factory in Indonesia, claiming that minors worked, the minimum wage was not paid, and working conditions were harmful to health. The Ballinger article has been followed by other complaints, but from other brands, in which the impact of the rise of the fashion industry in the countries where the products are manufactured is exposed.

A year later, the United Nations presented Agenda 21 during the Earth Summit held in Brazil in 1992. Agenda 21 is an action plan to create a global partnership to build sustainable development that improves people's lives and protects environment. That moment was very important for both "sustainability" and "eco-fashion."

Among the precursors of "green fashion" are Katherine Hamnett, as well as the outdoor clothing brandPatagonia, which switched to using only recycled polyester in 1992 and organic cotton in 1996. Also the People Tree brand, founded in 1991, is often mentioned as a pioneer of the movement. This brand has worked with high ethical and environmental standards since its foundation, and was the first fashion brand to receive the Fair Trade seal. Esprit is also often mentioned as one of the avant-garde brands due to the launch of its "ecollection" in 1992. The line is made with biological cotton and special attention is paid to the working conditions of the factories. Was Esprit's eco line the world's first by a fashion brand? No. But it was an ecological line developed by a large fashion company and distributed internationally.

Sustainability

Until 1987 the word "sustainability" was not defined in the way we know it today. The definition was created by the United Nations to: "Meet the needs of the present-day without cooperating the ability of future compeers to meet their needs." The definition was proposed by the Brundlandt Commission in the report "Our Common Future", which dealt with "sustainable development". The same report also defines the terms "fast fashion", "slow fashion" and "ethical fashion".

The expert Eyskoot considers that sustainable fashion is a combination of ecological and fair fashion, that is, clothes that are manufactured with respect for people and our environment. "That includes the entire clothing chain and the impact of production on everything and everyone on our planet," he says. Willa Stoutenbeek, sustainability expert and founder of the W. Green agency, agrees with this definition of sustainable fashion. Attention to sustainability already started 25 years ago, Eyskoot says, but sustainability wasn't really put on the map until a few years ago.

Shortly after the turn of the time, the word "sustainability" appeared in the communication of various brands, fashion events and collections. In 2008, for example, the Laura Bailey brand held a competition in which participants could develop a sustainable line for an existing brand. The 2009 Fashion Summit also paid attention to sustainability, and in Benelux the sustainable Mint segment was launched at the Modefabriek fair in the Netherlands in 2011. It was the first time that a sustainability segment had been launched at an international fashion fair. .

Although the definition of sustainability has been around for decades and has received attention in certain circles, the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh actually caused a turnaround in the fashion industry. "You saw the attention spike all of a sudden, which was very frustrating," says Stoutenbeek. "After all, does something like this have to happen for people to finally think about sustainability?" The 2013 disaster caused 1,134 deaths and 2,500 injuries. Two days before the disaster, there were large cracks in the walls and ceilings of the building, but the textile workers had to go to work. If they did not do so, they stayed threatened with dismissal. The catastrophe revealed some bad practices within the industry: large clothing brands were linked to the factories of the Rana Plaza building: the Spanish Inditex, C&A, Mango, Primark and Benetton. The moment signaled the importance of corporate social responsibility. Since the catastrophe, Fashion Revolution Day has been set as April 24, the day the disaster occurred. It is an annual reminder and each year the organization asks consumers to ask brands who has made their clothes and under what working conditions.

Two years after the disaster, the Sustainable Development Goals were also presented at the United Nations General Assembly. These are 17 goals that the United Nations wants to achieve by 2030. These include clean water, clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, and responsible consumption and production. These are points where the fashion industry can and should play an important role. Many of them are still used in the communication of brands for impact.

Because "sustainability" encompasses so many aspects, there is a risk of "greenwashing". After all, if you use organic cotton, does that mean you are sustainable? Not always, especially if the working conditions and transport methods are also observed, to mention just a few additional aspects. Many brands have introduced "sustainable items" or collections, but the degree of sustainability of these products is difficult to determine for both consumers and experts. For example, a few years ago, H & M's Conscious collection received a lot of criticism. The collection is said to be made with eco-friendly fabrics such as organic cotton and recycled polyester, but other aspects of sustainability are not addressed. The criticism that companies receive when they offer more sustainable items is something that prevents many brands from communicating it, says Stoutenbeek. Transparency can help. Admitting that it is still not perfect by any means, but that the company is working on sustainability. Stoutenbeek gives the example of Ace & Tate, which when publishing its first sustainability report recognized that it still had a extensive way to go, but that it had been working on sustainability for a long time and that now was the time to be transparent about it. Since then, all of the brand's sustainability goals are on its website and the brand states that "they will grow and change as the industry does." Transparency can help. Admitting that it is still not perfect by any means, but that the company is working on sustainability. Stoutenbeek gives the example of Ace & Tate, which when publishing its first sustainability report recognized that it still had a extensive way to go, but that it had been working on sustainability for a long time and that now was the time to be transparent about it. Since then, all of the brand's sustainability goals are on its website and the brand states that "they will grow and change as the industry does." Transparency can help. Admitting that it is still not perfect by any means, but that the company is working on sustainability. Stoutenbeek gives the example of Ace & Tate, which when publishing its first sustainability report recognized that it still had a extensive way to go, but that it had been working on sustainability for a long time and that now was the time to be transparent about it. Since then, all of the brand's sustainability goals are on its website and the brand states that "they will grow and change as the industry does." that when publishing his first sustainability report he recognized that he still had a long way to go, but that he had been salaried on sustainability for a long time and that now was the time to be transparent about it. Since then, all of the brand's sustainability goals are on its website and the brand states that "they will grow and change as the industry does." that when publishing his first sustainability report he recognized that he still had a long way to go, but that he had been salaried on sustainability for a long time and that now was the time to be transparent about it. Since then, all of the brand's sustainability goals are on its website and the brand states that "they will grow and change as the industry does."

Circularity

Let's find out what brings us to the word circularity. Even before the term circular fashion was used, the concept of "cradle to cradle" was introduced for the first time. At the beginning of the millennium, a book is published on the use of waste as a raw material, one of the principles of circularity. The book "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things" by Michael Braungart and William McDonough has caused quite a stir since its publication in 2002. The book by the German chemist and the American architect is actually a manifesto on how to establish a cradle-to-cradle design model. This book is credited with the well-known "reduce, reuse, recycle" creed, a creed now related to circularity. The concept of "from cradle to cradle"

Attention to the circular economy is increasingly coming to the fore and in 2013 the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, now a well-known advocate for sustainability in the fashion industry, launched the Circular Economy 100, a network of companies and innovators who want to create a circular economy. When asked to define circular fashion, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation first addresses, in writing, the principles of the circular economy, which revolve around design. This economy has three principles: design without waste and pollution, focus on using products and materials for as long as imaginable, and regenerate natural systems. "We have worked with 100 experts from leading organizations in the fashion world to determine what this means for the fashion industry," writes the foundation to FashionUnited. "As a result, we have created a vision of the circular economy for fashion, in which clothing must be worn more often, products must be designed to be reused and manufactured from safe, recycled or renewable sources."

The term "circular fashion" was allegedly coined in 2014 by Anna Brismar, a Swedish expert on circular economy. At the time, Brismar was working on creating a sustainable fashion event in Stockholm and presented the concept and fundamental principles of circular fashion to all participating brands and panelists. That same year, the word "circular" already appeared in the Sustainability Report of the fashion chain H&M. The group writes that they want to go from a linear production model to a circular model.

When asked about the turning point in the field of circular fashion, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation indicates the year 2017. In that year, the foundation released the report "A New Textile Economy: Redesigning the Future of Fashion." The report highlighted the opportunities of the circular economy and many new business models have emerged since then, several of which have become major players, the foundation reports. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation mentions rental and resale platforms such as Rent the Runway, Vinted, and Vestiaire Collective. According to the foundation,

The year 2017 is also the year in which C&A launched its "first cradle to cradle collectionto the world. "The collection of t-shirts was made from 100% organic cotton and designed to be reused or recycled. One t-shirt in the collection was completely composted in 11 weeks, as stated by the brand at the time Don Brenninkmeijer, Brand Director, C&A Customer and Sustainability, to FashionUnited. That same year, at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, 142 fashion brands promised to present a clear strategy on circular innovation. A year later, 64 brands actually presented their individual goals to achieve a system circular fashion. Among them, Adidas, Ecoalf, Ganni, Filippa K, Nudie Jeans, H&M, Lacoste and Mud Jeans. In June 2020, the CEOs of H&M, Burberry and Stella McCartney signed a commitment to continue building in this direction .According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, precursors to the commitment to the circular economy include the H&M Group, Timberland and Tommy Hilfiger.

Some brands have launched a circular garment such as a T-shirt, pants, or a circular line, or a capsule collection. However, Stoutenbeek cautions that the word "circular" is the latest "greenwashing" trend. "Often the word is used when recycled materials are used in a collection, but circularity has to do with a closed circle, a closed loop."


 

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