Fashion Week Insiders Call For Sustainability Clarity, Citing Confusing Brand Marketing and “Green-Washing”

Fashion month has come to a close and this season, more than ever, the industry has been under pressure to address its environmental responsibility. There are some steps being taken, whether it is the launch of the British Fashion Council’s Positive Fashion Initiative in London or Dior‘s zero-waste, plastic-free, fully recyclable set and tree replanting scheme at their Paris show, but what does that mean on the ground? What do the people attending the shows, working in the industry, buying the products and living their day-to-day lives think and feel about the role of sustainability in fashion? We took to the streets at London Fashion Week (LFW) to find out.

To delve deeper, Techstyler gathered a crew to find out exactly what people know about sustainability in fashion and how they integrate it into their daily lives, if at all. Continuing from our pilot research project back in February, this season we partnered with The British School of Fashion to develop a questionnaire that would capture individuals’ attitudes towards sustainability in fashion, consumer behaviours and personal views on the topic. We then interviewed hundreds of attendees of LFW, both inside and outside the official venues, over the five days. 

Image: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

This season saw pressure groups including Extinction Rebellion (XR) and PETA protesting against the environmental and ethical impacts of fashion, culminating in a “funeral” march by XR featuring a coffin inscribed with “RIP LFW 1983-2019” sending a clear message to the BFC and wider industry. While these groups were protesting outside the official LFW venue of 180 The Strand, Techstyler and “parent” company BRIA were inside presenting solutions, seeking to understand the current climate and calling for change, amongst other innovators. There are solutions and designers doing “good”, some of which were showcased in the BFC’s Positive Fashion space including Patrick McDowell, RE;CODE and the global movement supporting the UN sustainable development goals #TOGETHERBAND; but there is also huge consumer confusion which needs to be addressed before we can expect widespread change in sustainable consumption. We wanted to find out what’s actually going on on the ground, and this starts with you (yes, you).

Patrick McDowell at LFW. Image: Techstyler

The study found that the overarching sentiment when it came to sustainability in fashion was a resounding, and slightly concerning, “I don’t know”. When asked “which brands do you see as the most sustainable”, one respondent replied, “Tricky question. How do you define sustainability?”, and that, ladies and gentlemen, sums it up in a neat bow. This commentary could probably end right there, but there’s a lot at stake here. If we are out on the streets fighting for our future, we should probably understand what we are fighting for and our roles in the battle beyond the placards.

Image: Techstyler

After combining this past month’s data with our research from February, it is evident that there is a lot of miscommunication and confusion, and, let’s not forget, that the respondents are not regular consumers on the high street; they are buyers, designers, stylists, journalists and fashion students. In other words, they are those at the forefront of the industry. The answers were incredibly varied, showing a large gap in knowledge, but ultimately a desire to do better. Many simply don’t know how because the messaging is highly confusing; brands can say what they want around sustainability as key terms like “organic” and “natural” aren’t even regulated, never mind the word “sustainability”, which, to be honest, is anyone’s guess at this point. One respondent even said that the term “sustainability” is itself off-putting.

“There is too much negativity arising around the term “sustainable” and a huge part of it comes from the misunderstandings created when communicating it.”

Questionnaire respondent
Image: Techstyler

Respondents were asked to list the brands they see as the most sustainable, at which many reeled off those who are shouting the loudest but are not necessarily backing up their efforts up with facts. When telling us which brands they are wearing, high street fast fashion was ever-present, despite the interviewees claims to be concerned about the issues involved with fast fashion manufacturing and consumption. H&M was one brand that regularly appeared on both the “most sustainable” and “least sustainable” brand lists, thanks to their Conscious Collection campaigns. Eight respondents who said they were wearing Zara at the time of the interview then went on to list it as a least sustainable brand, which is sufficiently revealing alone. Five out of the eight claimed that sustainability was important to them, so there is a clear disconnect here which needs to be addressed. Overall many simply didn’t know what to believe. “I think there is too much green-washing going on with brands and the marketing teams confuse the sustainability message. They make it harder for consumers to understand sustainability,” said one respondent. 

BFC’s Positive Fashion Panel. Image: Instagram

Alongside the confusion there was also positivity around the growth of the sustainability movement and a recognition of our individual responsibility, with one respondent saying “I think [sustainable fashion] has a potential to be huge in the future” and another recognising that, “it is so important to think of your wardrobe and how to make it last longer than a season.”

Many are calling for industry change: for designers to implement sustainable strategies, brands to be truthful and transparent, and fellow consumers to make the “right” choices.  And this sentiment has grown slightly since last season’s research, showing a steady change in attitudes in just a short time; short, but impactful, with the rise of Greta Thunberg and her Global Climate Strikes, XR mobilising groups across the world to call for action, and 150 brands signing up to the G7 fashion pact after a highly publicised 45th Summit in Biarritz. 

“Is there really a place for fashion week anymore? Seems out-dated and pretty distasteful given the current climate crisis… It seems like a parade of excess that isn’t needed”

Questionnaire Respondent
Image: Techstyler

In response to London Fashion Week being well and truly under the microscope this season, the British Fashion Council hosted a panel to discuss the climate crisis and fashion’s role in both causing and, hopefully, reversing it. Panellists including Bel Jacobs representing Extinction Rebellion, Tamsin Lejeune founder of Common Objective, Cameron Saul of Bottletop, and model and activist Arizona Muse were moderated by journalist Tamsin Blanchard on the final day of LFW to debate the best way forward. In an open and honest discussion, Bel Jacobs reiterated XR’s warning that we are “in the middle of the 6th mass extinction”, going on to say “we called for fashion week to be cancelled to use this as a platform to broadcast the climate emergency. Everyone will stop and recognise (the emergency) if the BFC does that. It’s too late for incremental change.” Arizona Muse proposed that “fashion week could be harnessed for good [so that it] reflects a more humane approach.” Fashion Week’s role in this change was agreed to be pivotal and the time is now.

Image: Techstyler

Reflecting on our time at LFW, there was a palpable air of eco-anxiety both inside and outside the venue. Although there was consumer confusion surrounding exactly how they can be part of the solution, there was an encouraging desire to understand and do more. The public are looking to brands and the wider industry for clear indicators and evidence of widespread change, with one saying, “The industry is on the right track [it] just needs to gather momentum”. Experts joining the discussion are calling for major change for the sake of our survival as a species, nevermind the survival of Fashion Week as we know it. Following this initial research, Techstyler and The British School of Fashion will be releasing more detailed reports in the coming months and replicating the study internationally in 2020. The need for change has never been so urgent, and to make these changes sustainable we must understand the issues at a grassroots level. There is still a long way to go, but change is in the air and how these changes manifest next fashion month will be key, as, this time, the world is watching. 

Image: Techstyler

We would like to thank the research crew for volunteering their time over the last two seasons. Keep an eye out for more results from our recent study, and news of the international research on Techstyler’s Instagram, Techstyler.fashion and by signing up to our newsletter.

Techstyler x BOTTLETOP: 3D Digital Design Is Critical For A Sustainable Fashion Future

When discussing the future with pioneers on the edge of current industry practice an impassioned debate is inevitable.  The latest Techstyler X BOTTLETOP panel discussion ‘Sustainability Driven by New Technologies: 3D Digital Design and Virtual Reality ’ hosted three such pioneers who are reshaping the fashion landscape and meeting ethical, logistical and philosophical challenges along the way.  Their insights gave us an eye to a future fashion industry that is inherently more sustainable, and our place within it.

 

Opening the discussion, Kerry Murphy, Co-founder of the digital fashion house The Fabricant, discussed how within months of experimenting with 3D digital fashion design and animation and uploading the result on Instagram, The Fabricant was receiving interest from brands and manufacturers wanting to know more about their capabilities.  

The starting point for The Fabricant has been digital storytelling, with their recent collaboration with Soorty Enterprises, a jean manufacturer in Pakistan looking to share their Cradle to Cradle denim production and raise brand awareness in an increasingly competitive market. The manufacturers in Asia and the Far East are plagued by negative opinion and press coverage, despite many of them making significant strides in sustainable dyeing processes in addition to investing in new, cleaner technologies.  The next step will be integrating The Fabricant’s 3D design into the garment cutting and construction process, negating the manual pattern making process and reducing the need for physical samples at all. From his, and his Co-founder Amber Jae Slooten’s experience so far, this will take years rather than months.

Cameron-James Wilson is a visual artist and fashion photographer whose mission is to provide an alternative beauty and hyper-real honesty via digital models.  His debut model, Shudu, has been hailed the ‘first digital supermodel’, has 149,000 followers on Instagram and is represented by Cameron’s digital model agency, The Diigitals.  Although the inspiration and conception of Cameron’s models is rooted in fantasy and fiction, constructed from free to download software Daz 3D, his aim is to create honest representations of beauty and a more positive attitude towards diversity.  His model Brenn is curvy, with stretch marks and an undeniable allure. This kind of appreciation of what is often deemed imperfect is possible with 3D digital design, said Cameron, because it is in the hands of the artists and is a product of their ideals, not of an industry fixated on people born as genetic flukes with perfect symmetry and 34-24-34 measurements of their bust, waist and hips.  Even as I write the previous sentence I can barely believe how ludicrous a concept it is. Cameron asks why we reward genetic flukery rather than celebrating diversity.

Cameron’s visionary thinking prompted an interesting debate on human versus digital models and whether emotion could truly be experienced when presenting a digital versus human experience.  There was also a question from the audience about whether digital models could be ‘trusted’ as they are not ‘real’. To that, Cameron presented the traditional scenario of a fashion shoot, with models having toilet rolls shoved down the back of their bra to make their breasts heave.  And all know how much editing is done to digital images to sculpt and smooth, nip and tuck real life models. “The fashion industry lies to us every day” said Cameron. “It’s all a lie”. Add to this the fact that digital models cannot be exploited, do not age and can remain exclusive brand ambassadors for ‘life’ and his perspectives and insight left us questioning whether it makes sense to go forward in the fashion industry without digital models.

Amber Jae Slooten brought the rare, rounded knowledge of a fashion designer who has worked with both traditional manual and 3D digital pattern cutting and fashion design tools.  Having graduated from a fashion degree in 2014 with a fully digital collection which she presented in hologram form, she set off on a path to reimagining and redirecting the fashion industry to a more sustainable, digital future.  Unwilling to enter an industry that creates masses of waste, she was driven to adopt methods that have since unleashed her creativity and allowed her design in a more detailed, iterative, experimental and efficient way. Amber’s approach to design incorporates both the technicality of pattern cutting and garment construction and the creativity of fashion design.  She creates digital pattern pieces in Clo3d which are stitched together onto an avatar to create a 3D foundation garment and then renders on different fabrics (scanned in at such a high resolution that they are indistinguishable from the real thing) colours, textures and proportions. She is able to develop her designs and iterate quickly, reaching high levels of refinement in hours, rather than days or weeks – all the while generating zero waste.

What are the challenges and drawbacks to these new approaches?  “The (traditional) mindet”, said Amber. Currently, the industry is largely unreceptive to adopting the technical advantages offered by software like Clo3D.  Although this and other software is being used by a number of pioneering designers, brands are currently most interested in the visual output as a content tool for social media or e-commerce.  In time, the panel believes a shift towards further integration is inevitable.

To hear to the full panel discussion, head over to the podcast here.

To watch the panel discussion, keep an eye on Techstyler.fashion, where the video will be available soon. 

The next talk in the Techstyler X BOTTLETOP speaker series will be in December on the subject ‘Fashion and Accessories Designers – Their Influence and Impact on Sustainability in Fashion’.  Follow Techstyler here and on Instagram to be notified when the tickets are released.