Today, what are the new production challenges?
In terms of fashion, the concept of ‘environmentally friendly’ has rapidly asserted itself as a topic in and of itself. A topic yes, but an essentiel one that many brands are taking head on when thinking about their collections. Between environmental issues, the wellbeing of garment workers and artisans, or even the durability of a product; more than ever the environmental friendliness of a fashion product is in the spotlight. And though the challenge is not necessarily about improving everything at the same time, it is important to focus on a few key points in the quest for perfecting one’s manufacturing process. In 2018, 48 brands signed the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action. The idea? Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. A significant gesture for the work that still remains to be done, but more than anything a universal awareness in one of the most polluting industries in the world. So, how can the fashion sector manufacture in a more environmentally friendly way? Here are some of our thoughts.
Favour short circuits
Among the very first reflexes to adopt when directing a production process in a more eco-responsable direction, choosing a manufacturing site is one of the most important. Indeed, the manufacturing site will help to determine the size of carbon footprint left on the fashion market, measured by criteria like waste treatment and management of toxic products (like chemical dyes, etc.) Improving these areas from year to year will allow an alignment between production methods and a more sustainable manufacturing process. Brands are often reticent to propose such a production process, but they don’t always take into consideration the potential ROI (return on investment). From the impact on prices, obviously, but also the impact on credibility, ethics and even creativity in some cases. This can’t help but remind us of 2018 when “SOS” was mysteriously printed on the labels of a major brand by the employees of a factory in Bangladesh. Obviously, manufacturing abroad does not necessarily mean manufacturing poorly, but from an environmentally friendly perspective, the manufacturing site is nonetheless an important piece of the puzzle. Indeed, the Made in France or Made in Europe labels are not just about image, they are also, more importantly, issues that impact everyone!
Choosing materials wisely
It goes without saying that fabrics are a substantial part of the creation of a garment. And in terms of textile fibres, there are clearly the weak links. The obvious example would be the example of synthetic materials, but also cotton, which is the foundation of many a collection. Beyond its intense need for water, cotton represents nearly 25% of the pesticides used worldwide. This is why we can now find many alternatives, whether it’s recycled fabric, using more natural fibres, or simply using new ones like organic cotton, linen, hemp, burlap, and Pinatex (pineapple fibre). These are but a few of the fibres that can broaden the realm of possibilities and make a production process more environmentally friendly. But there’s a “but”: recycling consumes a lot of energy and not every material lends itself to being recycled. That is why some designers, such as Marine Serre and Bode, have incorporated upcycling into their collections. The challenge? Making something new from fabrics that have already existed as something else. From overstock to deadstock to vintage clothing, anything goes in the creative process when looking for environmentally friendly solutions!
Make less, but better
In the same vein, the production chain has been experiencing a resurgence for the past few years already. Indeed, some brands have realized that if they want to adopt a new and more environmentally responsable approach, it is important to focus on the obvious: the quantity produced. That is why the pre-order system is increasingly popular, since it is all about producing only according to demand. This avoids stock surplus, and you only spend on the necessary ressources. And when we consider that 30% of garments have never been worn, there is good reason to think about the bigger picture. In fact, that is why producing timeless pieces has never been so promising.
Make the consumer an ally
Nowadays, the principle of a socially conscious consumer has never made more sense when thinking about the environmentally friendly concept. By engaging with the conscience of the client, by explaining which ethical reasons would justify raising the price of a product by just a bit, you are betting on the consumer’s intelligence. This approach will naturally lead to a transparency concerning the manufacturing process. Indeed, a consumer is often more aware of the challenges of the fashion sector than might be expected. It’s up to every actor to find the words that will allow them to spread the message that alternatives are possible, but that these alternatives often come at a price or will impact certain habits of consumption. Perhaps producing in a more environmentally friendly manner is also about joining forces?