Fashion, Sustainability, and the Way Forward
For most of us, fashion plays a significant role in our lives. We care about what we wear, how we look and how we present ourselves in front of others. But when it comes to the idea of responsible fashion, we usually find ourselves treading new ground. More often than not, discussions around the design and manufacturing process of apparel are silent and questions posed to companies about their commitment to responsible fashion are left unanswered.
Individuals, tempted by fast changing trends and low prices, tend to replace their wardrobes more regularly, buying more clothing than ever before. Adding to that, various firms rely on inorganic inputs in their production of garments, making the whole process extremely unsustainable. In either way, we fail to consider the ecological implications of our purchases and continue to move further away from conscious consumerism.
Driven by this clear lack of awareness and individual action, REST initiated a conversation with Saloni Parekh, a celebrity stylist, on an Instagram Live session. This interaction revolved around the fashion industry and the urgent need for integrating and developing sustainable practices. The conversation started with shedding light on the difference between fast fashion and organic, sustainable fashion. It was highlighted that unlike fast fashion, which relies on quick adaptability of popular styles, sustainable fashion integrates a thorough reflection of the entire cradle to cradle design process, considering everything from fibre cultivation, garment production, manufacturing, distribution, reuse to final disposal.
Furthermore, reflecting partially on the Indian market, the question regarding whether sustainable fashion could ever go mainstream arose. It was observed that while sustainability in fashion has not yet reached the tipping point to inspire widespread change in individual behaviour, there is noticeable progress. A number of small businesses as well as renowned brands and designers have sensed the need for incorporation of sustainable practices and have adjusted their approach to apparel. A few mass retailers including Levi’s and H&M are also trying to integrate ethical fashion as a concept by offering organic, recyclable and renewable products, though at a very slow pace and minimum promotion. This highlights the inertia of existing processes and practices from the supply and the demand side. Additionally, many local businesses in India such as Ka-sha are redefining the norms of fashion and sustainability by emphasizing on the intersection between people and processes.
Moving on to discussing the need for change, the importance of education and awareness was underscored. It was made evident that not only is it imperative that consumers are aware of the effect their behaviour has on the environment but it is also crucial that designers and businesses are conscientious and held accountable. Moreover, while addressing the question of how celebrity styles influence consumers, it was expressed that influence works both ways and that if the general attitude towards sustainable fashion changed significantly, celebrities and influencers would be compelled to represent sustainable brands.
Concluding the Live with tips on how we as individuals can make change, small but important steps such as buying less, recycling clothes (down-cycling clothes to rags or up-cycling clothes into other garments), reusing clothes, donating, swapping attires with friends and family, and buying from thrift stores, amongst others. The importance of looking closely at fabric compositions, shopping second-hand, and thinking quality over quantity was stressed.
Through this discussion, the need for ‘slow’ fashion – one that incorporates sustainable, environmental, and ethical practices into their designs and one that promotes moving away from "more and cheaper" and towards "less and better" - was made clear.
REST believes that simply being wary of what we buy, wear or consume should not be an option anymore, rather a duty. We as aware global citizens need to partake, day in day out, to ensure individual action translates into a virtuous cycle of impact that collates finally towards building a more inclusive, equitable and ecologically sustainable society.