Fashion is a business that is packaged as art. Photo: Shutterstock
Fashion is a business that is packaged as art. Photo: Shutterstock


Fashion design for the future

Sustainability might be the new black, but ethical clothing cannot be a pity product.

Armoir de femme: Happily marrying great design with a strong conscience. Photo: Getty ImagesFashion week makes one thing abundantly clear: Fashion is a business that is packaged as art. But despite the need for constant renewal, an increasing passion for sustainability is being cultivated within the industry.

Swedish fashion magazine Rodeo launched a blog (makeitlast.se) last fall that focuses on sustainable fashion. At fast fashion chain H&M customers can satisfy their appetite for shopping, while at the same time helping the environment by recycling. Each year the company’s stores receive 10,000 metric tons of worn-out t-shirts and torn leggings from all over the world. These are left in the recycling boxes H&M provides on the store floor, with the Japanese and the Danes being the most committed recyclers. At the same time, the company is working to develop an eco-label for its clothes, so that customers can choose the most climate-smart option in-store.

It’s no secret that the textile industry in general uses a lot of resources and energy. This is driven, in part, by the constant need for fashion to continually reinvent itself. With spring, fall, pre-spring and pre-fall collections, as well as various one-offs, fashion’s built-in calendar prompts customers to act and spend regularly. Fashion follows the guidelines for a modern project: continuously develop and move forward, utilizing the benefits of growth. Sustainability doesn’t usually come into it.

“Fashion does not directly perform a function of conscience, but often provides a break from everyday life. In addtion, buying things just because they are ‘good’ is just not that sexy. On the other hand, it seems that consumers do like buying [sustainable], although this is seen as a bonus. Fashion always comes first,” says Daniel Björk, Editor-in-Chief of Bon magazine.

'Most important of all is to create a product the ­customers want – a product that is not sold is ­inherently ­unsustainable’

Norwegian designer Kjetil Aas, the man behind Copenhagen-based Armoir d’hommes and the new women’s fashion line Armoir de femme, echoes Björk’s thoughts.
“Most important of all is to create a product the customers want – a product that is not sold is inherently unsustainable, no matter how ethically it is produced. The look of the clothing comes before sustainability.”
As the representative of a small company, Aas has limited opportunities, despite wanting to work sustainably as much as possible. He has difficulties with suppliers and problems finding materials of sufficiently good quality.
What Ketil Aas does, though, specifically relates to slow fashion: clothes featuring high-quality materials and design that have staying power.

In this case, high-priced fashion is also good fashion. Daniel Björk again:

“Take a designer like Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garçons – in a way it does not feel like consumption at all, but at the same time that brand sells a lot of wallets. For me it is more important as to whether consumption feels cynical or not. Are they just trying to sell for selling’s sake, or do the products feel honest? At Comme des Garçons it feels like the latter.”

“The problem with fashion is that its change is out of sync with nature, it often doesn’t take into account the elements involved, and it doesn’t value nature much of the time,” says Dilys Williams,Director and Professor of Fashion Design for Sustainability at London College of Fashion.

H&M is the antithesis of slow fashion. Sales are based on low prices and a constantly changing range. The company’s sustainability advisor Catarina Midby believes that its size is its strength when it comes to sustainability. H&M is able to influence both demand and suppliers.
“We are a large company that can influence the supply chain and we have the resources to drive change in a way that a smaller brand may not be able to do.”

For Kjetil Aas, the problem is not just one of access to more environmentally friendly alternatives. Customers also need to learn to pay what it actually costs for sustainable clothes.

What relationship can we expect to see between fashion and sustainability in the future?

“The future is about increased connectivity between the elements involved, it’s about challenging current status symbols of quantity and newness for the sake of newness, and it’s about valuing integrity, quality, relevance, synchronicity” says Dilys Williams.

Text: Emma Olsson 

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