May 20 2019 - The recent Copenhagen Fashion Summit has triggered a sharp response from a number of fashion researchers, who say the fashion industry is more concerned with the survival of the industry than the survival of the planet.
It is problematic, the researchers say, that the fashion industry keeps promoting the idea of recirculation of textiles as the sustainable solution to the climate change problem. It is not a solution that accords with the findings of fashion researchers from across the globe. Rather, it is a marketing trick designed to legitimate today’s overproduction of cheap fashion garments, which itself is the real sustainability problem of the fashion industry.
“The more the attention is directed to recycling, the longer [the fashion industry] can continue with what they make most profit from, namely selling a lot of bad clothes," says Ingun Klepp, fashion researcher at Oslo Metropolitan University, to Danish think tank Monday Morning.
The critical researchers have organised themselves in Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion with the purpose to create a paradigm change in fashion consumption where the focus is on fewer fashion items with better design and higher quality, because such features will make consumers wear the garments for longer. Or in other words: a shift from fast fashion to slow fashion. This idea however, contradicts almost all contemporary business models in a fashion industry that keeps increasing the number of annual fashion collections and pump out more and more products.
Morten Lehman is Chief Sustainability Officer at Global Fashion Agenda, the organisation behind Copenhagen Fashion Summit, and he does not understand the criticism. He says to Monday Morning that while he shares the researchers’ concern over the speed with which recirculation of textiles are being introduced, there is massive sustainability progress in the industry.
“Some years ago we made a commitment on circular economy. Today, 12,5 percent of the global market has signed off on having goals in this are area,” he says.
According the fashion industry’s own report ‘Pulse of the fashion industry’ the production growth is an expected to have increased by 80 percent in 2030, and the report recognises the sustainability problem in fashion:
“The fashion companies are not introducing sustainable solutions at a sufficient pace for them to make up for the negative environmental and social consequences of the rapid growth of the fashion industry,” the report reads.
However, it is exactly the definition of “sustainable solutions” suggested by the industry in the ‘Pulse of the fashion industry’ reports the researchers dispute.
"How can consumers buy in an environmentally friendly way? The ‘Pulse of the fashion industry’ reports answer to this is recirculated materials, but it is not true. The largest impact on environment and climate is decided by the longevity of products, and consequently how often they must be replaced. There is no such thing as green garments. I think it is a bad advice to move to more plastic in a world that’s starting to understand that we have to do something about the plastic problem. It is easy to suspect this is because it is easy to make money on synthetic clothing,” Ingun Klepp says.