July 10, 2013

The Object of Desire

With the events in Bangladesh all over the media, questions of what, where, and how to shop have moved to the forefront of our attention. These disasters have sparked the approval of a European-led safety accord which proposes obligatory factory inspections in Bangladesh over the next nine months. Overall, we are becoming more transparent, because there is no other way, with information and scandals so readily available to the public. Companies have a choice to either continue making a quick buck and risk damaging their brand's reputation or start to revolutionize the way they are doing things by making smart decisions and listening to their consumers.

Where are we standing today with our consumption patterns? What technologies, innovations, and initiatives exist in the textile industry to help consumers make a better choice and diminish waste? As we ask ourselves these questions, we become more conscious and continue to demand more sustainable, ethical products made available.

Let's face it, we all have way too much stuff and reusing, remaking, and buying less have been key topics in the industry for a while now. It's about time retailers tailor their retail models to adapt to these changing ideals.

video via Yerdle

One method is a collective consumerism approach like that of the website, Yerdle, which shares underused items like clothing and electronics to friends free of charge. Others like Hello Rewind, sell goods reworked from scraps by making t-shirts into laptop sleeves. Rather than necessarily reducing an item's footprint (which we have still yet to fully comprehend), the idea is to extend not only a product's life cycle but overall value for as long as possible.

photo via ecouterre

The fast fashion retailer, Topshop has upcycling on the mind as they collaborate with Orsola de Castro to release their second "Reclaim to Wear" Collection. The capsule collection is constructed from production offcuts and surplus stock to create items like delicate floral printed silks, sleeveless dresses with lace panels, and matching camisole and culotte separates. According to Topshop's head of sourcing and technical services, Stephen Mongan, "The inspiration behind the collection was to turn away from disposable fashion, giving a new lease of life to disregarded prints from previous seasons." Hopefully Topshop will keep these efforts up and challenge themselves to further integrate this design method into more of their core collections by reworking both fabrics and prints.

photo via USA Today

For most, it's all about recycling, which is deeply engrained in social responsibility initiatives across the board. From curbside pickups to clothing collection bins, many local governments around the nation are supporting this recycling boom by instilling more accessible channels in cities, towns and apartment buildings. Even some major retailers like The North Face and H&M are promoting in-store containers for donating clothes by offering shopping incentives.

video via Gustin

However, in today's day and age, it's just as much about fortune 500 companies as it is about startups, which are leaving traditional means behind, experimenting, creating, and most importantly, directly connecting with consumers. Gustin, a premium menswear denim brand, is one company making changes as they operate an entirely online, direct-to-consumer, crowdfunded business model. Not only are all jeans produced right in San Francisco, but the label really focuses on giving the customer what they want by letting them decide what actually goes into production. In other words, rather than producing what they think will sell, they only make what their customers actually want and sell it to them at a lower price point in the process.

video via Fashion United

Whether we like it or not, the best thing to help us move forward towards a more sustainable and ethically minded industry is nonetheless through technology. From technically enhanced fabrications to innovative gadgets to a continued commitment to sustainability, Nike has got to be the most cutting edge company out there. They are making huge strides in the industry once again with their new Making app which assists designers by evaluating materials based on four environmental components including water, energy, chemistry and waste. By pulling data from Nike's Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) from the past seven years, the app can offer comparisons based on how various textiles rank on a sustainable level. This tool will not only further educate designers but give them the accessibility to make better choices about what they use and how.

We've talked about the digital printing revolution before but we can't emphasize enough how revolutionary this is. As 3D printers become more and more affordable and reach businesses on a large scale, they will continue to be another major factor pushing sustainability forward. With techniques that precisely cut patterns and molds, these printers enormously reduce excessive waste. Not to mention, they can create products on demand which could ultimately eliminate manufacturing minimums. We highlighted Continuum Fashion's Constrvct in the past, but we have to mention some of their more recent accomplishments which include a 3D printed shoe collection, a wearable bikini and software which allows a LBD to be created in mere minutes. 3D printing is here and it may be coming to a home near you sooner than you think! 

Despite everything being at our fingertips, we still need to be mindful about what we are buying and where it is coming from, even if it requires a little extra research of our own. Even though we as consumers are demanding sustainable and ethical products, the overall industry is just beginning to learn how to adapt to this. Unfortunately you really can't believe everything you hear, and hopefully as we move towards a more transparent lifestyle, with more unified standards in place, we will be able to depend on retailers and brands to administer smarter and safer practices. When tragedy strikes, people come together so we really hope (and firmly believe) that the industry can fully join forces and make it a better place for everyone, everywhere. 

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