Sustainability in Style: Sensible Clothing Takes on New Meaning as a Better Fashion System Emerges

By Fletcher, Kate | Alternatives Journal, May-June 2015 | Go to article overview

Sustainability in Style: Sensible Clothing Takes on New Meaning as a Better Fashion System Emerges


Fletcher, Kate, Alternatives Journal


WHEN I START A NEW SEMESTER of teaching, I don a t-shirt that has one word on the front: "unlearn." The word is printed from right to left, so that it only becomes clear when you look in the mirror. On the back of the shirt it says (also in reverse), "This may be difficult to grasp but reversing our thought processes might just be the key to happiness." The message I want to convey to my students is that to move sustainability forward, it is necessary to question some of the values, beliefs and social norms we take for granted. This is the message Kate Fletcher brings to the fashion and textile industry.

Over the last two decades, Fletcher has helped shape the direction of sustainability in both fashion and textiles through her leading-edge thinking and progressive outlook. Her wisdom encourages manufacturers, designers, retailers and consumers to ask, "Why?" For example, consumers are encouraged to ask, "Why do I need this new pair of shoes?" Manufacturers to consider, "Why do I need to use this chemical when I produce cotton?" And retailers to question, "Why do I need to offer new styles so frequently?" More importantly, by proposing an alternative framework for our current fashion industry, Fletcher encourages those same people to ask "Why not?" Her ideas challenge what we--both members of the fashion industry and consumers--have come to believe is acceptable, even fashionable. What if we were to reverse our socially engrained thought processes and make it cool to wear the same outfit to every wedding we attend? What if thrift shops became the new Gucci (minus the Gucci price tag, of course)? What if it became trendy to get to know the person who makes your clothes? Fashion is one area of our lives in which we have some control and can really drive change. Fletcher's article provides a thought-provoking look at the current state of fashion and where it should be headed. Imagine the possibilities, she says. Then do something to realize them. Now.--Jennifer Lynes

OVER THE PAST 50 YEARS, I our civilization has become a consumerization. The prevailing consumerist style, in particular the expression of consumer society through the clothes we buy and wear, is so natural to our way of thinking and acting that we hardly notice it. It has become normal for us to access and engage with fashion primarily by exchanging money for products. It has also become normal to us that these same products will be out of date, stylistically incongruous, within about six months. We discard rather than repair. In fashion, as in most other areas of contemporary society, our ideas of progress have become so tied to a societal narrative of growth through continuous buying that the accelerating purchase and disposal of garments is now seen as a necessary component of modern living.

The market domination of clothing production and consumption has changed the fashion industry: Fashion is now structured to suit the demands of consumption as an independent value. Cheaper garments have likewise changed consumption patterns. In the first decade of the 21st century, clothing prices in Europe fell by over 26 percent in real terms, and in the US by 17 percent.

Shopping is presented as a democratic choice, a political triumph that conjoins economic and personal freedoms. But we measure fashion success in terms of retail sales figures, and this, in turn, shapes the way we dress, as people are channelled into specific ways of dressing --calling into question how "free" our consumption choices really are. Shared public expectations of creating fashion are largely forgotten, with solutions now framed entirely within the shopping mall. Choices that don't fit into this paradigm are made to appear undesirable, impractical or too expensive.

Contemporary fashion is also linked to structures that reinforce the socioeconomic status quo: Instead of reflecting fashion's wider potentials, the industry reflects the dominant mode of production and the interests of the dominant market players. …

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