Will the Fashion Industry Ever Achieve Sustainability?


It’s an uphill battle for many designers to “go green.”

Some walk the talk more than others.

I caught up with three pioneering eco-designers and asked them if the eco-fashion industry is simply lost in a waste-stream of organic textiles or if it is actually possible for the industry to slim down a bit.

Here’s what they had to say:

Photobucket Sandy of EcoSkin:

As this question is so broad it is difficult for me to give a specific answer, but what I can do is hopefully provide some insight into this issue for EcoSalon readers.

The fashion industry as a whole may never “go green” because the demand for inexpensive clothing and the American way of having more for less is still very present today. Even with the onslaught of green designers and the incredible movement we have seen these past several years of men and women like me taking a stance on social and environmental responsibility, there are still and will likely always be consumers who choose the other option.

I feel like I am kind of preaching to the choir because EcoSalon readers already understand the importance of the fashion industry going green, and what is going to actually move this process forward is education of those who do not care or understand the purpose of green fashion.

All I can do is focus on keeping my carbon footprint smallest, and providing those who do want to see green fashion thrive with an affordable, high-quality, fashion-forward product, and encourage the growth and sustainability of this industry.

Of course I believe in it, and you believe in it, but for the fashion industry to go green as a whole, we will need to move the rest of the world into this mindset. I believe it is possible though, which is why I started EcoSkin. I knew a contemporary label could be produced entirely eco, and therefore, “why not?”

It is up to the consumer in the end to make a choice between the labels that are green and the labels that are not. When the American public and its influencers in government and, I’ll say it, Hollywood, demand eco fashion, the industry will follow and this has thankfully already begun.

Photobucket Lara of Lara Miller:

Absolutely not impossible. Sustainability is comprised of three main factors in my opinion  – economy, environment, and social good. Economy is what will drive the industry to be more eco-concious.

Recycling and engineering will be the future of our fibers. We need synthetic fibers, we cannot pretend that we do not – performance fabrics for athletics and various other industries. We want the varieties of fabrics as designers to allow for shine, stretch, and individuality.

Right now eco-designers have to be creative with what’s available. But our options continue to grow and expand as the consumer demand does. In just four short years I am amazed by the variety of textiles that have become available… in the next 10 years I truly see the sewn products industry using 75 percent recycled, organic, or renewable resources for fibers. Green choices simply make economic sense – thankfully – and those of us who are passionate about our environment will see the shift in the fashion industry that has been notoriously wasteful for way too long.

Photobucket Lindsey of Reif Designs:

I don’t think it’s impossible for the fashion industry to go green, but it will take a very long time to get everyone on the same page. Given the fact that as designers we are in the business of creating new things, and we make our livings off of getting people to buy new clothes, rather than used, our definition of green can be very narrow or very broad, but there are steps that every designer large or small can take to work towards a more sustainable industry.

One of the biggest things I noticed when I started my line was the staggering amount of fabric that is wasted in production. Even the most precise cuts will yield waste, and the more garments produced the more there will be.

My first collection did a really small run, like 50 garments total, and I had 4 bags of scrap fabric from my floor cuts. These are pieces that can’t really be used for anything else but I couldn’t bear to throw them away. My solution was to post an ad on Craigslist offering the fabric to local crafters. I received 32 emails in 2 hours, and was not only able to give the bags of scraps homes, but I felt good knowing that the fabric was going to be used for some good. One recipient, for example, makes quilts for people in nursing homes, and another makes cat beds for cats waiting to be adopted at a shelter.

Another thing that I toil with as a designer is using newly produced fabrics. Regardless of how sustainable the fabric is, it is still brand new fabric, and there are warehouses full of fabric that has already been created and isn’t being used. I buy a lot of fabric end-run, and while some may say not like that its not organic, the fabric is just as sustainable as organic cottons and jerseys, possibly more so, because it’s keeping fabric out of landfills and using what we already have rather than producing new.

Plus, I find some great fabrics that way! There is a place here in Portland, for example, that buys leftover performance and outdoor fabrics from companies like Patagonia and Columbia. These are huge companies, and they might have 100 yards of a particular fabric that they can’t use any more, but for a small designer this is more than enough to create and produce a collection. These fabrics are also really durable and great for climates like the Pacific Northwest. These fabrics round out my collection, and I am able to provide customers with cool prints, colors and textures that I can’t get in sustainable textiles.

Image: Vincent Boiteau

Amy DuFault

Amy DuFault is a conscious lifestyle writer, consultant and fashion instigator. She resides in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.