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NEW YORK — “Who hasn’t got enough stuff?” Simon Collins asked the audience at the “Green: The Trending Color in Fashion” event Thursday.
Collins, dean of the school of fashion at Parsons The New School for Design and the moderator of the event at the Condé Nast auditorium, was making the point that fashion and sustainability don’t immediately seem to have much in common. “Vivienne Westwood once said, ‘Don’t buy my clothes,’ when she was asked what she’d do about sustainability,” he said at the event, which was sponsored by H&M and Vogue.
Collins asked panelists Helena Helmersson, H&M’s global director of sustainability, and Catarina Midby, global head of fashion and sustainability communication, what a company of H&M’s size can do about sustainability. Midby explained that new care labels tell customers how to save resources by washing in cold water with less detergent. “Do you have to get David Beckham to wash [clothes] with cold water on his chest?” Collins asked, referring to the soccer star, who poses shirtless in an H&M underwear and sock ad campaign. “We need to use our stores and Web site to communicate that we now have conscious labels,” Helmersson said.
Collins wanted to know if customers really care about sustainability. Julie Gilhart, a consultant to Amazon and other companies, said, “You have to get into [consumers’] heads. They all want fashion, they want something less expensive or sometimes more expensive. You take a trend like high-waisted jeans and give it to them. The younger generation is coming up and is more educated. Smart companies are going to be thinking about the future. They’ll be ready.”
Midby said awareness of green materials has grown among consumers.
The question of whether fast fashion, with its frequent deliveries, contributes to shoppers buying more than they probably need arose. “Fashion itself has slowed down,” Midby said. “It’s not like trends change every week. Consumers make their own style.” Helmersson added: “We try to reduce the impact of our footprint. Our garment collection [recycling] initiative is crucial for us.”
“There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way we consume,” said Jasmin Malik Chua, Ecouterre editor. “We used to buy clothes that last. We’ve also lost our ability to mend things and sew and knit. Some companies are starting to offer free mending services.