The impact of fast fashion on sustainability was one of the takeaways Thursday morning at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
The NPD Group’s chief industry adviser Marshall Cohen led the discussion about how companies and consumers can be more environmentally minded in their purchases and practices. Other participants included Taryn Hipwell, founder of Beyond the Label and author of “How to Shop for Shi(f)t”; Vanessa Urenda, cofounder of LAMINI; Valérie Martin, vice president of global communications and culture at the Aldo Group, and Sabra Krock creative director and co-owner of Everything but Water.
Panelists agreed that brands and shoppers need to be more conscientious about the root source of the products they buy and produce. Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Reformation, Eileen Fisher, Tradesy, The Real Real, Groceries Apparel and Outerknown were among the sustainable-conscious labels they cited as helping to lead the charge. Hipwell predicted that in the next five years consumers, especially younger ones, will research the heritage of their apparel purchases as readily as they book travel online or track FedEx shipments. To that end, Sourcemap, a company that specializes in supply chain mapping, enables companies to trace products to the source. Noting that sustainable efforts can go beyond in-store and online initiatives, Hipwell stressed the experiential, citing a sustainable fashion show organized with the city of Santa Monica, Tradesy and others as an example.
Speaking to an audience of industry executives and students, Krock said, “Mindful consumption, not just in the sourcing of materials but in the buying to keep, to care for, to wash properly and enjoy for years is critically important. While fashion is obviously part of the problem of what’s going on here, [in terms of environmentalism] fashion has the ability to make an issue cool,” she said, adding given the industry’s prowess in marketing and advertising there is “a great platform” to further the cause and create change.
In his “Retail 2020” remarks, Cohen noted that one-third of survey respondents indicated that social consciousness and sustainability are important to them.
Everything but Water is intent on making shoppers more aware of the amount of plastics being put in the ocean — by 2050 plastics are expected to outweigh the amount of fish in the ocean, Krock said. The company’s sustainability interest was prompted in part by “concern around the administration and what we’re doing as a country around these issues,” she said. “We just felt that that was not sufficiently being addressed. We as corporate citizens, business owners, private individuals have a great responsibility for change.”
As the first fashion footwear and accessories company in the world to be certified climate neutral, the Aldo Group, a 3,000-unit operation, is taking a closer look at sustainability throughout its supply chain. Martin emphasized the need for companies to partner with others. “We’re coming together to look at our footprint for every single product and to look at the factory,” she said. “Also, Gen Z is the first generation to put purpose before money, so we need to pay attention to Gen Z.”
But Krock questioned surveys that indicate consumers are increasingly interested in buying longer-lasting product and that the younger generation would rather spend a little more than have something from the mass market. “I love that it says that. I just wonder what the difference is between what you feel good saying to a survey, and what you’re actually doing,” she said.
Everything but Water has been affected by the increased amount of $20 swimwear, and high-fashion designers “partnering with fast fashion manufacturers to offer cute looking suits at ridiculously unsustainable price,” Krock said. Aside from inherent quality issues, the abundance of low-cost swimwear “is an important dynamic in this industry. How do we mitigate this in-and-out, fickle, throw-it-away, buy-cheap pressure?”
Considering the circular life of a product is essential, said Krock, “When we say, ’Throw it away,’ There is no away.”