The future is sustainable.
I often wondered where my clothes were coming from, what kind of materials were being used and who was putting them together for me. A quick search on the internet was enough to make me uncomfortable and distressed, so I asked myself: what else can I do when it comes to sustainability and fashion? I faced my own hypocrite self, who recicles and separates organic compost from regular trash while not having the slightest clue about the nature of my wardrobe as well as its impacts on the environment.
That’s when I learned about the Sustainable Fashion Award. From emerging to well established brands, the SFA encourages ALL brands who are making high-quality and sustainable clothing to enter the awards. The jury consists of an outstanding crowd from the sustainable fashion world. They are the ones who are taking urgent steps towards a primarily ethically driven fashion industry.
But wait, what about the prize? A well deserved $3.000 dollars that goes to the winner and another $3.000 that will go to their chosen NGO partner of this movement. I knew I had to get involved somehow. First, I made my beloved Endless Rotation a partner sponsor of the Sustainable Fashion Awards. Secondly, I knew I had to speak with someone, but not just anyone.
Meet Sass Brown. Founding Dean of the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation, Brown is a walking legend. Considered a true eco-pioneer in the fashion world, in her first book Eco Fashion, Sass talks about the wide range of sustainable materials and products available, where they come from and how they make a real difference. Her concern regarding sustainability in the fashion industry is an essential type of awareness that should be built in everyone’s mind – from the designer to the consumer. Read below my talk with her and get yourself started on your very own journey. Her advice? Start small, do your research and change your buying habits.
Photos by Stephanie Wruck & Haley Nelson.
How did you find sustainable fashion? Or how did it find you?
SASS – I found it through my Masters. I had a growing awareness of what individual designers were doing to express their conscience through their design work, but was frustrated by how little the word was getting out. I used my Masters as a means to expand my knowledge and reach out to ethical designers and focus each of my projects around their work. Ethical fashion at that time was still in its infancy, and the designers pushing its bounderies were small, emerging and spread around the world, so I decided to present my Masters thesis through a blog honoring and sharing the ground breaking work being done around the world, and that became the basis of my website ( www.ecofashiontalk.com ) and then led to my two books on the topic.
What are the main challenges faced by the sustainable fashion industry in your opinion?
SASS – There are many and it depends upon which segment of the industry you are focusing on. At the mass consumption level it’s the transparency and ethics of the supply chain. Many big brands still don’t have a handle on who produces and how they produce their goods, or where the raw materials come from and the impacts associated with them. Fashion designers have traditionally chosen their fabrics based on their aesthetic properties alone, with no knowledge, understanding or concern for where they come from, so it’s a massive shift to ensure the materials they choose have a lowered carbon footprint, that they are not the cause of pollution in the processing stage, and the garments are not the source of sweatshop labour. And if you are a multi national brand there are just so many moving parts to track, monitor and improve. For a small emerging designer, they might be challenged with finding locally sourced materials or labour, dependent upon their geographic location and as a result of production trends to offshoring and the loss of small localized manufacturing capabilities and knowledge. Waste is a single issue that all designers deal with, proportionate to their scale, and the need to recontextualize waste as resource. There is a lot of talk about circular economy right now, its benefits as well as its limitations, but nobody questions the need for the reuse and elimination of waste.
How is sustainability reshaping the creative process in the fashion world?
SASS – It completely changes the responsibilities of a designer, to expand their choice of materials and production to be based on considerations far greater than simply aesthetics and convenience. Its no longer enough to say I like this fabric, without understanding where it came from, what processes it went through, how those that produced it were treated etc. I am a huge purponent of Design Futuring, the concept that a designer has the responsibility to understand the ramifications of the designs they create and to mitigate its impact through the design process. This is a major opportunity educationally, where it is our responsibility as educators to share the knowledge of impacts, footprints and measurement metrics with students, and to instill the importance of understanding the need to be conscience of those impacts through the design process. It’s not about forcing change, but education and that is a responsibility we take seriously at the Dubai Institute of Dubai and Innovation.
I am an optimist at heart and I believe the world is changing for the better in many ways, one of them being people slowly shifting towards a more environmentally conscious lifestyle. Do you think sustainability in fashion is somehow viewed as “less important” or not as relevant than other environmental causes?
SASS – Fashion has traditionally been considered as vein and superfluous to serious conversation, after all what can the current hemline debate add to a serious conversation about sustainability? That is however an uniformed assumption. The apparel and associated textile industry is the third largest industry in the world, it is the second largest polluter, and the second largest user of water. By default it has the ability to be a major change agent and to affect how we do business, how we produce and how we consume. That is the power of fashion.
For many, the idea of sustainable fashion is still very foreign and something far from a tangible reality. What’s your advice for someone who is trying to get more involved and also move away from traditional and mainstream fashion habits?
SASS – Start small and do it in a way that appeals to you. If you’re a consumer, then you might want to start changing your buying habits by purchasing vintage or flea market finds. You might want to redesign existing pieces in your wardrobe you never wear by working with a local tailor to redesign and refit pieces them. You might start supporting local emerging designers who in turn support the local economy. And definitely start reading some of the great websites, blogs or eZines that communicate exciting fashion made with a conscience. Some of my personal favorites are: Eluxe Magazine, Fashion Revolution, Consciously Sartorial, Eco Habitude and Reve en Vert. My own EcoFashionTalk has now been archived, but it still contains articles and information about thousands of ethical designers.
To enter the SFA: https://jakandjil.com/sfa2018/ – it’s free to enter until August 31st, 2018. The result will be announced on October 31st, 2018. Mark your calendars!
Follow Sass Brown on Instagram for daily doses of sustainable textiles and stunning photos: @clothingethics
Dubai Institute of Fashion and Design: http://didi.ac.ae/ – Twitter: @DIDIXB