IMPROVING ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL IMPACTS OF THE APPAREL INDUSTRY
Social, environmental, and economic issues increasingly challenge the $1.5 trillion apparel and footwear industry. As we navigate last years’ unexplored waters of industry disruption, a balance of pragmatic and innovative developments within the business of fashion persists. The industry, over two centuries old, turned on its head, refocuses the linear model of the take-make-waste model to a circular means of production.
Appointed by the United Nations, the Brundtland Commission, defined sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising future generations' ability to meet their own needs,” becomes profoundly relevant today.
John Elkington’s interpretation of this perspective is often referred to as the triple bottom line (TBL or 3BL) or the 3P’s, where economic profit is considered equivalent to environmental and social impact. A systematic change delivered through collaboration with the Fashion Industry may be a key to progress.
Financial performance goals such as sales growth and shareholder value have historically been the primary focus of retailers. The 3P’s integrates environmental and social initiatives with profit and sales growth goals. Astute retailers and customers see these initiates as complementary rather than competing goals.
The founders of Patagonia Company believe that no economic activity is yet sustainable and define their mission as responsible. Responsible initiatives address increasing employee living wages, providing safe working conditions, along with environmental stewardship. Included in these initiatives are considerations for local communities and society at large to reflect a broadening definition of a responsible business.
DO LESS HARM
Twenty-five years ago, Patagonia initiated a green corporate governance trend by donating 1% of sales to environmental causes. The outdoor clothing company’s vision to “produce no unnecessary environmental harm and have a positive impact on the stakeholders; people and communities associated with its activities” consistently funneled its eco-sense and anti-corporate ethos into a successful clothing business.
In a call to action, Patagonia and Walmart formed the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, SAC, and the Higg Index, an industry-wide self-assessment tool. The apparel manufacturing giants shaped an unlikely collaboration responding to environmental and social concerns. In a joint effort, they invited other brands, retailers, and manufacturers across the globe, along with NGOs, the Environmental Protection Agency, and academic institutions.
The Higg Index, launched in 2012, measures environmental and social impacts across a product’s entire life cycle from raw materials to end-of-life disposal. As a powerful cooperative group, SAC can accelerate improvement through its open-source index to understand that reducing harm must be collective.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Business candor builds legitimacy and creates additional incentives for action and innovation. The shared growth of ethically produced and earth-safe style provides the footing for an upsurge in consumer markets.
These efforts sparked by social and environmental online publications (free) such as - “Who Made My Clothes" by Fashion Revolution, "Detox My Fashion" by Greenpeace, and "Make Fashion Circular" by Ellen MacArthur Foundation, called on influential brands to redesign fashion’s future. “Who made my clothes?” Fashion Revolution asks, consumers now want to know.
“Good On You” became a leading trusted source for sustainable fashion brand ratings. Their popular concept drove millions of consumers worldwide to consult with their free app as they shop for ethical and sustainable brands.
A CIRCULAR ADVANTAGE
As suppliers closed during the pandemic, enlightened manufacturers responded to textile demand by seeking materials on hand. Fashion designers already tuned into environmental responsibility, dipped into the vast archives of textiles called “Dead Stock,” from past seasons or existing clothes to create next season’s circular looks.
Circularity offers a competitive advantage through repair, refurbishment, or reuse of materials not quite ready for retirement. An overabundance of clothing and textiles, only worn a few times, too often meets an early grave in landfills and can take up to 200 years to decompose while emitting GHGS such as methane.
Nature does not create waste for itself; every output becomes nourishment for the next. Our future's fate will not come automatically; judging from the trajectory, it has to be cultivated like a cherished garden, tended, not ignored. Now we can test our commitment to the environment and all living creatures in an opportunity to prove that circularity is not just academic.
The resale and second-hand market continue to grow as consumers reevaluate their relationship with their clothes. The pandemic led to a surge of DIY tutorials educating consumers on sewing, upcycling and repairing goods to increase longevity. Initiatives such as Levi’s Buy-Back scheme, Gucci's partnership with The RealReal, Eileen Fisher’s RENEW, and Madewell's take-back programs encourage consumer participation in circular commerce.
Rethinking some of the most basic principles on which we do business takes a hard look at what we produce and consume. The complexity of human behavior and the fundamental nature of fashion inadvertently overlooks the ethics and environmental consequences of what we buy. Reconfiguring how we function within nature’s limits begins by addressing consumption and excess. No circular economy or fashion brand initiative can unhinge our connection to over consumption patterns and subsequent waste without our participation.
Innovation and creativity to make the fashion industry evolve to our environments inherent needs involve significant technical and commercial challenges. Shifting to such a model to satisfy today's requirements without undermining tomorrow's viability will bring greater accountability as we reconsider priorities.
Loren Blackwood is a guest writer at Huntington Beach Art Center. She is the photographer and illustrator of the images in this blog. She is studying Fashion Design at Orange Coast College and interning at HBAC.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
guest authored by Loren Blackwood
Answering the base needs of self-expression and protection from the elements on the human form, the Judith Hendler Cocoon Cloak design competition is inspired by traditional multi-functional garments like the Caftan, Tunic, and Poncho.
A BRIEF HISTORY
The early Greek chitons, simple in construction, used two rectangle pieces of fabric; the top edge was folded away from the body, forming a flap and secured with brooches.
For thousands of years, swayed by culture and climate, societies adopted silk, wool, and cotton versions of the caftan. The sultans of the Ottoman Empire wore silk and cotton caftans embellished with gold and silver thread. The cloth often extended to the wrists, cascading full length to the ankles.
Depicted in ancient Persian art, the kaftan, a popular go-to look becomes an all-encompassing term in fashion for spacious garments. Like the traditional garments of Mexico, huipils or poncho, flowing fabric covers the body, with openings for the head and arms. The kaftan saw a resurgence in the late 1960s – ‘70s with Bohemian chic arrived in London by designer, Thea Porter. Raised in Damascus and surrounded by lavish textiles from North Africa and the Middle East, Ms. Porter created era-defining styles for the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jane Fonda, and Elizabeth Taylor. Her unique aesthetic promoted by Vogue Editor-in-chief, Diana Vreeland through the pages of Vogue magazine.
Mid-century “Fearless Fashion” designer Rudi Gernreich created body-liberating, unisex clothing. Gernreich's designs could be worn interchangeably by men or women. As an early civil rights activist, the designer defied the gender status quo.
IN THE WORLD TODAY
Traditional Senegalese kaftans, also known as Boubou, are made from natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and silk. They are worn throughout arid Western Africa and similar warm climates.
An over-the-head, draped garment with wide sleeves, bright Boubou textiles are imbued with prints and embroidery having symbolic meaning. Senegalese kaftan fabric is about sixty inches wide and varies in length. The textile is folded in half and marked for an opening for the head. The side seams are stitched about halfway making roomy sleeves.
COCOON CLOAK CALL FOR DESIGNERS
Judith Hendler invites community college Fashion Design students and HBAC members to create the unisex COCOON CLOAK. Use sustainable design techniques and materials to define self-expression and protection as it means to you. The age-old garment design is a blank canvas for your inspiration.
My name is Loren Blackwood, I am passionate about art, fashion design and nature. I have channeled this focus into a bachelor’s degree in Art History from University of California Irvine and the study of Fashion Design and Sustainability in the Apparel Industry from Orange Coast College. Now in my last semester at O.C.C., I have joined the team at the Huntington Beach Arts Center as a student intern. I am thrilled to be a part of this community arts and cultural center serving Huntington Beach and the Southern California region since 1995.
“Try imagining a place where it’s always safe and warm, come in, she said, I’ll give ya shelter from the storm.” - Bob Dylan “Shelter from the Storm”
Run in the Rain
I remember the first Centered on the Center I participated in. It might have been the first one held by the Huntington Beach Art Center. I submitted a collage made from old scrapbook materials and paint, loosely resembling an anguished face, with a scrap of lace trim that looped a foot below the plexiglass frame. I especially liked the piece, because the dangling piece somehow represented the idea of breaking out of the norm, maybe just feeling free.
I had a lot going on in my personal life at the time and putting my art out there felt a little like a naked run through the park in the rain. Vulnerable and a little ridiculous, yet at the same time daring and exciting. Despite having made art my whole life, I saw myself as just a cog working in corporate America and a mother raising two girls, but not an “artist”. Would my work be judged as ridiculous? Would the experience be embarrassing?
To be honest, I don’t remember the exact feedback – I’m sure it was all kind and included, “I love how you broke out of the frame.” But the act of showing my art to strangers and surviving to tell about it, was the act of courage which has propelled more and more of my art-making and willingness to share my art. I have submitted art to Centered on the Center ever since. This experience has given me the courage to submit to other juried shows – where sometimes I am successful and sometimes, I am not, but the best news is - I survive.
Centered on the Center Newbies
For those who have never participated, the act of displaying work in a show like Centered on the Center, is really an act of self-love, of declaring oneself an artist and of revealing one’s authentic self. It’s a chance to feel the rain against your skin and realize that you won’t melt.
Today I usually submit pieces to Centered on the Center that are different from what I have been doing – just to test the feedback. I have even been known (don’t tell anyone) to lurk several feet away from someone looking at my painting to hear what they are saying. I’m still a cog in the working world but today I am also very comfortable declaring myself an artist. I have sold pieces which is validating, but I have also come to realize that it doesn’t really matter if my work brings in thousands of dollars, or even whether my eavesdropping tells me it is good or bad. My work is my magic. It is me, and sharing that, feels like the dangling scrap of lace - freeing.
Thank You HBAC
Centered on the Center is just one of the fabulous ways the HB Art Center is supporting artists in our community – artists who call themselves artists, and those who soon will! I hope everyone supports the upcoming show. If you are an artist, a wanna-be artist, or lover of art – we also have an Artist Council that meets monthly where you will find friendly faces and kinship. Check it out!
Until then, I encourage everyone to take a run in the rain with whatever your form of expression – it’s your magic.
Welcome to the Art Center Blog, one of the exciting changes for 2021. We love talking to you and have considered many ways to entice you into a deeper dive into the arts. This column will feature different writers throughout the year, introducing our audience to new explorations in art.
As social distancing continues, our classes and exhibitions will be available online. Thursday nights will pop with lectures and demonstrations. Art for Lunch will take on a new flavor.
Opportunities for surf artists and plein air painters will arrive in the summer and fall, accompanied by outdoor workshops, historical lectures and artist talks. An Artist Council Inspired winter exhibit is the encouragement to all artists to be working now and becoming a member of the Artist Council!
This is a year to expand, to experience, to blossom and to grow. We invite you to join us on that journey.