Have you ever wondered if sustainability coincides with affordability? How much do you think a garment made with recycled fabrics should cost? We ask this question almost as if the answer is a given, yet it always remains a big question mark for everyone.
The fashion industry is considered one of the most impactful sector for the ecosystem, both in terms of production as well as product deterioration.
Fashion and sustainability have been going hand in hand for several years now, but today it almost became a trend to respect the environment, rather than a duty. Historically, and nowadays even more so, the fashion industry is considered one of the most impactful to the ecosystem, both in terms of production as well as product deterioration and waste. In the last decades, fashion garments have held a role as an ephemeral good, of secondary importance and easily replaceable, but in recent years our sensitivity to environmental issues has been growing, and the number of consumers choosing sustainable garments has risen accordingly.
BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE SUSTAINABLE, OR TRYING TO BE SUSTAINABLE?
The goal of brands, belonging to fast fashion but also to high-end fashion houses, is to make "clean" garments, which neither contribute to pollution nor involve the exploitation of labor, but instead reflect a responsible and ethical approach, while maintaining cutting-edge style and shapes. It is plenty of examples of brands creating "clean" fashion as you know. Two among all Martin Margiela and Stella McCartney, who from the very beginning have focused on giving their brands a sustainable footprint, repurposing vintage garments to make them new. The list grows as we go; in short, sustainability, upcycling and circular fashion are the vibes of today and everyone (hopefully) wants to find themselves prepared!
SUSTAINABLE YES, BUT HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
The final price of a garment comes from the aggregation of several inputs, such as raw materials, manufacturing, packaging, human labor, delivery etc. A pathway that costs more on average for a sustainable product than a non-sustainable one.
First, naturally sourced fabrics cost more than synthetics, nearly twice on average, because made to minimize environmental impact and therefore also available on a kilometer-zero basis. Moreover, a sustainable product aims to be durable and therefore to remain over time. Such a goal can be achieved only through high-quality and time-consuming tailoring techniques that require precision work and patience. A level of expertise that evidently is difficult to find in the market and, if found, it demands a fair monetary recognition.
High-quality tailoring techniques are difficult to find in the market and, if found, they demand a fair monetary recognition.
We could go on analyzing all the supply chain costs of the industry (what about an investigative article dedicated to this topic?), but the conclusion is already clear: sustainable fashion is expensive and has its reasons for being so. Yet, to us, the price seems too high because we have been used to it so badly. The cause? Fast fashion, a movement that has radically changed our buying habits, deluding us into thinking we can pay cheaply for any product. We seek "underpaid" quality by chasing the utopia of democratic fashion. Beautiful fabric, meticulous processing of raw materials, sustainable and responsible commitment to workers and workplaces, as well as distribution with the lowest possible environmental impact, are all aspects that demand to be rewarded.
We seek "underpaid" quality by chasing the utopia of democratic fashion.
But I want to expand the argument and argue that yes, perhaps fashion can be democratic, but style cannot. The social snapshot that has emerged in the post-pandemic era is evident: the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer. But everyone is maintaining their own habits despite the fact that the current scenario in fashion describes a 'devastating and prolonged humanitarian crisis'. It emerges that with the pandemic there has been a real wage theft against millions of workers, a quest for 'democracy' yet without respecting it.
In the past, fashion consumption was radically different, people bought little but for a higher price, and mostly out of necessity; remember those outerwear that lasted a lifetime or more? Today, shopping is done out of boredom, because it is accessible everywhere and in large quantities. The speed with which fashion changes and the desire to always stay on top of what is trendy, clashes with the sustainable approach people want to maintain.
WHO ARE THE REAL PROMOTERS OF SUSTAINABLE FASHION TODAY?
Gen Z is the generation that does the most to embrace the circular approach, preferring brands that take part in the change. Maybe, as per today, the price barriers keep most of them still out of the market, but it won't be long before they become the main customers of this new way of doing fashion.
The right communication about sustainable initiatives in fashion will be essential and it’s what we lacked in the past. As Silvia Mazzanti, Sustainability Manager at Save the Duck, said, "Sustainability is a journey made up of consistency and transparency; this journey has no end point and is enriched by new opportunities with each stage reached, toward the pursuit of increasingly challenging goals."
"Sustainability is a journey made up of consistency and transparency; this journey has no end point and is enriched by new opportunities with each stage reached" - S.Mazzanti
Both as producers and as consumers, we should not be afraid of the fact that we are not perfect in our habits. On the contrary, our focus should always be looking toward improvement.