Options for how we consume things are getting better. As citizens, we’re getting smarter, more discerning and (most importantly) more values-driven as ‘sustainability’ fades into the everyday culture of cosmopolitan life. Finally! If you’re reading this, you’re definitely part of a community of virtue-seeking individuals: humans who are consciously searching for something more ‘good’ when it comes to fashion, food, travel choices and beyond. We all want to do better. Although everyone here will have experienced a moment where our desires *don’t* match our actions, sometimes, sustainability just comes down to wanting to ‘do the right thing’. And in a space filled with buzzwords and ever-changing jargon, it’s soothing to keep it that simple, right?
Let’s not underestimate the tension involved though. Confusion, guilt and fear are some of the top emotional responses to hearing the words ‘sustainable fashion’, which is SO sad when the ideology of sustainability is so damn wonderful and the spirit of fashion is so damn inspiring. The pressure we place on ourselves echoes the pressure upheld by the fashion system. And what’s worse is that so many of us have not only accepted this tension, but actively suppress it on our complicated quest towards that ‘good’.
“Optimism doesn’t have to be pink and sparkly; it can be practical, strategic, spiritual and effective. What some call manifesting, others call systems-thinking, and it happens when we make space and time to see the vision and work backwards from it together.”
Well. We’re over the negativity that challenges sustainability in fashion. There’s a much higher vibration this work can exist within and if we choose to do so, the tension can be both acknowledged and resolved. Optimism doesn’t have to be pink and sparkly; it can be practical, strategic, spiritual and effective. What some call manifesting, others call systems-thinking, and it happens when we make space and time to see the vision and work backwards from it together.
When it comes to fashion, this vision is usually referred to as ‘the circular economy’. It’s a society that nourishes itself with its own assets, much like a forest or an ocean does. Rather than taking a resource, making something with it and then discarding the used item as waste, circularity offers a system that looks more like a circle or a loop in which objects keep moving. In fashion, circularity can be expressed in SO many ways, from chemical textile recycling through to garment-sharing initiatives and even work that focuses on keeping soil healthy enough to grow our clothing’s ingredients.
So much great work is happening. So within fashion and circularity, what are the tensions that persist, and how can they be resolved?
Sustainability is a race, but we have to slow down
Gradual change at a slow pace is totally outdated (already) when it comes to making fashion a more responsible industry. Today, some brands are using the story of sustainability as a differentiating factor but sooner or later, ethics will simply be a prerequisite to doing business because of consumer demand, governmental legislation, or both. Fashion is (almost by its very nature) competitive, and companies, solutions and even individuals are all trying to get to the finish line of ‘good’ first. On top of that, we’re all trying to decarbonise our lives as quickly as possible to reduce the long-term impact of human life on planet earth. Needless to say, it’s hard to slow down! Yet without making space to *feel* our way through this transition – to zoom out, check in and deeply consider our next steps – this thing we call ‘sustainability’ just cannot happen. If we slow down enough, we might just be able to enjoy the ride!
It’s exciting to build new systems, but we have to actually collaborate
Slowing down is also an absolute essential for true collaboration. Have you ever tried to solve a massive problem in a rush? It’s hard. That word, ‘collaboration’ doesn’t really make us feel much, either. It’s one of those terms that’s been co-opted by corporations to indicate progress. But real, honest, heartfelt collaboration… that’s something else; it’s something that transcends language even. A circular economy requires unprecedented levels of teamwork, respect and reciprocity – the likes of which few of us have ever witnessed. In the context of fashion, brands are already working towards this shift by forming new kinds of consumer relationships (which platforms like shwap can facilitate). It’s about taking full responsibility while offering a deeper connection to the clothes they’ve produced. Hierarchies will devolve as we innovate more intuitive ways to collaborate appropriate to a circular economy at scale.
Innovation is amazing, but how we perceive technology must change
Speaking of innovation, human-made, digital technology is often cited as *the* solution to all our sustainability challenges in almost every situation and sector. Let’s be clear: this assumption is dangerous. While machines, algorithms, factories and processes can certainly facilitate our transition into circularity, tech can’t appeal to our human nature in the way that ‘sustainability’ requires us to. On its own, it doesn’t help us feel or heal. It doesn’t have an instinct to support reparations. It cannot be the only answer. To ease the tension, we can look to nature’s technology to change our perception of what solutions could look like. And on top of that, we can come together to treasure the clothing we have through the memories attached to them – maybe emotion as an ancient form of technology can be more profound than lines of code.
We can make progress together and it requires a sense of healing
Circularity isn’t just a solution to our planet’s resource injustice problems, It could also help each one of us heal from the different types of trauma that our bodies and ancestors have experienced through time. The oppression of society is not evenly spread – we know this. Different cultures around the world probably don’t have a word for ‘circularity’, because that’s just what life is. Wouldn’t it be incredible if sustainable initiatives in the fashion industry were viewed through the more human lens of healing – not so much about going ‘back’ to nature but reimmersing ourselves within its cosmic processes? Huge amounts of love and work go into creating a garment and personal experiences are effective. Appealing to our sense of instinct can be powerful and we can tap into that the make our clothes last longer.
Systems-change ain’t simple! But the chance to rewire the future is now. If we can fully focus on actual human connection, that ‘good’ that so many of us are desperately seeking can also operate in service to Earth as well as our energetic selves. Options for how we consume things are getting better. As citizens, we can embrace a culture of circularity in our everyday lives.
By Faith Robinson, CogDis Studios.
CogDis are a creative ethics consultancy aligning internal purpose with external output, founded by sustainability and activism experts Faith Robinson, Claire Yurika Davis and Florence Huntington-Whiteley.