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Fashion Trends & Sustainability: Creating Demand And Changing Perceptions

An expert in sustainable fashion and textile circularity, Myriam Laroche has worked in the clothing industry for nearly 25 years. In 2009, she decided to devote herself exclusively to the sustainable development of methods and strategies for the design, manufacturing, distribution, marketing and reuse of clothing. She spoke with ONResearch about sustainability in the fashion industry and the need to change perceptions.

Sustainability is fast becoming ubiquitous and a buzzword for many industries. When we talk about sustainable fashion, what aspects are involved?

Sustainable fashion encompasses all the actions taken to create, market, sell and dispose of fashion products that will have the least impact on the planet and on humans. Every element must be taken into consideration: water and energy consumption, human and animal wellbeing, chemicals, carbon footprint, social impact, waste, durability and quality.

At this moment there is no one way to be sustainable. Each individual and each brand is unique. So, each must develop their own unique recipe based on their human, material, technological and financial resources, as well as their values and beliefs. They must choose which elements they will prioritize, execute them well and consistently improve every year. 

There is a global push for sustainable fashion but at the same time, the fast fashion industry is growing exponentially. What do you think are the biggest changes that will impact supply chains in the fashion industry over the next couple of years, and how will the search for sustainability affect these? 

The biggest change will focus on the integration of circular economy principles. The question is how do we use, recycle and re-use textile waste? Of course, the goal is to keep the clothes in their original form for as long as possible, but when an item is not wearable anymore, we have to find ways to put it back into the supply chain. For new products, the circular economy should be considered at the design and pattern making level. All design schools should make it part of their program and should offer training or specialization courses for experienced designers. I want to see more “Garment Dismantler” experts. If the garment is not wearable anymore, we should attempt to dismantle the product in the smartest way and find function(s) for each piece of the product. What can a sleeve, a collar, a leg, a waistband, a cuff become? Can we reuse it as is? The recycling of all individual pieces (buttons, snaps, zippers, laces…) should also be part of the process. 

Right now, the sustainable fashion movement is mostly being led by environmentalists or other stakeholders that were never part of, or never worked in, “regular” fashion. Sustainability is a no brainer for them. What we need right now is for everyone to join forces. I am calling leading “regular” fashion designers & apparel architects to get involved. It is time to go back to the drawing board, reinvent patternmaking and make trendy, sophisticated, classic and beautiful collections that follow circular economy rules.

The fast fashion industry is notorious for being one of the highest contributors to global pollution. However, at present, the narrative equates sustainable fashion to expensive fashion. How can we scale sustainable fashion and address the question of affordability?

I think the word expensive should be replaced by fair. Sustainable fashion should be fairly priced. The consumer must understand the amount of labor behind the making of sustainable apparel. There are so many steps, processes and people that are invisible to the consumer. It also means quality over quantity. The price should follow the quality of the product, and brands that make sustainable clothing should make quality and durability a priority. I do not mind paying more than usual, but I am expecting the garment to last, which at the moment is not always the case.

In your career you have advised many fashion brands on sustainability issues. What are the biggest stumbling blocks or barriers faced by fashion brands (large and small) when it comes to being sustainable?

Whenever I work with brands, I can feel that even if the intention of decreasing their carbon footprint is sincere, sustainability is seen as an additional task to accommodate in   their busy schedule. It is hard, and it is mostly seen as an expense and not an investment. 

My approach now with clients is that, even before creating a green strategy, I ask to meet with as many of the employees as possible, even those who are not directly involved with sustainability. It is about creating a team buzz and having everyone excited about what and how they can contribute to a greener planet. The more the people are excited, the more interested and involved they become. And this in turn reaps benefits for the entire company. 

Another obstacle is that there is not enough on offer and not enough demand because many brands have not yet started to develop green strategies. Some believe it is just a trend and other brands do not have the resources because they link sustainability to additional expenses. This is not true. It is about starting at a small scale. I now give an “eco fashion toolbox” to as many businesses as I can through a half-day training session. This enables more businesses to jump on the green road and ultimately creates more demand for sustainable products. 

What are your thoughts on creating greater awareness on sustainability issues in order to change consumer behavior?

Creating awareness is key, but I believe it must be created without blame, anger, shame and guilt if we want the consumer to take action. Making it easy to understand why a brand is sustainable is also key for the consumer to buy sustainable. It is through authentic brand story and narrative, transparency and the sharing of information that trust will be established. This must be simple and visual, almost like kindergarten teaching.

If you can forecast one trend in sustainable fashion that we are likely to see, what would it be?

The re-invention of patchworking. Done in a beautiful, non-hippy and sophisticated way, it is almost like an illusion. Blending the scraps into garment, through patternmaking or as ornament, so we do not notice it. Also, decreasing textile waste by reintegrating it into the supply chain is the new trend and will become the new normal. The brands who are already applying or exploring this concept will be at the forefront of what fashion in the 21st century is.

Interviewed by Suddha Chakravartti, Editor-in-Chief at ONResearch, on September 30th, 2020.

Myriam Laroche

Myriam Laroche

Apparel and Textile Sustainability Strategist