Crystal Ball Gazing into Fashion and Sustainability
While there is no denying the challenges brought about by COVID-19, the optimists amongst us believe that our current pandemic is an opportunity to globally stop and reassess how we live. As consumers, that includes how we approach what we buy, and in this week — Fashion Revolution Week, we turn our specific lens to long-term sustainability, by asking Creative Enterprise Australia Fashion Development Manager Thuy Nguyen to crystal-ball gaze into the future of her industry.
Will the COVID-19 era change the way we look at fashion?
Whether on an unconscious small scale or a complete mind shift, the current pandemic will highly likely influence our fashion purchasing decisions no doubt.
The fashion industry’s impact on the environment and ethical debates has been one of the most controversial particularly over the past five years. This has prompted many large global companies to re-evaluate their business models and supply chains to integrate necessary changes in order to at least reduce criticisms and mitigate risks of unwanted exposure, if not from a conscience driven position.
The COVID-19 situation has really provided people the opportunity to focus and give more thought to our planet earth and the general disregard we bestow through our habit for convenience, thirst for capitalism and one that is specific to fashion, vanity and the fundamental need for a social standing through the consumption of one wear and throw-away culture.
How will things change?
It’s likely fashion brands will look into balancing their supply chains with local options where possible, alongside overseas transparent ethical manufacturing and average the financial costs and benefits. The end price will most likely be higher, however, with a united customer mindset focussed on the greater good, we will slowly reverse our negative environmental and unethical human impact.
What is the greatest revolution you would like to see happen in the fashion industry?
I have always possessed a desire for consolidation of specialised manufacturing and balance in the fashion cycle, where maintaining integrity is everyone’s role.
This means that fashion brand owners accept the true cost of making a product, manufacturers provide workers with realistic living wages and safe working conditions and end consumers acknowledge that in order for fashion brands to stay financially sustainable whilst meeting environmental and ethical requirements, they will need to generate some profit from the retail selling price. It will require a collective mental shift.
From a local perspective, I am continually advocating for an in-country, self-sufficient industry where there are pockets of local ethical manufacturing, each specialising in different types of textile, clothing and footwear production aided by government incentives.
What do we need to inspire such a shift?
I’d like to see training programs being implemented within these manufacturing walls to skill or upskill workers. Cost pricing will be transparent and imposed fairly to all who seek the services. This will challenge brands to differentiate themselves through creative competition rather than price point.
There is no better time than the present to restore this forgotten system, to embrace and refine or develop skills, to create a ‘village’ of artisanal experts and to redefine Australians as executors of their own innovations and further grow the local fashion economy.
Ultimately the outcome will be a reduction of our carbon footprint as well as a growth in employment opportunities.
What are the greatest changes you’ve seen?
From a global perspective, the most notable change I’ve observed over the past few years is the elevated importance of digital e-commerce and its astronomical escalation during this current crisis.
Where fashion brands once utilised their e-commerce store to support bricks and mortar sales, future predictions from Mckinsey & Company, a global consulting management company, suggests that brands must enhance their digital capabilities and explore how their offline channels can support their e-commerce store predicted to be the prime selling channel for many.
Another significant change seen in the industry are positive movements towards the use of more sustainable resources and responsible practices throughout fashion supply chains. Public demands pronounced through social media platforms have forced numerous global conglomerates to transition to this systematic change or risk becoming irrelevant.
How does a new designer balance the need for ethical clothing production and cost?
Firstly, emerging designers need to be financially and mentally prepared if their aspiration is to run their own business. The future of fashion consumers will likely not tolerate reports of any unethical exploitation in the brands they purchase hence, it would be detrimental to any who incorporate this practice going forward.
New brands need to be thorough in their research, attaining as much information and advice as possible from industry experts and calculating costs before deciding to proceed in their fashion business venture. The research should include an investigation of different local and overseas certified ethical manufacturing, with an understanding of what are identified as fair wages (liveable wages) in different parts of the world and how these wages are measured and applied within supply chains.
Equipped with this knowledge and understanding of expected costs, emerging businesses, should test and trial their designs with minimal production quantities before committing to larger orders.
Smaller quantities will always result in higher production price when produced ethically, therefore it is critical that each design incorporates identity that is humanised through storytelling, creating value beyond the tangible that targeted consumers will be emotionally invested in.
Why is it so important that the future of fashion is sustainable?
Simply put, there will be no future if sustainability is not at the forefront of the current 200 trillion-dollar industry.
It is no longer acceptable to be ignorant and execute with irresponsible choices when all information for alternate avenues are available. In short, brands will eventually become irrelevant if sustainability has not been considered in their business models.