Sustainable fashion is a commonly heard term these days and is definitely something that we as consumers are all for. And why wouldn’t we be? There has also been a lot of talk about how we can be more responsible, environmentally friendly and ethical; as well as about how the responsibility is in our hands. This is very much true as we are the ones who choose, purchase, wear and eventually dispose of the garments. However, it is important to remember that not only are fashion brands liable but so are the designers. That is why this post will demonstrate how designers can incorporate sustainability into fashion.
Before we jump into it, let’s discuss the actual role of a designer! It may seem like a no-brainer for most, but some might not realise how diverse the job is and what it entails. Designing includes, of course, the creative and technical aspects of creating something that serves the purpose it is meant for. This means doing research, sourcing, sales thinking, prototyping and a lot of trial and error. Therefore, how designers create their garments can have an impact on the process, supply chain, the people manufacturing it and of course, the environment.
1. Material selection
As designers are the ones creating and deciding how the final product will look like, it is also up to them to select the material which the garments will be made out of. This means the ability to invest in fibres and fabrics that are better for the environment. Whether that is sewing only with organic materials, locally sourced, upcycled fibres, or 100% recyclable materials, their choices in the early stages of the process will have an effect on the level of sustainability and the level of impact that garment can have on our environment. It is easier said than done to just choose the right material, as the designer would also need to consider how much this product will be used and see if the material will be durable enough. Another consideration would be the washing of the garment. Would it require a lot of washes? Detergents?
2. Manufacturing decisions
Although one may think that the main role of a designer is to create and make decisions in the early stages of the process, it is not necessarily true. Designers would also have to consider if their designs can be brought to be life. Will their conceptualisation on paper or on a computer program actually work? Where can they do it? Can they get the print or the colours right? These questions are important because a lot of energy and water is required for the production of garments, and it also inevitably creates waste. Therefore, it is important for designers to choose the right manufacturer for their designs; perhaps someone who is certified, someone who avoids dyes, have proper waste treatment in place or proof of fair treatment of their workers.
3. The right mentality
As individuals, it’s hard to be affected by social and cultural questions of society in which we live. A designer’s mentality would also be affected by their surroundings and thus, having a good mentality favourable to society and the environment could mean their designs are made with these things in mind. If the designer is passionate about environmentally-friendly practices, then that would come through in their work. They may be more likely to design their garments with durability and longevity in mind, resulting in a higher likelihood of extended lifespans of our clothing and less textiles in our landfills.
"Sustainability can’t be like some sort of a moral sacrifice or political dilemma or a philanthropical cause. It has to be a design challenge."
— Bjarke Ingels
The whole point of making a product is so that it can be used for the purpose it was created for. So whether it is active wear, hiking gear, onesies for toddlers or intricate swimsuits with slits, zips and clips, a designer would need to consider what the function of this garment is. Therefore, designers must always come back to this question to ensure that their designs work and that they will serve the purpose it was made for. Let’s be honest, if one buys a waterproof jacket to go on a three-day hike and the item no longer becomes waterproof over time, the item would be thrown out pretty quickly.
5. Make sustainability cool
Regardless of how environmentally friendly a product is, an average consumer might not be as willing to pay for the markups in comparison to a devoted conscious consumer. Certainly, being responsible and good is not cheap, so it is up to the designers to "wow" us. They need to be the ones who drive the trends, and if they can convince the masses that sustainability is cool, then a truly sustainable fashion future may over time be achievable! Sustainable fashion should be design-led. The clothes should be good for the environment, but also look and feel good.
"What we have learnt beyond doubt is that leveraging the guilt factor alone will not work. Design matters."
— Samata Angel
The final reason why design is the core ingredient of sustainable fashion is that in whichever realm, design can inspire. By designing more sustainable garments in new, exciting, innovative and capturing ways will not only inspire regular consumers, but also other fashion enthusiasts and designers to do the same. This is of course, desirable because the more designs made for a better world and better fashion, the more choices consumers have. More choices could lead to ease in choosing better-for-the-environment alternatives.
In summary, before the buyer can even begin to shop for their clothes, it must be designed and manufactured first. Which is why the design is crucial, because the designer needs to consider that the garment will be both functional and desirable enough to be selected. With that being said, a designer may have the best of intentions, have the right mentality and the most amazing design satisfying the criteria of being fashionable and sustainable, and yet, the garment might not ever make it to the stores. Some designers might not be lucky enough to have the budget or the luxury of being their own boss. A lot of designers may be collaborating or working for a fashion brand company where they are the ones who will, in the end, make the decisions that impact the environment. For example, the company might only want to work with certain manufacturers, fabrics or styles.
So where does that leave us? The key takeaway here is that a sustainable fashion future is going to take all components and all players to achieve. Designing is one of the components which has lasting (negative or positive) impacts throughout the entire chain and thus, lasting impacts on our beautiful planet. We firmly believe that designers must be given more trust in their abilities to innovate and inspire us all.