Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 3.40.54 PMCan the role of design transform how a fashion business approaches their sustainability strategy? I believe it can, so let me explain…

Sustainability and fashion are mostly seen as unlikely bed-fellows. Most people from a sustainability or environmental management perspective, would view the fashion industry as completely wasteful. Meanwhile, fashion industry insiders such as designers, stylists and marketers revel in the industry’s inherent extravagance and seeming abundance, beauty for beauty’s sake. The fashion industry insiders fear the approach of the sustainability expert, and vice versa. I like to think of them as two characters – the evidence-based scientist and the story-telling marketer. This opposition and differing mindsets can often cause real problems when companies begin to consider their sustainability impacts – the big ‘S’ word.

In my experience, fashion business take one of two approaches when they begin to engage with the ‘S’ word. They either engage the services of the supply chain expert (the evidence-based scientist) who helps them make savings with more efficient systems and economies of scale. Or, they create impressive marketing and brand messages (with the help of the storytelling marketer) that say the right things around transparency, but with little change to the status quo.

I believe there can be a middle way in which the two characters can co-exist and even thrive together. In this middle way, the real change starts at the design of the product/garment. This is the axis of the business, where the designer and buyer make crucial decisions specifying materials; trimmings and how the customer will wear and use the product. The design and material decisions affect up to 90% of a product’s environmental footprint so getting this right first is crucial to any brand or supply chain strategy.

The TEN design strategies I have been working with for the last few years are an excellent framework for designers, buyers and even production staff to begin to engage with these issues. This framework has been developed and tested by designers, for designers, who are passionate about both fashion and sustainability. We believe there can be a middle way for both fashion and sustainability and these design strategies are the crucial ‘middle way’.

Illustration: SokFok Studios