Sustainability Is a ‘Mind-set Change,’ and Fashion Still Isn’t Getting It

Denim change-makers and innovators are thinking bigger when it comes to sustainability. The rest of the industry just hasn’t caught up yet. 

“The reality is that our future is going to be very, very different,” said Adriano Goldschmied, eponymous designer of AG Jeans, Inc. in panel conversation at the Sourcing at Magic Sustainability Summit Wednesday.

An optimist, Goldschmied described two camps — those industry veterans waiting for a return to “normal” — and those seizing what he calls “tremendous opportunity.” He’s betting on the latter, expressing zeal in the opportunity to drop physical sampling in favor of digital design, while making strides in water-saving practices and preferred fibers.

Still it’s a long way to go before a significant step change in progress, and it’s not easy. 

“The direction we’re going is super positive but hard,” chimed in Cindy Lin, chief executive officer and founder of Hey Social Good, a data platform for connecting social good enterprises with consumers.

The rise of consumer-facing shopping platforms like Good On You and initiatives like Remake’s #PayUp campaign to aid garment workers, according to the panelists, serve as a signal that the appetite for sustainability is like nothing seen before. Especially with the acceleration of the coronavirus pandemic, the fashion business is on heavy blast for its environmental and social impacts. 

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“I think we must help change the fashion industry,” emphasized Roger Williams, award-winning filmmaker of “Riverblue,” a documentary about the environmental pollution caused by fashion. 

Without action, Williams said plainly, “the future is grim.” There’s promise, he said, in chemical management programs like the ZDHC Roadmap to Zero program, intent on achieving zero discharge of hazardous chemicals that have long choked waterways and oceans without proper management. However, Williams believes there are still kinks to work out within upper management before sustainability can be fully realized.

“I think the problem with [upper management] is they don’t want to change the moneymakers,” he said, echoing Goldschmied’s earlier point on resistance to change.

Disruption may be the necessary catalyst to push the laggards over the edge. As Williams sees it, the fashion industry needs something like a Tesla electric vehicle — in its own equivalent — to drum up lasting sustainability. 

Tricia Carey, director of global business development for denim at fiber manufacturer Lenzing made the call for circularity and a re-valuation of clothing — meaning consumers, especially, understand the value of each garment.

“It’s not about making more all the time. It’s not about net sales,” Carey reiterated. Although Lenzing has been around for 80 years, innovations like its Refibra technology which upcycles pre-consumer cotton scraps have been tapped by sought-after brands like Mara Hoffman and Reformation. 

Echoing Carey’s sentiment about where fashion should be focused, Alex Penades, North American brand director at denim solution provider Jeanologia, said, “[Sustainability] is a matter of a mind-set change and education movement.” 

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