Money, fashion, power:
how to subvert the key points of the fashion system?
On the occasion of Fashion Revolution Week, we talked about this topic with 10 sustainable brands listed in our directory, highlighting the changes that can no longer wait.
We already talked about Fashion Revolution Week last year, describing the origins of the Fashion Revolution movement and Who Made My Clothes mantra, which invites us to ask ourselves what is behind the clothes we buy, asking the market for greater attention and propensity to ethical and responsible fashion.
This year the Fashion Revolution Week will be held from 18 to 24 April: an opportunity for the fashion system to reflect on the possibility of reinventing the sector in a more fair and healthy perspective for the planet and the people who inhabit it. A fashion system that includes big (and less big) brands, but also all of us who, with our daily consumption choices, influence and direct the entire sector.
The theme that guides Fashion Revolution Week this year is actually a set of three elements, which leads us to reflect on how the interaction between them influences the fashion system.
Money, Fashion and Power: these are the three elements on which this year's Fashion Revolution Week invites us to reflect to demand access to an ethical and responsible fashion, changing the assets on which the system is based.
These are precisely the themes on which we started to reflect on possible changes in the fashion system. We wanted to talk about it with the representatives of ten sustainable brands listed in our directory, selected because they well embody the ideals of Fashion Revolution Week, proposing to their customers an ethical and responsible fashion. They are very different brands but driven by the same values, among which we find Italian companies such as US Underwear Store and The Bad Seeds Company and others strongly based on local production such as Farm to Hanger. There are also brands strongly committed to sustainable materials such as Alma & Lovis and others that have focused on a specific product, such as goodsociety and Arctic Seas. Some are brands that are naturally future-oriented because they are geared towards the little ones, such as Babbily and Snella. Others have reinvented luxury in a sustainable way, such as Maren Jewellery and Rozenbroek. What do the three themes of Fashion Revolution Week represent for them (and for us)?
Concentrated in the hands of a few in the world of traditional fashion and instead understood by these sustainable brands as a possibility to positively influence the market in demanding an ethical and responsible fashion.
The world of traditional fashion is based on the concentration of power and well-being in the hands of a few. It is true on the production side, where few big brands, from fast fashion to luxury, have the power to direct fashions and consumption. But it is also true on the consumer front, where “few” people concentrated in the wealthiest parts of the world buy garments whose true price is paid by workers exploited in other regions of the world.
Being a brand that acts in the panorama of ethical and responsible fashion also means having the power to direct the system towards a new path. It is about being able to convey to consumers the value of sustainable and ethical garments: the fashion world can only change one consumer at a time and every brand in this sector can (and must) do its part. But how?
Each brand has its own recipe, but some points are clear to everyone. For example, it is evident that it is not possible to continue to support the production and consumption rhythms imposed by fast fashion. “We basically try to convey that it is better to buy one high quality item with a timeless look than a whole range of low-quality swimwear: less is more”: to say it is Arctic Seas, a Belgian brand of luxury swimwear and beachwear that has made the fight against waste its trademark, but the concept is shared by any brand that has decided to work in the field of ethical and responsible fashion. The importance of limiting the volumes produced and avoiding waste are in fact issues highlighted by many brands, such as The Bad Seeds Company, an Italian label that mainly uses hemp, a natural, resistant and durable fibre: “our productions are small and therefore we are able to offer the consumer an high quality product”.
Ethics, sustainability, attention to the environment: these are fundamental issues to be addressed, but they can be perceived as repulsive if presented in the wrong way. Who is well aware of this is Babbily, a brand that wants to combat waste in one of the sectors that is most subject to it, that of children’s clothing. It does it with garments that grow for a few seasons together with their small owners, but not only: “all fashion – whether sustainable or not – is about visuals and the feel-good factor. We understand the impact that fashion has on the environment, but we also realise that being dogmatic or gloomy about it can be off-putting. So, we are trying to send this positive feel-good message of having fun with children while gently educating people about environmental impact and how being a responsible consumer can bring about positive change”.
Certifications also play an important role in communicating with customers. As Alma & Lovis, a German women’s fashion brand, rightly points out, “sustainably produced and ecological clothing still needs to be explained. In our philosophy, on the product and in our print and online presentations with the GOTS certification, we try to convey to consumers how important it is to us that neither humans, animals nor the environment have to suffer for our clothing “. goodsociety, the world’s first PETA-certified denim brand, and Maren Jewellery, the first jewellery brand in Germany to become a B Corp, are also well aware of this.
Another important lesson comes from Maren Jewellery: “sustainability simply can’t be the first argument. Sustainability has to be the basic tenor. The premise. You can’t convince anyone with sustainability alone if the product is not correspondingly good”. And, finally, it is evident the need to bring out everything that unfortunately (if you ask an ethical and responsible fashion brand) or fortunately (if you ask a fast fashion brand) does not come on the shelves of shops: the story of who created that garment. “Buying cheap is an easy way to determine that somebody down the production line is not getting payed and working under very harsh conditions.” This is underlined by Snella, a children’s fashion brand, which highlights a truth that is as obvious as it is willingly still ignored by many consumers.
Conveying the value of ethical and responsible fashion is obviously not easy and there is no single winning recipe: it is essential to rely on facts, concrete data and certifications, but also to propose quality garments designed to last. On the one hand, therefore, it is a question of making evident everything that the traditional fashion system tries to hide, on the other hand it must go against the disposable logic that has historically guided the fashion sector in recent decades. A logic that, for reasons of quality or aesthetics, concerns both fast fashion and the luxury sector, but that is no longer sustainable and must be changed. And this is where the theme of power is linked to that of fashion in the strict sense.
Too much and too fast: this is the concept that guides traditional fashion, which produces new collections at a pressing (and unsustainable) pace. Creating garments made to last, not only from a qualitative but also from an aesthetic point of view, is instead the mission of ethical and responsible fashion brands.
Reversing the paradigm, making quality count more than quantity, is one of the cornerstones of sustainable fashion: a goal that can be achieved using resistant and durable materials, but not only. Often, in fact, even traditional luxury fashion is based on technically good quality materials, but this is where the aesthetic side comes in: the garments are designed to last only one season and then become “outdated”. A logic valid for the luxury sector but also of interest to fast fashion, where quality and aesthetics coexist. But perhaps it is precisely the aesthetic factor that is most complex to change, because it is not based on tangible elements such as the good quality of a garment, but on mental concepts that for years (if not decades) have been well rooted in the minds of most consumers.
For ethical and responsible fashion brands, it is a question of reversing this logic of thinking, proposing garments made to last: this will certainly lead to fewer purchases, but following the logic of continuous consumption is no longer an option. It is therefore necessary to make aesthetic choices that can help consumers understand how a garment can remain fashionable, season after season. For example, Alma & Lovis tells us: “the longevity of clothing is also defined by its combinability – our overarching colour concept ensures that styles can be styled with older and new collections over many seasons”. Producing garments that represent “wardrobe essentials, rather than releasing seasonal collections we slowly add to our product range to demand” is the logic that also guides Rozenbroek. The history of this brand is representative: its founder gave life to the brand after working for years in the luxury fashion sector, in order to propose garments that represented an alternative and at the same time the antithesis of this world. “We don’t believe in making sustainable high fashion pieces that are then discarded, instead we make clothing that transcends seasons and lasts.” Jade, founder of Rozenbroek, well underlines the problem behind traditional luxury fashion.
Fighting waste is also a real challenge in those sectors which, for more practical reasons, are subject to constant turnover. A representative case is that of Babbily which, as we have mentioned, produces children’s clothing that, thanks to some tailored escamotage, is able to grow for a while together with the child. It is a question here of subverting a logic that prevails in the field of clothing for children, namely that of garments that for practical reasons cannot last more than a certain time. Babbily shows that this is not necessarily a dogma: “that’s the essence of the brand – children’s clothing that is comfortable and can be worn for several seasons while staying relevant and fresh for adults and children”. Another way to make children’s clothing more durable is that experienced by Snella, which in its collections exclusively provides unisex garments to facilitate their reuse by more and more children: a choice also “social”, because “all children have the right to move and play without having clothes being in the way “.
Aesthetics and practicality, therefore, but also quality remains fundamental. goodsociety is well aware of this, and says: “material research, accessories, selection of suppliers, everything is quality oriented, based on sustainability factors. For example, we try to do things in a personal manner, we want to see behind the scenes of all the people and companies we work for, striving to be a good example for true holistic production.” So, the concept of control over the supply chain is back, to bring to light everything that the world of fast fashion has skilfully hidden for years: goodsociety, a brand that has reinvented the processing of jeans in a sustainable perspective, rightly emphasizes that knowing the suppliers ensures not only that they can work in ethical and sustainable conditions, but also a careful control over every material used.
And if the life cycle of each product is destined to end, however long it has been, even thinking about the aftermath becomes indispensable. Some ethical and responsible fashion brands therefore do not limit themselves to designing garments made to last, but consider their disposal from the design phase. This is the case, for example, of Farm to Hanger, an Australian brand based on 100% local production that uses exclusively biodegradable materials. Of course, the use of particular materials, such as compostable, recycled or certified ones entails higher costs, and this is where we connect to the third and final theme of this year’s Fashion Revolution Week.
A value shown on price tags that often does not convey the real value of a garment, hiding its social and environmental costs. If the prices of traditional fashion more reflect the image and positioning of the brand, those of ethical and responsible fashion must instead highlight the costs that are normally hidden.
While traditional fashion brands benefit from a system based on excessive consumption, the majority of people who materially produce the clothes and accessories that arrive in our stores are not paid enough, work in precarious and dangerous conditions and are more subject to climate change. All this, of course, is silenced as much as possible by traditional fashion brands, whose price tags reflect more the image they want to convey rather than the real value of the garments and their social and environmental cost.
Pricing is an issue that ethical and responsible fashion brands have to face on a daily basis. On the one hand, their prices are different and must necessarily reflect those aspects that traditional fashion hides. On the other hand, sustainable garments are still often perceived as “too expensive”, highlighting once again the need for a paradigm shift in the minds of consumers.
Unlike traditional fashion, for ethical and responsible fashion brands the aim is almost never profit maximization, although the sustainability of the economic enterprise is in any case necessary. As Alma & Lovis tells us, “of course, we also have to calculate our prices on the basis of raw material, production and logistics costs. But we do not strive for profit maximisation. It is important for us to produce high-quality and good clothes and to be able to support social projects with the surpluses. Our corporate goal is fundamentally a good life for all”. A good life for all means above all decent living conditions for those who produce that garment. As US Underwear Store says “people need to realize that behind the cost of the tag price there is, in addition, the research into low-impact raw materials, and someone who produces it physically. The workforce must be paid fairly”.
Many of the brands we talked to also try to reinvest part of their profits in virtuous projects: Arctic Seas sponsors ecological projects in Costa Rica and Ghana, Babbily has recently donated part of the profits to Ukrainian refugees, Farm to Hanger supports tree planting, goodsociety devotes up to 25% of the profits to environmental and social projects, Maren Jewellery donates 3% of the profits to the Earthbeat Foundation. Precisely this last brand gives us a strong and impactful thought: “beauty has its value. And we also believe that in no case should nature pay this price. We are firmly against any form of exploitation, against any work that harms the people who do it”. Maren Jewellery thus argues that a luxury good certainly has a price, but paying for it is up to the buyer and not to the planet. An uncomfortable truth to convey, but also difficult to deny.
It is the same ethical and responsible fashion brands, however, that admit the problems still related to making consumers understand what is behind their prices. “It is difficult to explain the price structure of the garments we make to customers, because most people are ignorant of how the system exploits people, resources and the environment. Our products are hand sewn in Portugal where people receive a decent wage. Using recycled materials also bears a higher price”: Arctic Seas clearly highlights the difficulty of comparing prices, because there is a number on the tag, but there is a complex world to explain behind it. “We know that our clothing creates value for families and the environment, but we still have to compete with traditional brands and the deeply ingrained instinct to look for bargains. For us this is a question of helping people understand that lower prices don’t necessarily mean better value”: with a few simple facts Babbily highlights how buying a garment at a higher price, but which can potentially last longer, actually represents a saving. However, as the brand itself admits, making consumers understand this is not always easy. Although maybe something is starting to change. “In general, we see a growing green awareness: more and more consumers are looking for brands like our and thanks to this we intercept them even without expensive advertising, saving on marketing”: a positive message that comes from The Bad Seeds Company and that we hope can lead the fashion market of tomorrow!
Fashion Revolution Week is an opportunity to bring as many people as possible to reflect on how a change in the fashion system can no longer be postponed.
Starting a reflection on the main themes of Fashion Revolution Week – Money Fashion Power – today is everyone's responsibility, from fashion brands to every single consumer.
Alma & Lovis – Organic, Pure, Clean
To read the full interview with Annette Hoffman, founder and designer of Alma & Lovis, click here.
Arctic Seas – Minimalist, sustainable and quality beachwear
To read the full interview with Franky Claeys, founder and designer of Arctic Seas, click here.
Babbily – Clothing that grows with your baby
To read the full interview with Elena Miroshnichenko, founder of Babbily, click here.
Farm to Hanger – Slow fashion 100% Made in Australia
To read the full interview with Anna-Louise Howard, founder of Farm to Hanger, click here.
goodsociety – Jeans reinterpreted from a sustainable perspective
To read the full interview with Dietrich Weigel, owner of goodsociety, click here.
Maren Jewellery – Sustainable luxury shaped in a jewel
To read the full interview with Helge Maren Hauptmann, founder and designer of Maren Jewellery, click here.
Rozenbroek – A sustainable alternative to traditional luxury
To read the full interview with Jade Rozenbroek, founder of Rozenbroek, click here.
Snella – Children's clothing, made with the little ones in mind
To read the full interview with Hannah Granström, founder and CEO of Snella, click here.
The Bad Seeds Company – Hemp to wear
To read the full interview with Barbara Trenti, founder of The Bad Seeds Company, click here.
US Underwear Store – A sustainable store in the heart of Parma
To read the full interview with Valeria Cremisi, founder of US Underwear Store, click here.