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Fashion ‘Fit’ for the future

“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, in the way we live and what is happening around us.”- Coco Chanel

Clothing expresses one’s own culture, creativity, values and personality. It is a way of identifying oneself with group or as an individual and it is in human nature to want to attract or detract from others. Fashion trends are constantly moving to explore new ways of expressing the individual or group and aided by new technologies and globalisation, has become an increasingly hazardous impactor on the environment.

The world of fashion has begun to react, with activist groups demanding a halt to London Fashion week and slamming fast fashion, the rise in second hand/vintage, clothing for hire, organic and Fairtrade fibres and designers such as Stella McCartney(Evrnu) and Katherine Hamnett at the forefront of use of textiles recycling technologies and non-oil based, smart and renewable yarns  etc.

Consumers now live in an on-demand world that routinely delivers once-insane levels of instant convenience. This equally applies to fashion, but these current fast fashion models of consumption have encouraged huge volumes of waste in energy, fibre, chemicals, money which is no longer sustainable. There is now an urgent need and desire to change this model and investigate ways of reducing this insatiable desire to shop and ‘have’. It is just too easy to buy and throw away.

As we progress into a new age of slow fashion and renewables, in an effort to counter the responsibility consumers and suppliers have towards reducing the huge contribution fashion has and is having on climate change,  the quality, sustainability, end use/disposal and fit of a garment becomes all the more prevalent.

This change has to come from not only the manufacturers and consumers but, maybe more importantly, from government. Those in power need to take the lead and demonstrate the urgency through legislation.

Industry is already working towards changing methodologies, developing new technologies in agricultural and water reduction solutions, recycling of fibres and garment manufacturing(such as evrnu.com) and reducing waste through customization etc. Some great examples are the US based Company Unspun, who offer sustainable, bespoke jeans. Using a combination of 3D body scanning and personalised tailoring to create a unique though not altogether new way of reducing fashion waste. Another is Bolt Threads, who have partnered with Adidas by Stella McCartney to develop a tennis dress made using MicroSilk, which will fully biodegrade at the end of its life. Other renewable clothing innovations include T-shirts made from plants and couture clothing made from seaweed.

The clothing industry is starting to be incredibly inventive and looking at all stages of production to find sustainable solutions, but we seem to be missing the point at consumer level. We have educated our customers to demand what they want at any cost.

It is historically documented that Zara entered the market with the fast fashion model, creating the immediacy of trends, the sudden insatiable need to buy now as tomorrow it may not be there and with Jane Shepherdson at Top Shop(Arcadia) quickly following this money making model.

But one of the biggest issues in the fashion industry however is returns. Huge waste occurs through high levels of returns due to bad fit, bad design, poor quality and ridiculously easy methods of buying and returning. The fast fashion model has made consumer expectations unsustainable. The demand for fast turnaround has reduced the quality levels of products, both with fabrics and garment manufacture and the barriers for considered purchasing, such as fit, paying for postage and packing and returning purchases, have been diminished, leaving a system open for abuse.

Consumers have become used to free P&P and returning products. This was the barrier for fashion purchasing in the early days of ecommerce. You can’t feel the fabric, understand the fit nor see the quality, from an online image. Consumers would therefore be reluctant to purchase, with the hassle and cost of returning. A new model was created with ASOS and the like, who broke down this barrier, making it incredibly easy to buy, try and return. We now see a new age of social media, young Instagram users, buying, taking selfies wearing the new purchase and returning, without any qualms about what this costs, both to the brand and to the planet. How can this be reversed, or has the horse bolted?

Fit and quality is hampered by a lack of skilled workforces and good training in design, which a majority of Fashion undergraduate courses do not include garment manufacturing. New technologies in 3D design, 3D sampling and use of AI to enable speed, accuracy and reduce wastage, are however not yet able to match the quality needed nor get around the nuances of body shape and fickle consumer desires.

Design development and garment manufacture requires a rethink into training to fit the current needs, which are to reduce waste, train the designer to think in terms of better quality, better fitting circular fashion and a re-education of the consumer. Training in these new technologies needs to be matched with an good understanding of fit, garment construction, sustainable design and consumer needs and desires.

It was highlighted in the 2017 WRAP* report (Valuing our Clothes: The cost of Fashion), 80% of the impact of a garment happens at the design development stage.

For a long time, garment design students have not been taught even the basics of garment manufacture, nor the intricacies of thoughtful and sustainable supply chain management and the concept of circular fashion, where the products end life is considered.

Fashion Design graduates are having to reach out in search of further, in depth training with experienced and qualified experts in the textiles industry. This is not even touching on what is happening in schools. The continuing disappearance of textiles and in particular garment making skills from secondary school curriculum, is demonstrating that education is failing at all stages for the textiles industry and students.

We are already seeing the impact of narrowing secondary education input, through the introduction of EBACC and there is now an urgent need to plan for a curriculum more aligned to what the country and industry needs.

A 2016 survey based on statistics published by Ofqual, showed a fivefold decline in the number of pupils taking GCSEs in arts subjects in that year, and entrants for A-levels in arts subjects dropped by 4,300. Today’s situation has not improved.

The worry of how Ebacc will affect the next generation and the creative industries is increasing as not only teachers, higher education lecturers and heads, arts industry and textiles industry leaders, start to understand the implications of such a narrow education on this and future generations.

Andria Zafirakou (Global Teacher Award 2018) commented that creative arts subjects were being squeezed out of the curriculum at a time when they had never been more important. “They’re not only essential for personal growth and self-understanding but they also teach young people to think creatively, learn to communicate effectively and build resilience. All these skills will be important for the jobs that they are likely to do when they leave school.”

Educating from a young age, an understanding of considered design, is not just for would be designers. It instils a responsibility to think about how they consume and their own impact on society and the planet.

The fast fashion business model creates vastly under/bad-designed, cheap to manufacture garments in cheap to produce, polyester based fabrics, in order to satisfy an insatiable demand for new clothing and these often end up being returned and sent landfill. Ill-fitting garments is a major contributor for returns, as garments are made by the quickest and cheapest methods with no consideration for fit. Change this and we go some way to satisfying the consumer. Make it harder to return so that consumers are more considered in their purchasing and creating garments using better quality, more sustainable fabrics and better made and fit, which is not always that more expensive.

The garment industry can also reduce the choices and thought processes for consumers, by making garments more sustainable from the outset. You shouldn’t need to ask the questions – where is it from, who made it, is the fabric sustainable, is it recyclable? It should be sustainable whatever!

Today’s younger generation are starting to question. They are beginning to have a need to trust brands are doing the right thing before they purchase. They are demanding transparency and authenticity and questioning a brand/company’s green credentials. History of transparency within a company will earn their trust – or being open to critique and making changes in a positive direction,  at least show the brand is, or trying to be more sustainable.

It is hugely difficult for large companies/brands to make the transition to sustainability and it is not going to be seamless and fast, but if brands are making strides and admit they are not perfect, then this will gain trust.

Smaller genuine brands are beginning to gain ground with the more discerning consumer. Those with more considered design and transparency in their supply chain will win the younger consumer over.

With more thoughtful good design and a sustainable slower fashion business model, virgin garments do have a relevance and play a significant part in our future fashion world and our creative and working lives.