I’m in search of those who have the desire to dignify the fashion industry- instead of having a dusty door locked in front of secrets they want no one to uncover. The conversation is happening but it’s not talking about the urgency and the ethical rules that are being broken. How we got to a point in the social order where people need new things all the time or where the perfect persona needs to be obtained? Who are these interlocutors that participate in this conversation? I have so much distaste for the word because it truly says nothing to me in progression of the movement it is supposedly representing.
Since 1980 the use of the word sustainability has increased by 650% according to google books. The efforts of the word have also increased, yet it’s not enough. This is a buzz word for marketers, a popular panel discussion topic, a pushing the “right” direction. The word sustainable has saturated the 2.4 trillion US dollar fashion market and means nothing to the millennial mindset any longer. A branding tool not a lifestyle or thinking process, It’s apparent with common buying behavior of the cost conscious consumer, are buying things because they are cheap, not because of need or the items quality.
In September and October I had the privilege to visit 2 sustainability summits the Hong Kong Fashion Sustainability Summit and Shanghai Fashion Sustainability Summit. In Hong Kong, over 2 days at the Wan Chai Convention Center, leaders of Hong Kong in the conversation presented and encouraged attendees to start rethinking their design process, and find new technologies for smoother and more effective supply chains. A month and half later I attended Shanghai’s version of a Sustainability Summit. Hosted by Shaway of YehYehYeh. Large leaders of the fashion industry spoke and presented about different key topics plaguing the industry currently. In comparison to the Hong Kong summit it was more driven toward public relations than critical solutions to the issues surrounding this issue like Hong Kong did.
While the summit partakers made bags from discarded Nike gear [MOU1] and others mingled while drinking coffee, the animated CEO of Chinese courier SF Express, Mr. Xu, excitedly debuted a reusable foam box. SF Express will be implementing it for business-to-business shipping. Although a bit of an eager investment initially, these boxes aim to cut back on the 15 billion cardboard boxes China uses in one year. They can be shared easily by all companies since they have with no branding on them and are locked and opened use the QR code—an ubiquitous technology in the PRC.[MOU2] Not a new concept globally, but these boxes are a progressive step for China.
The host of the event Shaway Yeh, founder of YehYehYeh and co-creative director for China’s edition of NOWNESS.com, is one of the leading forces behind the push for sustainable thinking in China. She was also a contributor to a sustainability panel during the BOF Summit. Ultimately, the subject and its potential solutions are still at the forefront of concerns for all those in fashion, and she is passionate about making sure Shanghai is part of the conversation.
She told Business of Fashion writer Casey Hall, “There are a few young fashion entrepreneurs here who are genuinely committed to the cause and other exciting people who are in the R&D stage of things. But getting the rest of our industry up to speed will require a lot of work. I guess the silver lining is that you don’t see quite as much greenwashing and posturing here as you do in the West. Here’s hoping we can leapfrog ahead and skip that tedious stage.”
So why is this important? Why do we care? Why should we care? Let’s talk about what the nasty S word actually means. Everyone is saying it but what does it actually want to do? According to Global Fashion Agenda’s Caroline Chalmer who presented in Shanghai, these three things can be the basis when you think about a definition; Environmental, Social and Ethical responsibility.
Environmental- a human responsibility to give back to the earth. To not destroy it, here we focus on the factories who dump chemicals, the clothing in landfill vs recycling and any effects of logistics with air and waste. We can talk about climate change, water consumption.
deforestation in Brazil for clear areas for the meat and leather industry, on average there are 2 million tons of textile in landfills in specific countries where they even keep track.
Socially responsible communications and communications of manufacturing practices. The consumers’ responsibility to demand from companies the best practices, Wallets speak and so do tags and labels. When the United National presented at the suitability summit in Hong Kong a main topic was a traceable reliable supply chain with visuals is key. Communications with your customer the most important.
Ethical Practices are a huge sore spot for fashion in general, equal wages, safe work environments, create input on designs, feminist demoralization.
Even though more market in fashion is targeting women, female workers in the fashion industry accept a lighter wage for sewing. Many fashion lines the blame on a 3rd party vendor, a company they pay to produce their designs for them.
Protection for the workers is another aspect of the ethical practice that can be questioned, The once strong, now dismantled unions of the United States were a historical provider of making sure factory workers were guaranteed safe, ethical working environments with fair wage. And in places like Bangladesh were the fashion manufacturing churn is at its height, where 80% of the country’s GDP is produced from it’s readymade garment industry, 20 billion dollars on average yearly. Three million people work in the apparel manufacturing industry in Bangladesh. Mostly working long hour in cut sew and trim factories; young women are exploited by one of the core part of the supply chain. This group of works makes the majority of the worlds tee shirts and easy pattern garments.
In contrast to popular belief, in China the working environment is leaps and bounds better. Young workers, men and women move from their rural homes to urban meccas to live in factory dormitories. On average the ages of 19-25 these people send money home to their families and create communities surrounding the plant they work in. These factories are efficient clean and safe. They pay a living wage and have helped create this growing middle class of Chinese consumers that are the main luxury buyers in tier 4 and 5 cities, where there is less brick and mortar luxury stores.
Chalmer also commented that Global fashion consumption is slated to double by 2030, it is more than the earth can handle. One pair of denim pants requires 11,000 liters of water to produce, with this kind of water consumption it may lead to having to make the decision to provide clean drinking water for certain communities’ vs processing cotton.
How did China and Hong Kong get to this point in the conversation about garment sustainability?
Chinese industrial clothing manufacturing started in the 1870s, Chen Qi Yuan opened a textile factory called Ji Chang Long Reeling Mill. In 1899, Jardine Matheson started Hong Kong Cotton-Spinning, Weaving, and Dyeing Company, Ltd. The factory was at So Kon Po, Causeway Bay. It imported cotton and spun it into yarns. In 1914, the factory had to relocate to Shanghai due to the lack of skilled labors, shortage of electrical power and clear water, and also because of the unfavorable humid weather to yarn spinning.
Before World War two Hong Kong was know mostly for yarn spinning and weaving after the war it developed more and more into textile and garment manufacturing. After World War Two China and Hong Kong both invested in the fashion industry seriously. In 1949 the textile industry accounted for 38% of the China’s industrial output value. The Chinese government invested heavily in the industry in 1950 -1955 creating the base for the future of the industry, but during this time they focused on old style technology and did not evolve very fast so their out put was very little compared to other markets during this time. In Hong Kong with cultural revolution in Shanghai, HK began to start to grow with machines bought from United States of America and workers brought from Shanghai to train Hong Kong workers. In 1979 the open door policy reform brought more advancement in technology and encouraged investment 1979 to 1982, the average annual growth rate of the total value of textile and clothing output was 13.2% from the government. Meanwhile in Hong Kong with rising land and labor costs, combined with growing competition in the region, the city was losing its edge, with many factories moving to China where costs were considerably lower.
“(In)tangible Reminiscence” a exhibition in the Annex arts space in Hong Kong’s Central district that took place in April of 2018, where the main focus of the exhibition was a social commentary od the garment manufacturing industry and the Artists experiences surrounding fashion. South Korean artist Jung Yeondo film project interviews a elderly woman who was a worker in Hong Kong’s early textile industry. A quote from her;
“I lived near Kowloon City Pier. I sat there and cried every night … I worked from 7am till 7pm. The wage was as low as $3. I had to monitor big weaving machines. Six, eight machines. Later on, more than twenty. Once you began, fabric came out of the machines with a ‘dong dong’ sound. The machines were set up very high. I had to wear taller shoes. If the fabric was woven badly with wrong lines, they would fine you.”
In the 1980’s international pressure was on the rise for better working conditions in China and globally. 1990’s The fashion industry has been under the watch dog eye of the ethically conscious community since the 1980’s for human rights violations. Yvon Choiunard of Patagonia and fashion designer Eileen Fischer have built a environmentally friendly and ethical base into their companies.
China’s garment industrial value increased by about 7% per annual on average between 1997 and 2002 and with China’s entrance into the World Trade Origination in 2002 the industry grew into the major power house it is today. Meanwhile the USA lost 42,400 factories and 32 % of all manufacturing jobs. There was $178 billion increase in the U.S. trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2007. China had successfully transitioned 32 % of the USA work force over to its shores. In 2000 and 2001 Garments accounted for almost 70% of total exports from China.
From 1996 to 2000, the world’s chemical fiber production rose from 21.98 million tons to 28 million tons, with an increase of 1.2 million tons per year, these are fibers that could potentially be recycled if given the chance. Presently, China is the largest exporter of textile and garments in the whole entire world and accounts for one-tenth of the world’s exports in the apparel industry. It has about 24,000 enterprises and employs about 8 million workers.
Currently Online sales are the top of all sales made, companies like Alibaba, Amazon, Net-a-Porter, and Zappos dominate the market with packaging used this creating in excusable waste globally. In addition, to the CO2 emission created while transporting garment to where ever they are going. With an average of 30% of a items price taken up in logistics, it’s also in the best interest of everyone customer and retailer to rethink some of these practices.
In Hong Kong there is not a huge natural biodiversity and amount of natural resources, we import most of what we need. When focusing on markets like Hong Kong and Shanghai the sustainability conversation is in full swing. Yet the way Hong Kong’s people live we would need 3.9 Earths to sustain the current way of life according to WWD’s ecological foot print report. With retail reports forecasting the main points of growth in 2018 are emerging-market countries across Asia–Pacific and Latin America, they are slated to grow at rates ranging between 5 and 7.5 percent in 2018, this includes Hong Kong. With consumption accounting for 58.8 percent of China's economy the "consumer upgrade” is not helping China focus in on a Circular economic fashion industry.
Hong Kong has a movement going in it encouragement for it’s citizens to be conscious with fashion choices with companies like Redress. Christina Dean, the founder set up a a Hong Kong-based environmental NGO organization with a a mission to encourage people to keep environmental sustainability in the forefront of their mind. They are working to reduce waste in the fashion industry - A competition held yearly by Redress appoints young up and coming designers to make high end sustainable collections the will be picked up by Local Hong Kong power house retainer Lane Crawford. Dean told Business of Fashion “the fantastic news for the world is that the upper middle class are definitely transforming the way the ethical fashion market will progress in China.”.
How do we connect with Ethical Fashion? What do we need to do to move forward . Even though we have more clothes in our closet than ever before.
With the 52-week release system that is currently in place, consumers are not given the chance to let anyone trend run its seasonal course. By the time you have bought this week’s look there is something new out as soon as you have left the store. The trends are overwhelming for consumers. The sheer amount of clothing discarded just because it is deemed uncool by the Social Media is beyond the amount of clothing that is actually not wearable. Companies like H&M contradict themselves with programs and collections like the Climate positive supply chain where the promise is to recycle and create circular designs (where the end of the garments life is decided in it beginning) and then they still support this release system that encourages over consumption. In the Instagram induced shopping crazes we can’t help but feel “FOMO” ( fear of missing out) that the clothing we are wearing is deemed un cool per the mainstream social media machines. This a ridiculous sped up version of Roland Barths perception of trends –
“Clothing "in print" ·provides the analyst what human languages deny the linguist; a pure, synchrony the synchrony of Fashion, changes: abruptly each year. but during the year it is absolutely stable; by studying the clothing, in magazines it is possible to study a state of Fashion without having to cut it artificially, as a linguist must cut the tangled continuum of messages'.”
Now with faster technology, Roland Barthes theory of a code created by fashion is accelerated 52 times faster. How fashion magazines are supposed to maintain is an anomaly to me. Instagram has 800 million users on a monthly basis, that purchase merchandise directly from accounts. Now luxury fashion has lost it exclusivity and now is building its brand awareness and brand value through highly curated Instagram feeds. It is no longer Barthes world, anyone can see the collections and anyone can access images of them. Originally couture fashion was created for the elite, who valued the artesian aspect of the fashion designers craft. Barthes was interested in the way that these sign systems produce not clothing, not women, but the abstract notion of Fashion.
In our contemporary state the conception of the stories of fashion have become so reckless, Recreating the same designs over and over as seem is in the recent display of Hedi Slimate interpretation of the CELINE brand, I feel a statement was made in reaction to the current state of fashion where the markets are moving too fast, I feel like this designer is saying “it’s too much, lets make a solid aesthetic and stick with it”. He disrupted the fashion industry with a shocking collection that was a mirror to his last from another brand loudly defeating the understated aesthetic of his predecessor Phoebe Philo at CELINE. I feel he was saying fashion is moving too fast and we need to focus more.
The general blue collar perception of fashion has lost its value, in terms of taking time to appreciate the laborious process, it seems like a waste when the general public is just as happy wearing athletic leggings and graphic tee shirts. There is a lack of thoughtful gratitude of what it takes to create and produce beautiful garments. The amount of clothing people own is larger than it has ever been people feel the over consumption is normalized. We use clothing as a mask, as a way for society to interpret who we are, yet with a blanket of image generalization created by the sharing of images on the internet. There are global trends that are more common then ever, you see the same outfit in Chicago and Shanghai. With this mindset how can a truly sustainable Fashion industry exist?
My thought on shopping ethically for consumers; ask yourself can I wear this 30 times?
Can you wear your garment with at least 6 pieces you own already? Is it a fabric that can be recycled? Is it made in a ethically responsible factory? Were animals hurt in the process of making my garment? Social responsibility for effect sustainable fashion is everyone’s responsibility. Consumers need to know how do we connect with Ethical Fashion? What do we need to do to move forward? Even though we have more clothes in our closet than ever before. The misconceptions of aesthetic can lead one to think being a sustainable consumer means to be wear old things, People are trying to put green carpet challenges in place, where more fashion mileage per dress is the goal.
As a world are we suffering from a state of stale monolism, can we not see outside of ourselves? ACF a clothing line produced in Shenzhen and designed in Hong Kong with dead stock fabric –fabric that is left over from large production runs of garments. Garment rentals like Yeechoo in Hong Kong and Ycloset in Shanghai are pushing KOL’s and debutants to rent garments for special events rather than buy new every time they have an event. Having a closet in the clouds, Gives consumers a aspirational looks in a sustainable way.
Other designers are focusing on recycled and alternative fabrics made from unusual materials like mushrooms, oranges and even proteins inspired by spider-web DNA, some are using orange peel or growing their own leather. Lab grown silk is another new alternative being produced. Some designers are focusing on the concept of using cloth on that transforms into different shapes for maximum multiple reuses. Consumer values and company values will be the collective push that will ensure ethical fashion production. Urge people to know to ask questions about where their clothing is made or how it is made.
In a city where newness and monetary value is treasured at the highest level of social currency, Hong Kong blindly views the world as a forever renewable place, countless water bottles, take away packaging, garments, online shopping materials, countless flyers, business card galore and People. They, a group of hard working people mostly from the Philippians, Indonesia and Malaysia are a renewable resource in the eyes of Hong Kong elite, where when you actually see them in numbers they are resting on the one day a week they get to be out of their employer’s home. This hidden underwire of a support system, made of mostly women that churns Hong Kong forward. These “helpers” can be seen as an exploited 300,000 strong group of workers who put other people’s children to bed at night. Some have their own children in their native home, being raised by family members with funds sent from their monthly earning rumored to be estimated around $500 USD per month. This in comparison to the Au pair system in The States where for a live in AU pair (nanny) you pay 1500 USD for 40 hours a week and 1 day off a week.
These women have a created a unintentional sustainable force by reusing Hong Kong’s elites items, by reselling discarded clothing from their employers, Perhaps only because of their economic status. With the manufacturing industry dwindling out of Hong Kong the helper industry is thriving as ever and you see this with a sea of colorful outfits in Victoria Park and in Central tucked in a luxury shopping district. A economy of their own, seen through markets on the street making extra money and I’m not sure if they are meaning to, but making ridiculously ethical moves with the garment exchange. They sell the discarded items under the shining cloaking of light of their aspirational luxury stores behind them. These as a cold reminder of the capitalist oppression that depicts their social status in Hong Kong.
Why are we lacking this activation energy? Why is the fashion industry dragging its feet in changing? The game of pointing fingers should stop, 3rd party vendors should be held accountable. Communication of this should be held accountable. Not only is it the CEO’s of these organizations it’s the consumers as well. Take a moment to think what it’s like for a established supply chain to switch everything. Change is hard and it takes courage, it takes the bravery on the consumer to educate themselves and the CEO to take charge. A collective effort. To wear that garment for 9 more months Who is making your clothes? Who was your clothes? Do you swap your clothes, throw them away? It takes courage to speak up to your friends about where there items are from. If you work in fashion take the extra thought to think of the death of the garment. According to Green Initiatives, a non-profit focused on environmental education and solutions in China, , an estimated 70,000 tons every day, with 2.5 billion tons of polluted waste water produced annually and 53 % of the world’s textile production waste comes from China. I’m not saying everyone should be a thrift Dandy and alter their thrifted clothing, but more thought is required. In Chinese culture according to tradition my HongKongnese friend Kendy Folk tells me “You just don’t want someone’s bad luck to come to you by way of their old clothes”. So in country a where the waste is some the most in the world, the concept of reuse is hindered by cultural authority.
What if you could rent your clothes to others with a curriers system? Or Does the future involve more reuse of clothing, where mending and swapping are main modes of obtaining garments. Vestimentary Education is key, the new generations should be educated in the importance of conscious consumption. “If we know exactly where we're going, exactly how to get there, and exactly what we'll see along the way, we won't learn anything.” said phycologist Scott Peck. I feel systemic behavior change needs to happen before the word sustainable can be considered a true type of life style adjective.
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[MOU1]Describe this, what kind of gear were used, and what kind of bags were made? Did the participants seem excited?
[MOU2]Is QR code good? What does it do?