Fashion’s future is caught in a paradox

When opinion polarises so that there are only two positions, and therefore no debate, this gives rise to paradoxes. I’m seeing these all the time now, in politics, gender identity, race, culture, human rights, add your own here.

One such example is in the fashion industry. We seem to accept that we need to buy fewer clothes and to make those that we have last longer, and those that we are finished with to try to pass them on to someone else in greater need than ourselves, or to recycle them into something else.

However, this is in direct opposition to the economic model of the fashion industry, which depends on volume and newness and variety, and while that industry is embracing sustainability, second hand and recycling, it simply hasn’t mapped out a profitable business model.

And please don’t get me started on whether companies need to make a profit; search up any company that puts philanthropy before profit and it’s pretty certain you won’t be seeing your investment back any time ever. And right there is another paradox – I am not aggressively for or against philanthropy and profit in business but there is no survival for either at the extremes.

Change or dye

There are brands that will work this problem out, but I think there are also plenty that won’t, and for this reason, everyone in fashion will have to have a serious rethink, and be more open to discussion. We simply cannot have this situation where everything reported publicly is either awesome or awful. The truth, as always, lies in the middle and it is this ground that we need to occupy, otherwise we are going to see huge job losses across the industry, before we arrive at the answer – a complete change in the way the manufacturing and distribution life cycle is structured, operates and shares its data.

There are people already having this debate. Rachel Arthur @Fashmash for one, Sarah Curran @TrueFit, but too many people choose only one side of the argument. You can perhaps guess that I am on the gloomy side of the debate because I simply cannot see how the current capitalist model that depends on continuous growth for its survival and the planet that depends on our care for its survival can co-exist.

Will emissions force us to face the truth?

Ethical clothing may simply be an oxymoron, although I note it is also a company operating out of Barcelona in Spain and one that is clearly trying to occupy the middle ground. The fashion industry apparently creates 10% of global CO2 emissions, which is expected to reach 26% by 2050. Textile dying alone already accounts for 20% of global waste water. And cotton production uses 16% of the world’s pesticides.

Why do I give a toss about the fashion industry, you may ask. I come from a fashion family going back to the 1960s. I grew up running amok during the school holidays in my mother’s workshop in the days when M&S sourced 80% of its lingerie from about 13 manufacturers in the UK, with the rest coming from Israel. This is not to say that I am lost in the fog of nostalgia, far from it, but I am tired of people telling me that we are either entering a golden age for fashion or seeing it collapse. Talk to me about what you think will happen, but taking a few pointers from either extreme and hashing them together is not the answer.

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