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By Rhonda Grossman
September brings Fashion Week to New York. It is a time of excitement as the city overflows with the buzz of celebrities and layman alike anticipating the unveiling of the latest in fall’s fashions. As a lover of style and a student of sustainability, I am reminded again of the inherent contradiction in my fashion pursuit. Can the fast moving ever-changing fashion world of today become a model for sustainable business in the future?
The fashion industry is re-evaluating some of its inherent practices to align itself with the global community of tomorrow. Although there is new dialogue questioning wasteful practices of our limited resources and searching for new ways to reinvent style, one must question whether fashion can become a sustainable practice when its core principal is about selling new superfluous clothes season after season. How will the fashion industry respond to the growing demands of our limited resources such as water and the chemicals used in maintaining pest free cotton and related crops?
Marketing fashion as a sustainable movement requires astute positioning from an industry that annually grosses $5 billion in the United States alone promoting “fast fashion” that is cheap and disposable. No doubt the recession has brought keener awareness to be economically prudent in our buying habits and desires. There is a need to incorporate lessons from European women whose stylish reputation has historically incorporated the motto less is more, procuring a few quality pieces rather than an assortment of trendy items.
There is also evidence of fashion’s sustainability gaining momentum across mainstream consumers. It is apparent in organic fabric choices and cradle to cradle design decisions incorporated into new clothing across the globe. First there was Slow Food, followed by Slow Money, will a Slow Fashion movement be next?
Sustainable fashion is current and hip. Sustainable fashion aims to create lasting value while understanding where fabrics are sourced and clothes are made. Not unlike our current shift in the food market, consumers want to understand how their choices influence society on many levels. Leading designers such as Stella McCartney and Yves Saint Laurent are embracing sustainability to reduce carbon footprint and establish new sustainable guidelines. Major retailers such as Barneys’ are seizing opportunities in this market by introducing new lines catering to the growing trend. Understanding the values of sustainable consumption and creating choices that reflect a commitment to aesthetics and our planet are causing wide- spread converts to sustainable fashion. As we look for healthier choices that embrace our values and our style, sustainability may create business opportunities that reach all fashion hubs, from London to New York.
Yet the verdict is still out on whether the industry will tackle the global dilemma of fair trade and human rights violations associated with employing underage, overworked garment workers in underserved countries? Will the past human rights scandals of Nike and other international entities manufacturers continue to haunt us or will humane social change become the norm?
Rhonda Grossman is enrolled in the MBA program in Sustainable Management at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, California.
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