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Sustainability or Un-Sustainability

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Sustainability or un-sustainability? That is the question.

Sustainability. It's a word that seems to be overused a lot in the world of fashion; often for the wrong reasons and without having an understanding of the meaning. So what does sustainability actually mean? And how does sustainability relate to fashion? Denmark designer, Barbara I Gongini, is one fashion designer that markets her brand as eco-friendly, but how has she done this, and for what reasons? This essay will seek to explore and discuss these questions. Firstly to define the term sustainability and how it relates to the fashion industry. Secondly to examine the problems and environmental issues related to the current fashion system. Then in comparison look at the sustainable practices Gongini has implemented throughout her business, and understand why she has taken a sustainable approach to fashion design. The purpose of asking these questions, is to determine whether she is successful, or unsuccessful in achieving sustainability.

The fashion industry is driven by trends; something can be in one day and out the next. Eco-fashion has become popular with both designers and consumers. So is eco-fashion just another fashion trend? Or has the fashion industry chosen a more environmental approach to fashion? More and more fashion designers are jumping on the bandwagon with their eco friendly fashion ranges and sustainability visions. But what does it actually mean to be sustainable within fashion? Just because a designer brings out a line of organic cotton t-shirts can they market themselves as eco friendly? Sustainability is described as "a system that is self sustaining and does not pollute or need replenishment for its continued productivity, except by natural means" (Brown, 2010, p. 204). Eco friendly refers to goods and services that are considered to inflict minimal or no harm on the environment (Eco Friendly Fashion, n.d.). So isn't sustainable fashion a bit of an oxymoron? How is it that an industry that relies on constant change, fast turnover and disposable trends, do anything but harm our environment. Hethorn and Ulasewicz (2008) summarise this argument well; "sustainability is about longevity, and fashion is about change" (p. xiii). The disposability of products is essential for the fashion industry, so that people can continue to consume them, equating to profit. There is no sign of companies inspiring customers to lower consumption (Niessen, n.d., p. 25). When consumerism is the number one driver of the fashion industry, is there really a place for sustainable fashion?

When relating sustainability to the fashion industry it means clothing that has been designed, manufactured, transported, and consumed without polluting, harming or having a negative impact the environment and those surrounding. Winge (2008) describes this kind of dress as being "created from organic and/or recycled materials; produced free of hazardous chemicals; ethically manufactured, in healthy conditions; with little to no negative impact on the natural environment" (p. 514).

Sustainability is not singularly about minimising negative impact, but also maximising positive impact, allowing individuals, communities and economic systems to flourish. To work sustainably is to question the status quo, challenge convention and find new ways of working that achieve ecological, social and cultural balance that is in tune with human behavior". (Niessen, n.d., p. 69).

The fashion industry is extremely competitive. "(It) is one of the largest industries in the world, employing one sixth of the world's population" (Brown, 2010, p. 9). "(But it comes) at a high cost to animals, humans, and the local and global environment" (Winge, 2008, p. 513). To keep up with the competitive industry, fast fashion has taken over. Overconsumption and unsustainable practices has led to many problems and environmental issues; from dangerous pesticides and chemicals used in textile production causing health problems for farmers and workers, to the mountains of synthetic textiles rapidly filling landfills, causing water contamination and toxic runoff. Mass production was first introduced to us in the twentieth century. Home dressmaking declined as factory made clothes became more easily available and desirable (Black, 2008, p. 8). "In the last 15 years fashion has become faster and cheaper" (Black, 2008, p. 11). Consumer demands and expectations for fast, cheap fashion has led to an extremely unsustainable fashion system. Fashion is now based on desire, rather than necessity. Because of the demand for fast fashion, the industry has become extremely competitive, putting pressure on suppliers and manufacturers to push out more product in less time, having a negative impact on all those involved in the fashion supply chain. Bad working conditions, extremely long hours, minimum wages. All of these factors equate to low quality garments, which have become so common and accepted by consumers, which look at cheap fashion as disposable fashion. It's a vicious cycle, which promotes and encourages consumption.

The current unsustainable fashion system has led to designers, taking on new and alternative business models. Copenhagen based fashion designer, Barbara I Gongini, has chosen the sustainable approach to fashion design. This movement, also known as "slow fashion", is an approach to "fashion minus many of the worst aspects of the current global system, especially its extreme wastefulness and lack of concern for environmental issues" (Clark, 2008, p. 428). Gongini uses this sustainable approach towards design and has introduced sustainable practices into all areas of her business. She has made not only fashion her business, but sustainability too. Since starting her career in 2005, Gongini has been awarded numerous awards for her work in sustainable fashion, including the 2010 Ethical Award by the Danish Fashion Award Committee. She is also part of Next Generation Bright Green Fashion, an organisation in Denmark that works towards discovering ways to achieve the ultimate goal of 100% sustainable products. The Avant Garde designer is known for pushing the boundaries in ethical fashion, yet shows no signs of compromising style for the sake of sustainability (Shakir, 2009).

As a designer, Gongini plays a huge role in the move towards sustainability. Many designers look at sustainability as an obstacle, but Gongini has taken on the challenge and looks at it as an opportunity. "Human creativity is the ultimate economic resource. (They have) the ability to come up with new ideas and better ways of doing things" (Black, 2008, p. 53). Root (2008) refers to "eco-fashion (as) an entire process that begins with innovative design



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