It’s all very good and well to source sustainable resources for inputs in garment production but I think that one crucial element is missing from the debate. Namely, is the manufacturing model that one employs, sustainable?
I’m not the only one who thinks that the predominant model of the industry today, the push model, is unsustainable. What could be more irresponsible than excess production in advance of demonstrated demand? This is why I tell you to only produce what’s been ordered, aka pull manufacturing.
The pivotal leader in fast fashion is Zara of whom I’ve written before. The question is, is Zara’s model sustainable? Well, if you consider that everything they produce is pre-sold (albeit ordered by various store managers with autonomous purchasing power) and that the size of these lots do not exceed 500 units, and that these are produced by local small sewing contractors near by, it would seem the be true. However, there’s another element which bears discussion, that of style longevity. By its very nature, fashion per se is short lived, obsolescence looms on a very short horizon.
So, are the benefits of disposable fashion as exemplified by Zara mitigated by their lean model? In other words, since they’re not over producing and dumping unwanted goods at discount, is their overall model lean and sustainable?
The concept of a lean manufacturing model in keeping with sustainability were not the kinds of questions being asked on a recent segment of Marketplace Money on NPR (audio). Rather, the segment focused strictly on the costs of disposable fashion. There’s a big difference between rampant push production of fashion commodities versus scaled, pre-sold fashion commodities.
PAIGE DIAZ: Fashions change so much that what’s the point of paying so much when it’s just going to go out of style in a week.
Instead, Diaz sticks to fast-fashion stores like H&M, where she can find all the latest trends for low, low prices that rival even Wal-Mart. And if it falls apart after a couple washes? Just throw it away and buy a new one.
CASEY SHEAHAN: When we look at disposable clothing, we have to think in terms of all the incremental costs associated with it. The cost of disposal, the cost of transportation, the cost on a labor base in a foreign country. There are social, there are environmental, there are financial.
Then, in my mind, there’s always the question of which garments are being made? Frankly, it seems that most of the “eco-fashion” out there boils down to tee shirts. Is this sustainable? Does the world really need another tee shirt? How many of these tee producers are producing to order using a sustainable manufacturing model? I’d imagine not many. In consideration of this, who is really sustainable? I would not agree that an eco-fashion line is sustainable if they’re producing in advance of orders.
Then I’d have to ask, can fashion be sustainable at all? Should we just all give up and go home? As one person said (lost the link):
What if fashion didn’t change every season in such a military fashion? What if 60% of everything was still in use today? What if you had to pay more, a lot more, for things that lasted and didn’t break and were still useful 13 years from now? Would that be better?
What about cars? From the same unnamed party:
All structural elements, switchgear and trim are made from fully recyclable materials. Better still, it is highly unlikely that your car will ever need recycling at all. After all, more than 60% of all Porsche vehicles ever produced are still on the road today. This exceptional longevity is fundamental to the Porsche philosophy and, in particular, our approach to the environment.”
So a Porsche can be sustainable due to longevity and durability, but are clothes? I think this is one of the reasons I dislike trendy apparel. Buying something to mimic the latest fad just seems so wasteful to me, I prefer classical items with long term appeal. I guess it’s a good thing that not everyone buys like I do, otherwise we’d be even worse off. In the meantime, I’ll hitch up these mom jeans, pathetically obsolescent but pacified, knowing I’m doing my part to sustain the planet…