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Experts: Responsible Fashion Falls on Consumers and Media, Too

Despite common notion, sustainability in fashion is not just the responsibility of a brand or mill. The obligation also falls on media representatives to educate readers, politicians to set regulations and consumers to shop ethically.

So was the discussion at the Global Fashion Agenda Media Masterclass held in New York City Tuesday, where fashion leaders addressed the industry’s adoption of eco-friendly practices, common misconceptions and the need for better solutions—including one universal language that demystifies certain buzzwords.

“I wish we could all call it ‘responsible’ fashion instead of ‘sustainable’ fashion, as it’s a much more accurate term,” Vanessa Friedman, fashion director and chief fashion critic at The New York Times, said. “It’s both individual and corporate—companies have a responsibility for what they make, and people have a responsibility for what they buy or own.”

While many can agree that a universal language—as well as a common set of production requirements—is needed across the industry, creating even just the foundation of such a concept is a massive undertaking.

“Setting global standards is a challenge but a great opportunity,” said Elena Faleschini, global field marketing manager at Isko, the denim mill that sponsored Tuesday’s event. “There’s so much confusion on the market—it’s an absolute maze at the moment. Certain parts of Europe alone have different perspectives on what it means to be sustainable or responsible.”

A number of organizations, including the event’s host Global Fashion Agenda, have taken steps toward one common set of guidelines. In a presentation on the company’s reports and initiatives, chief sustainability officer Morten Lehmann presented the CEO Agenda, which highlights eight priorities that every fashion leader should follow: supply chain traceability, combating climate change, efficient use of water, energy and chemicals, respectful and secure work environments, sustainable material mix, circular fashion system, promotion of better wage systems and fourth industrial revolution. These guidelines can help steer decision makers toward more responsible investments.

But industry-wide change requires more than what can fit on a colorful infographic.

Lehmann continued with a heavy statistic regarding the future of fashion: While the industry is making positive changes, with population growth and a growing middle class, the fashion industry is projected to grow 81 percent by 2030. The demand for more clothes—and its damaging repercussions—will also increase significantly.

This prompts the question: How can the fashion industry make money with fewer goods? Can it incorporate a circular economy to lessen the impact of projected growth?

While there’s no one solution to either question, there are some initiatives taken by fashion brands and organizations to promote circularity. For example, some parts of Europe have adopted a waste management system for textiles that requires residents to recycle textiles the same way they do for plastic and glass.

Lehmann noted that more large-scale solutions are needed to create substantial improvements.

“[True sustainability won’t happen] unless we radically change the way we do business,” he said.

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