The food industry is light years ahead of fashion when it comes to sustainability. Grocery stores are designed around organic, in-season produce, restaurant chains are built on farm-to-table menus and a whole industry has sprung up around reusable, BPA-free, phthalate-free water bottles.
The industry has been serving consumers a steady diet of eco info, and the result is an educated consumer who reads labels, eats local and swallows the hefty prices at Whole Foods without complaint. But those same shoppers haven’t shown a similar zeal when it comes to the clothes they wear. DuPont Biomaterials is out to change that—and it’s following the same recipe that brought slow food, as it’s called, off the fringes and into the mainstream.
The material innovation company hosted a Food Forward, Fashion Forward event in the fall that brought together thought leaders across both industries for an opportunity to discuss how fashion can follow food’s momentum.
“Hosting an event like Food Forward, Fashion Forward was the best way to bring experts in both fields together to discuss how the movements can learn from, and influence each other to drive a more circular economy,” Renee Henze, global marketing director, DuPont Biomaterials, said. “Just like food, we need to know the history of our clothing: where did it come from? Who made it? What is it made of? It’s important that as consumers, we ask these questions and make responsible, sustainable choices.”
Attendees at the event, who included experts from Banana Republic, Gap, Fair Trade USA-Apparel, and the Outdoor Industry Association, were treated to a sustainable fashion show featuring clothing incorporating bio-based Sorona® fabrics and insulation products.
Pieces included looks from Helly Hansen, Royal Robbins, prAna, Tommy Bahama, The North Face, Taylor Stitch and Club Monaco, each of which was worn by notable climate activists like two-time Olympic skier Kaylin Richardson and James Beard award nominated photographer Eric Wolfinger. In addition to the feast for the eyes, guests were treated to local fare as well as insights from San Francisco’s Marine Mammal Center.
The evening provided an ideal backdrop for conversations around how to transform consumer behavior from the current devour mode that chews up an astronomical number of resources each season to a circular reality in which fewer products are made but loved longer. Henze said the first step is to capitalize on a trend that’s currently making inroads.
“We need to find ways to change the consumer mind set in terms of buying clothes that last longer and making more purchases of designs that are enduring. We also need to encourage and support those activities and innovations, whether recycling or biodegradation, which can help with end of life solutions,” Henze said.
“Consumers understand thrift stores and the concept of recycling, which isn’t far off from the concept of circularity” Henze added. “Apparel brands can leverage this understanding through recycling programs to increase consumer awareness of the concept of circularity.”
Henze credits brands like The North Face and Stella McCartney for leading the charge, both among their fashion peers as well as consumers. She also applauds luxury labels like Gucci and Prada that have sworn off real fur in favor of the cruelty-free version. Ultimately, she said, these brands can’t stand alone. The entire value chain must pull together in order to gain the momentum achieved by food.
“In drawing a parallel between the slow food and slow fashion movements, our goal is to increase awareness and encourage consumers to make small changes in their life, whether that’s shopping from secondhand retailers, rethinking fast fashion brands or buying from brands that incorporate long-lasting, high-performance materials like Sorona® fabrics in their apparel,” she said.