Miscellaneous thoughts on fashion

A critical perspective on the industry

Three miscellaneous thoughts on fashion we’ve read this week seem to have something in common: fashion’s lack of understanding of its role in climate change.

Fashion & the heatwave in Italy

In order to tackle the heatwave in Italy, Federmoda – the organisation that represents retail and wholesale companies in the fashion field – asks to reduce taxes on made-in-Italy and sustainable garments.
“Made in” is a very tricky concept to address. According to the Updated Community Customs Code (EC Regulation 04/23/2008 n° 450 – art. 36 – on the non-preferential customs origin of goods), a product can be considered of Italian origin – in the customs sense – and contain, therefore, the indication “Made in Italy” when the last substantial transformation or processing took place in our country. Ta-da!
So, brands can make production wherever, then assemble a few things in Italy and get the magic label.
However, since there is no precise regulation, labelling and certifying sustainable garments is way more problematic.
Perhaps this proposal can relieve the pressure on fashion retailers, but it doesn’t change the core issue: fashion business pattern.

Luxury brands & revenge shopping slow down

Consumption of luxury goods in China and the USA has dropped because the much-awaited post-pandemic revenge shopping is slowing down. In fact, stock markets report a general decline for luxury companies. And so, the slowdown in China’s recovery and the cooling of demand from US consumers are impacting top brands who, undaunted, still commit to the same old model.

Vuitton & inconsistency

Pharrell Williams aims to push expansion and growth in sales to Vuitton, but also culture. Undeniably, the white culture has dominated the industry so far, and it seems quite clear what audience Vuitton is targeting by partnering with Mr Pharrell. However, the brand has a long history at its back. So shifting the discussion on culture, specifically a culture not even consistent with its core image, is meaningless.
Let’s say openly: we want to sell more! But there’s no need to mention culture since Vuitton’s culture has nothing in common with this new air.

Three thoughts, one pattern

The above miscellaneous thoughts on fashion are connected: the industry business pattern plays a huge role in climate change. But the discussions industry insiders deliver, basically ignore the issue.

The paradox of sustainability

Is sustainable overproduction a valuable strategy?

Do you know the paradox of sustainability? The paradox is this: making many more garments labelled as green products. In other words, it means perpetrating the same old overproduction pattern and marketing it as sustainable.

If that’s how you make money, why should you change? Okay, but the planet is dying, and we are facing a climate emergency the fashion industry should care about! Well, the attention towards this topic is just a facade.

In fact, according to Edited, “In the past four years, the number of clothes described as ‘sustainable’ has quadrupled.”

Green overproduction: the paradox sustainability

Yes, we know we write about this topic a lot. But when the data we ran across confirms our impressions and perplexities, it is appropriate to address it over and over.
Is sustainable overproduction a valuable strategy? Specifically, is that how we plan to save the planet? Making four times the stuff we made before is our strategy?

If this is true, we are far from reducing our impact on the planet. Of course, that is not sustainability. And it doesn’t take a genius to understand it. So, let’s call it by its name: this is marketing! This is greenwashing!

Sustainable fashion, like eco furniture, food, tourism or whatever, has become a profitable business. And more than an effective change of direction, it represented a change of marketing. Just call it green, and you’re going to sell it! Whatever object or service you are trying to launch on the market.

The solution the fashion industry ignores

Let’s be clear: sustainable fashion, rather than making new garments and new stuff in huge green quantities, is a matter of educating people towards conscious consumption. Indeed, the solution is producing way less garments. At the same time, we reuse, resell, recycle and upcycle existing clothing.

But, instead of educating people, for the fashion industry, it is easier to make money by flooding the market with sustainable products. Which, in the end, aren’t sustainable at all.

And so, this is the paradox of sustainability: making four times more garments and naming them sustainable. Unfortunately for us and for the planet, it is not a joke!

Free download our sustainability checklist here!

Sustainable Fashion Awards 23

What are we celebrating?

The Sustainable Fashion Awards 23 closed the Milano Fashion Week. Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana arranged this award ceremony to celebrate the designers who stood out for their environmental commitment, ethical practices and social rights.

We should be happy with it, celebrate the winners and move to Paris! No?

Held at Teatro La Scala, the Sustainable Fashion Awards reminded us that although the fashion industry is polluting, the Italian supply chain is progressing towards a greener way of operating the fashion business.

In other words, this event is a counterpart of the Milano Fashion Week. But you find the same names you’ve seen on the runways over the week, just under a different umbrella – a green one. And put into words with those labels so familiar to marketing blurring into greenwashing.

Sustainable Fashion Awards & The elephant in the room

Perhaps industry players, business owners, and designers are developing a higher consciousness about green matters. And, perhaps, some changes could be relevant. However, we cannot understand how these changes can still work in attunement to a production pattern based on overproduction.

It’s one or the other! And since the two elements aren’t consistent, they cannot stand on one plate because they clash.

The fashion industry has one major issue: overproduction, the elephant in the room, which none dares to mention. But if we still have overproduction, there’s no sustainability. No effective change in production chains will be enough without interrupting the overproduction pattern.

Sustainable Fashion Awards 23 witnessed a progression in the fashion industry towards greener practices, elevating environmental consciousness. But, as Mr Pierre-Alexis Dumas, Hermès creative director, said at Triennale: “Sustainability, that’s where we have a problem in fashion. We are making a change with low impact facilities and manufacturing practices. Perhaps in 15 or 20 years we’ll see the result and we’ll finally be sustainable.”

Unfortunately, according to climate scientists, we do not have that time. So, in the end, what are we celebrating now?

Net zero fashion

Greenwashing from the top down

Net zero fashion is one of the latest buzzwords in sustainability. But can we trust those who promote their garments with this label?

We know that green eco-whatever labels have flooded the fashion industry, like any other activity related to selling products or services. The food industry was probably the first to launch organic products, which, by itself, means nothing. See the video here. Also, according to Fondazione Veronesi, the differences between organic and non-organic food are few and negligible. 

After the food industry, it was time for fashion, furniture and now, sustainable tourism, all of which sound like enormous bullshit.

Net zero fashion according to the UN

Take the UN playbook on “Sustainable Fashion Communication.” Though the basic principle, fighting overconsumption, is valuable, we didn’t like the fact they mention some fashion brands. It seems like they take for granted that these brands are doing great work in terms of sustainability while they are perfectly aware that there is zero control!

For instance, the UN playbook mentions Allbirds. 
“Footwear brand Allbirds developed a life cycle assessment (LCA) tool to estimate the cradle-to-grave carbon footprint of its products.”
“Allbirds then took it a step further in 2023 announcing what it refers to as the world’s first net zero carbon shoe.”
At some point, a line that says: “According to the company’s assessment, on average, a pair of Allbirds shoes has a footprint of 7.12 kg CO2e.”

That “according to the company” sounds really weird! Even more, coming from the UN! They better avoid mentioning any fashion brand…

Net zero fashion according to Business of Fashion

By the way, a few days later, a newsletter from the Business of Fashion got our attention. It was about Allbirds and the launch of their new sneakers. We quote B.O.F:

“By focusing on materials that draw down more carbon than they emit and lowering transport and manufacturing impact as much as possible, the brand says it has succeeded in designing ‘the world’s first net zero-carbon shoe.’ But the basis of such calculations for the industry is fraught. Fashion’s environmental impact data is notoriously poor and accepted standards for carbon accounting are still evolving, meaning net-zero product claims are testing new ground.”

Net zero according to science

So what? The UN released the playbook to help spread sustainable fashion communication, but they did not do a great job. It seems like they are greenwashing from the top down.

Since there is no control, it is not serious to mention fashion brands at all. Also, since the UN says “lead with science” – on this point, we totally agree! So, here is what the climate scientist Kevin Anderson says about net zero:

“Net Zero is a real dangerous turn in my view, and if you hear the language of net zero, I’d be very cautious about the optimism of the person who’s saying it actually has. Unpick it, reveal what’s behind it, and you’ll realise what they mean, and what they mean is NOT zero emissions, not net zero, not zero emissions. 
I always say ‘net zero’ is Latin for ‘kick the can down the road.”

Kevin Anderson

Lead with science UN, and reveal what’s behind net zero fashion!

Stop sales!

Things that matter #formodernhumans

In order to promote a healthier consumption pattern, we need to stop end-of-season sales. In fact, sales, in general, are a short-sighted strategy that triggers compulsive behaviour and perpetrates a toxic productive system.

Fighting unsustainable consumption and production patterns is part of the new guidelines the UN released recently. The fashion industry contributed directly and significantly to the triple planetary climate change crisis, nature and biodiversity loss, pollution and waste.

This is what really matters! But changing consumption habits takes immediate action.

So, the purpose is to eradicate overconsumption. Therefore, we address high markdowns as an element of a money-driven system that has generated a devastating environmental impact. But first, we need to understand how the system works. Then, we find solutions.

How the fashion system works:

Brands ask for budgets (minimum amount or quantity) from retailers. Usually, these budgets increase season after season.
Because of this practice, retailers buy way more than they can sell. So, they generate overstock.
This overstock, in turn, leads to a higher retail price. That is because a high quantity of merchandise gets sold during end-of-season sales. And higher prices during the season covers partially this loss.
Because of this overstock, retailers apply frequent promotions, markdowns and sales in order to induce clients to purchase more.

It’s a vicious cycle where everything is connected. Consumption and production go hand in hand. So, we cannot fix one if we do not fix the other.

Stop Sales! How retailers can eradicate overconsumption:

  • reduced quantities of clothing and accessories ordered per season in store
  • avoiding overstock would allow equitable prices throughout the season
  • stop Black Fridays, promotions and sales
  • teach clients to buy less, much less, but only quality products. Clothing and accessories made to last over time. Also, teach them the value of their purchase.

Sales aren’t a sustainable strategy. The more you buy discounted items, the more brands flood the market with pointless products. And where are we heading with this behaviour? Read it here!

What consumers can do:

Don’t be part of the system that has generated the climate crisis. Try to change it instead.
Buy less, much less during the season. Take only quality garments you can match with the clothes you already have and that you can reuse.
Don’t buy trendy items, but choose a timeless aesthetic.
Quality, not quantity. And remember: good design doesn’t have an expiry date.

If you want to share your views or know more, comment here below or WhatsApp!

Paris Haute Couture FW23-24

Riots and Fashion in Paris

Paris Haute Couture FW23-24 risked cancellation due to five days of riots across France, which spread after the police killed a young boy. Though Celine cancelled its defile, the fashion shows took place.

We have seen so much vulgarity lately that runways like Chanel, Dior, and Armani, at least, gave a sense of elegance. That is on a positive note.

“In my opinion, today there are few maisons that really do haute couture. I’m starting to no longer recognise myself in this Paris. I have always placed myself in a more glamorous Paris, and now I no longer find myself there. I wonder if it’s not time for a change.” – said Giorgio Armani

However, it seems clear, once again, that megabrands aren’t willing to take any effective action to fight the climate emergency, apart from lots of talks about sustainable fashion. Which is pointless since nothing ever changes.

Paris Haute Couture FW23-24 vs sustainability

On the one hand, some brands had the plus of showing elegance, which stands out in an ocean of horrible and gross clothing. On the other hand, they sent on the runway countless numbers of new outfits. Precisely on the latter, we need to take into account two main points:
First, very few lucky ones can afford these couture clothes. Maybe they would have enough choices even with smaller collections. Even because couture is tailor-made, so it allows customising every single item.
Second, these clothes will be worn by celebrities who receive very generous compensation for wearing them. A marketing operation that isn’t free. Meaning it is not free for the fashion Maison but, in the end, for the final customers, too. In fact, consumers who purchase from those brands will bear the price. Indeed the cost of celebrities gets spread on the company costs in general and on any product category.

Therefore, we wonder: what is the point of the overproduction behind these couture shows? Who is it for? Is it to allure consumers while ignoring a climate emergency, but then, taking part in sustainability round tables? Please stop it!
Smaller couture collections would work anyway. By having, at the same time, a lower impact and less waste of materials and resources.

Further news: Saudi Arabia is a newcomer to Paris Haute Couture FW23-24. Indeed, they are investing billions to become the new favourites in the high-end fashion segment. Money that comes from oil, which, we expect, brands will invest in sustainable fashion!

In short, couture, by definition, is sustainable. But mega brands are doing their best to make it unsustainable.

UN against overconsumption

Fashion marketers as the key to a new narrative

The UN says fashion needs to stop promoting overconsumption. Indeed, we are perfectly aligned since we focused more on this evolved path, about four years ago. Though a selection of pieces to wear for a lifetime has always been part of our viewpoint.
Specifically, the UN Environment Programme and UN climate change have just released new recommendations for those who work in fashion marketing and communication.

“We are draining humanity’s lifeblood through vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use, and evaporating it through global heating,” said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. (source)

UN against overconsumption: a systemic issue

According to the UN, mass consumption is a systemic issue. So, they identify marketing as the key to fostering cultural change. That is how: leading consumers to change consumption rates, increasing consumer knowledge and shifting consumer behaviours. The idea is to tackle misinformation and greenwashing through science-based communication and transparency.

Although we agree with the idea of fighting overconsumption and overproduction, we are afraid that many of the words suggested in the playbook are buzzwords hiding greenwashing.
Marketing is an ensemble of activities finalised to sell products or services. So far, fashion marketing has contributed to creating confusion through deliberate operations. It isn’t likely that corporations are ready to leave behind their growth pattern. Ethics over money sounds weird from a capitalistic view.

Fashion industry: overproduction & overconsumption

Overproduction and overconsumption are two faces of the same coin, capitalism. In other words, a vicious and exploitative economic system which triggers toxic behaviours.

Overproduction leads to overconsumption: this point was clear to us. So, as a fashion retailer, about four years ago, we thought it made sense to reduce the quantity of clothing we ordered each season dramatically. That allowed us to avoid overstock and end-of-season sales while promoting a reduction of consumption based on fewer products but good quality. And so, a timeless selection of non-trend-based garments with great design value.
Also, getting familiar with the concept of degrowth as an effective strategy to drive change, we trust our choice was valuable.

However, it’s not enough, and we need to do more. But it’s complicated to work since most fashion industry players still promote growth, perhaps hiding it behind traceability QR Codes. Now they call it green growth. Which, as clearly explained in Kevin Anderson’s video, is meaningless. It leads nowhere.

Furthermore, it’s hard to find solutions when consumers shop from retailers who still work on an overproduction basis. How can these retailers stop promoting overconsumption with shops full to the brim of clothes?

Most importantly, does the UN leave the fight against overconsumption to the good heart of marketers? Of course, fashion marketing is part of the problem. And an ethical approach could work. But expecting redemption without regulations and strict controls in a rotten system seems a bit naive.

Fashion experts vs sustainable brands

Spring-Summer 24 fashion exhibitions

With Spring-Summer 24 selling season-opening, fashion experts are meeting sustainable brands. And so, we received invitations for panels and fashion events, aiming to facilitate the shift towards eco-conscious products. But the ultimate goal isn’t sustainability. It never is so. 

Unfortunately, brands that have an idea of what sustainability is, aren’t understood by fashion buyers and showrooms. Indeed, both industry players had the same comments, which seems weird and leaves little hope for specific brands to find a market that would sustain their business in an evolved fashion panorama. But fundamentally, these comments say a lot about what sustainability represents in the fashion industry.

Fashion experts’ remarks on sustainable brands

We’ll guide you through some opinions we heard about these new brands:
1- Is this clothing collection sustainable?
2- This collection is too small. Why just a few pieces?
3- It’s expensive! Prices are too high. We want the same clothes at a much lower price.

Now the responses we would love to give, point after point and face to face, to the fashion experts:
To the very first question everyone asks when approaching a booth: is it sustainable? 
What do you mean? Can’t you understand it from the size of the collection, style choice, quality and materials? Do you need a tag stating if a garment is eco-conscious? 

The second one: your collection is too small! 
Guess what! Capsule collections should be the way out from decades of racks packed with new items! The way out from overproduction! Isn’t a capsule collection more sustainable? It seems showrooms and buyers still need endless items, fabrics and colour options, which is the opposite of sustainable fashion.

Then comes the third request, which makes you understand these experts have no idea what they say: it’s expensive! We want this dress, but cheaper. Well, sustainable materials are expensive! And if that designer makes a specific dress in a much cheaper material, it wouldn’t make sense. 

And so, the last request takes us back to the first: is it sustainable? 
Why do you ask? What do you expect from sustainable brands if you ask for much cheaper materials?

Is sustainability the goal?

Dear fashion experts, buyers and showrooms, are you sure you want sustainable fashion brands? Do you know what sustainable means? It seems your ideas are confused, indeed. And perhaps those panel discussions have a different goal. 

In fact, it sounds like your interest in sustainability stops at justifying your presence on the market.

Sustainable fashion brands

What you need to know

Let’s face it: 90% of sustainable fashion brands would be sustainable for real if they stopped doing their collections.
Do you care about the planet? If you do, it must be clear that trillions of self-appointed “sustainable brands” that have oversaturated the market aren’t sustainable. Indeed, we came to this conclusion after years of visiting fashion exhibitions and showrooms, checking out lookbooks, and corporate and online communication.

Of course, sustainable practices must be embedded in the designing process and production chains. Most importantly, fashion degrowth must be planned to reduce the massive impact of the industry on the environment. But the point is that attention has shifted from clothing to too many words and much storytelling. And everything is about that: words and empty slogans. Why? Because these designers have nothing to say. Their design means nothing. Therefore, marketing gives these “sustainable brands” a reason to exist and an opportunity to do business.

Top brands vs sustainable brands

In the fashion universe, megabrands communication is all about sustainability. But we avoid listing all top brands’ sustainable activities we read daily because it gets embarrassing, if not unnerving. Then, we find designers and many new brands, who make a lot of noise talking about sustainable fashion, but in practice, they lose sight of their job. And what is their job? Making clothes, meaningful garments, and pieces worth buying in case people need something new.

Niche fashion #formodernhumans

But, in our fashion research, a tiny niche focused on its job has emerged. Here we can find those brands that offer intrinsic value in their design, beautiful pieces presented in a contemporary key. Also featuring refined details, quality fabrics and impeccable tailoring. Brands with a unique sense of style, a timeless aesthetic, edgy and always fashion forward, but absolutely far from mass production. Indeed, they let their design speak.
And so, without too many words, but through the value of their work, they show us sustainability almost achieved in practice.

In fact, designers part of the blah-blah-blah sustainable fashion brands bubble would better serve their cause and do a favour to the planet if they didn’t do their collections.

Sustainability is ridiculous

Why playing this shell game should be banned

Sustainability is ridiculous. Not because the concept per se is stupid or does not make sense. But because it is too broad, too vague, and, therefore, deceptive. 

Sustainable fashion? This is greenwashing

Sometimes for ignorance or superficiality, yet in most cases, with intentionality, as those who play the sustainable game are perfectly aware of what they do. But, in the end, sustainability is just a new way to make money by showing a green facade. The industry, which goes from consultancy to fashion brand retail to NGOs, is flourishing. As a matter of fact, industry players spend time on “eco – green – conscious” labels, but it seems they are playing a shell game. The purpose is to hide and manipulate truths. 

In most cases, the effort is all about running after the latest eco-friendly label. But is it enough to achieve sustainability? It is the case of Chloé, for instance. Richemont hired Gabriela Hearst for her eco credentials, and now, three years later, the designer is exiting the company. Though they say revenue increased by 60%, their design is far away from the beauty of the past. 

Why sustainability is ridiculous

However, we have some doubts about the strategy Chloé has promoted so far. How can a luxury brand based on seasonal trends manage its business without damaging the planet? We wonder how fashion brands that shift to a purpose-driven business can be credible if they still run their activity on an overproduction pattern. Also, they attain the status of B-Corp. Most importantly, we wonder how B-Corp certification can combine with overproduction.
That seems contradictory. In fact, in this context, sustainability is ridiculous.

Specifically, we wonder if a drastic reduction of supply by offering only beautiful design garments made with “sustainable materials” and respecting the production chain would be an effective strategy.

But, of course, we understand that manipulating reality with the effect of fueling overconsumption is the most effective way to make money. So keep up promoting a green world!