This is the sixth installment in an eight-part series that examines the social role of design beyond its aesthetic aspect. The weekly series is a precursor to Herald Design Week 2013 from Oct. 7-11, which is organized under the theme “Re-imagine the World.” ― Ed.
|Levi’s “Waste<Less” jeans are made from eight plastic bottles blended with cotton fiber, woven with traditional cotton yarn that create the denim. (Levi’s)|
Sustainability is the buzzword in many fields of design, but in fashion, the concept jars with its need to follow rapidly changing trends and cycles.
But following in the footsteps of some leading design sectors in sustainability, such as industrial design and architecture, major fashion brands are increasingly taking initiatives that can benefit both people and the planet, as well as serve as a new strategy to drive profits.
Levi’s launched “Water<Less” jeans in January 2011 in the U.S. and later in the global market. The product requires an average of 28 percent less water and up to 96 percent less water in the washing process used to finish the garment. An average pair of jeans uses 42 liters of water in the finishing process, according to the company.
Levi’s made a few changes that helped save water by reducing the number of washing machine cycles, incorporating ozone processing into the garment washing and more. The brand said the first product line in spring 2011, 1.5 million pairs of jeans with the “Water<Less” methods saved 16 million liters of water in total.
H&M, the global leader in fast fashion, started Conscious Collection made using eco-friendly materials such as organic cotton and recycled materials. It has introduced basic items and party dresses made from recycled polyester and organic cotton.
“Sustainable fashion started as part of an effort to achieve eco-friendliness in design. It is now being used in many respects, especially economically, environmentally, ethically,” said Geum Key-sook, professor of the college of fine art at Hongik University.
One effort to achieve a sustainable fashion future is through recycling wastes and this is where technological and design innovations are taking place.
Levi’s uses eight plastic bottles and old jeans to make a new pair of jeans. The company conducts the Forever Blue Campaign to collect jeans from their customers and use them in the recycling process. The campaign attracted the participation of more than 70,000 customers last year in a single store in Myeong-dong, a shopping hub in Seoul.
The Swedish outdoor brand Klattermuseum and Hyosung Corporation in Korea collaborated in the development of new fabric from old fishing nets that is durable enough to be used in backpacks.
Sustainability in fashion also means more than using less resources and reducing CO2 emissions. Attention to garment workers’ rights has been raised since a factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1,129 workers.
“Global fashion companies should be held responsible for such accidents,” Geum said.
“To achieve sustainability, the entire production chain requires a different approach, from processing raw materials, working conditions for workers, and the final distribution stage,” Geum stressed.
Cheap labor has been one of the factors central to keeping fast fashion prices low, along with cheap materials and fast production schedules. But voices are being raised about workers’ low wages, which are not high enough to support their families.
British campaign Labor behind the Label, part of the Clean Clothes Campaign, evaluates more than 50 major fashion brands, including Gap, Marks & Spencer, Monsoon and Accessorize in their treatment of workers in annual reports through surveys. The surveys help raise awareness about the rights of garment workers and also guide consumers on their shopping decisions.
Another consequence from the fast fashion trend is that quality clothes are being less appreciated by consumers.
“We have a task to transfer native skills and different kinds of fabrics to the next generation because they are valuable cultural assets,” said Geum.
American brand Alabama Chanin is one of the few brands taking a rare step in making quality design made ethnically and locally.
The brand hires local artisans who make each piece by hand and all the materials are either organic or recycled. The belief behind such practice is that locally produced clothes benefit local people and are healthier for the land on which they live.
By Lee Woo-young (email@example.com