Clothing supply chain: rethinking design

This post is based on the reading of the book A practical guide to sustainable fashion by Gwilt, Alison.

This book is enriched with valuable information for designers who wish to learn how to apply sustainability and ethical values on their creations, however, as a non-designer myself, I found it really interesting. It is filled with key issues regarding the production and disposal of clothing, talking about eco-friendly fashion designers and companies. It also has some exercises that help motivate us to research, creating a cycle map of a fashion item analysing the environmental and social impacts.

So…should we rethink fashion design?

The fashion industry has been developing, however the process involves a general set of steps and stages known as ‘the supply chain’, which include: design, sample-making, selection, manufacturing and distribution.

The role of the fashion designer is essential within creation and development, controlling and making decisions towards a desirable product.

The production and distribution of clothing has a large impact environmentally and socially, attached with ethical and sustainable concerns.

up cycling
can our fashion items be part of a closed-loop system?

Consumerism and fast fashion are the main reason for the actual obsession in bringing runway trends to the high street as fast as possible, which might cause impacts in the supply chain. The fashion network of the supply chain is global, involving a large amount of people, countries and laws/legislations.

Meanwhile, the consumption of fashion has been increasing. The ‘use phase’ is the stage when the customer buys an item and its consequent life cycle from there on. The use phase includes wearing, washing, drying, storing, alterations and repairing. Studies affirm that the majority of the environmental impacts associated with clothing are created during the use phase, due to the laundering process which implies the use of water, chemicals and energy.

cof

The disposal of garments is increasing
Think well all the options, before the disposal of a clothing item: can it be repaired? Can you transform it? Should you donate it to someone?

It is possible to think that an item could be recycled, donated to someone or disposed into a landfill. For this reason Sustainable Fashion is important and with that, a sustainable designer who understands the impacts of our daily clothing.

In nowadays, is essential to evolve the significance of eco design and accept new contemporary methods that can be used throughout the supply chain, and cause less impact on the use phase.

Eco or green design attempts to avoid the environmental impacts that are associated with a garment during its life cycle. The aim is to prevent, reduce or eliminate impacts that may pollute, destroy or reduce the planet’s natural resources.

Sustainable design embraces three key areas: society, environment and economy, becoming the main focus of the designers to manage the three at the same time.

This way, sustainable fashion focuses on the life cycle of a garment and on its particular supply chain.

 

Fashion supply chain
Social and environmental impacts along the clothing supply chain. Made by me, inspired by “A practical guide to sustainable fashion”

 

The fashion industry is facing issues regarding social and ethical affairs related with fast fashion, however the future of fashion can change if designers and related companies work together, towards a green revolution: sourcing appropriate fabrics (which can be easily recycle, not demanding too much treatment or which don’t harm innocent animal lives), avoid the adoption of harmful chemicals on the production and administer reasonable and fair wages and work conditions to the employees.

If you are a designer and you are thinking in making improvements and becoming more sustainable within your creations, these are the steps to take:

  1. map a life cycle of the product to be developed;
  2. identify the environmental and social impacts of your product;
  3. evaluate the results of  the 1st and 2nd steps;
  4. engage with sustainable strategies which can eliminate negative impacts from the garment’s life cycle.

life cycle of a garment

by mapping a life cycle, a designer can easily understand and evaluate sustainable actions of the designs and assess improvements on the process. Engaging with a strategy helps focusing towards aims and objectives.

Above are some strategies given by A practical guide to sustainable fashion:

  • Minimizing the consumption of resources
  • Choosing low-impact processes and resources
  • Improving production techniques
  • Improving distribution systems
  • Reducing the impacts created during use
  • Improving the garment’s lifetime
  • Improving the use of end-of-life systems

 

There is also the economic component where the designer is focused on trends and market targets, however it is possible to apply sustainable strategies, during the development of the production of a collection.

Pictures by me in Praia do Guincho, Portugal.

 

 

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