Episode 2: Why there is no such thing as perfectly sustainable.
Fashion Industry, Sustainability, Circular Economy, Design
Welcome to the fashion unearthed podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host Belinda Humphrey and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet and product.
Hello, and welcome to Episode Two of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. In this episode, I wanted to talk about something that probably fits into all three of my key pillars, celebrating people, community regenerative planet and conscious creation. It's a bit of a big topic, but I thought an important one to address straight up. I wanted to talk about sustainability, but more specifically why there is no such thing as being perfectly sustainable. So, the dictionary describes sustainable as "causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time." But I think this definition has become a bit hazy when being used in the fashion industry. I think the misuse of it has diluted the meaning and in reality, this has meant there's no agreed upon definition of what being sustainable actually means. If we can't agree on and enforce a definition within the fashion industry, it's very difficult to meet that.
So I feel like we have to zoom out a little bit and accept an uncomfortable truth. Simply being alive and even running a business we have an impact on resources. The Creative Director of Chloé Gabriella Hearst says she's using each collection as an opportunity to do better. But even she has admitted that she's just done the least sustainable thing you can do, which is have kids. Yvon Choinard, the founder of Patagonia, who is one of the brands that everyone looks to because they're just so innovative and focused on the environment. He has said that there's no such thing as sustainability. It's just kind of a path you get on and each day try to make it better.
Which brings me to my first point, that perfection is the path to madness. I don't remember who said that quote. But it stuck with me, trying to live up to the idealistic view of what it means to be 100% sustainable from consumer or business point of view can be overwhelming, and unrealistic. And social media has definitely played a part in this. From a business and a personal point of view, I think we've all felt the pressure to try and live up to what social media tells us a sustainable lifestyle or business looks like.
The reality is though we all make trade offs in our lives. Black and White, thinking (eg, I'm sustainable or not) will block your progress. So I believe it's more helpful to accept that sustainability exists on a spectrum. It's almost like being guided by lighthouses. You're moving forward, but you never really get to the destination. I also wanted to point out that technology and innovation are changing rapidly, which will always provide better and newer ways to do things. Which is why I like the lighthouse analogy, because those lighthouses are always changing. I believe the real value is being able to understand and measure where you're at now, so you can track your progress.
Which leads me into another issue that I see businesses finding hard to navigate cancel culture. I've seen a lot of business owners scared to use the word sustainable, or even to advertise to their customers that they're making a change because they might be called out for greenwashing or trying to profit off a small segment of their range being "sustainable" in commars. The difficult reality for particularly big businesses is that they've spent 10, 20, 75 years optimising a linear supply chain and are going to take longer to change. I absolutely think that change needs to be as quick as possible to stop climate change. But there are large implications for doing things quickly and across a whole business without prototyping or trialling it in one area first to get it right.
And don't get me wrong, I think there have been businesses quick to use the word sustainable in their marketing message that probably shouldn't have. But shaming businesses who don't get it right and 100% perfect on the first go isn't helping us to make progress.
But on the flip side, and a positive note, if large businesses in particular do get it right, they are going to have the quickest and largest impact on change and lead the way for other businesses. We have to allow individuals and corporations to evolve and the possibility that they might not get it right on the first go.
I also want to touch on the fact that sustainability as well as fashion is an intersectional issue. It covers human rights, feminism, politics, environmental degradation, exploitation, colonialism, racism, transparency, the list goes on, to be truly 100% sustainable, all of these issues would have to be addressed. And like much of this space, we are still in the process of unlearning and reimagining a better future.
So I wanted to end on a positive note and suggest three areas to look at and measure where you're at with sustainability in your business, so that you can then set your targets on where you need to go.
The first one is looking at the people included in your business from who is in your supply chain to the people in your office. How are you monitoring their welfare? Where do you think you need to do better and are you recruiting diversity within your teams.
The second is the impact on the planet? Are your factories using renewable energy? What kind of farming practices are being used in the beginning when creating yarn or forests? And how is water being managed within the manufacturing process?
And finally, how are you creating a product? Or what materials are you using? How can you incorporate circularity into a process or on a really simple level are you using recycled plastic buttons. And actually, if you want more of these product specific tips, there's a free download on my website belindahumphrey.com called 10 Sustainable Switches.
But to finish up, I just want to reiterate that focusing on progress over perfection will keep you moving forward. And knowing where you are right now is the best place to start so you can see where you need to go. Thanks so much for listening, if you're listening on the go, you can find all the show notes over at Belinda humphrey.com forward slash podcast. And if you liked the sound of this podcast so far, hit subscribe so you don't miss out on future episodes. See you next time.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change.