This article was originally published via Fashion Roundtable – the essential link between fashion, business, consumers and policy leaders.
The cover photograph was taken inside fast fashion retailer, Pretty Little Thing’s UK Warehouse.
At A Glance – Earth Over Growth Logic
The sustainability imperative within the global fashion system could not be more urgent. This makes the publishing of the Earth Logic Fashion Research Action Plan, released in collaboration with the JJ Charitable Trust, a timely call to action.
Academics Kate Fletcher and Mathilde Tham have devised a robust strategy and set a blue print on how we can truly transform the fashion industry through a method that puts the earth first. With a combined experience of 50 years’ work within fashion and sustainability, the research has been constructed in collaboration with the Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion. Findings from this global network of over 400 active professionals in the world of fashion and sustainability, as well various industry events and government reports guides the content.
Earth Logic posits a call to researchers, practitioners and decision makers, that for the industry to be truly sustainable, it must connect people with nature and the long-term future of our planet by removing profit as a priority.
The need for this overhaul is clear – we have the “uncompromising deadline” of a single decade to curb global warming at the necessary 1.5 degrees as outlined in 2018 by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and to prohibit the population from crossing any more planetary boundaries.
Coupled with the gravity of the environmental challenges we face, is the problematic societal psyche that has bred over consumption. It is projected that clothing consumption globally will continue to rise by 63% by 2030, from 62 million tons today to 102 million tons, an equivalent of an additional 500 billion T-Shirts (Global Fashion Agenda and Boston Consulting Group, 2017). What’s more, the negative externalities created whereby stakeholders are not paying the true cost to eco system services or to the impoverished workers that stitch fast fashion pieces poses an existential threat.
The Earth Logic Fashion Research Action Plan grapples with how the industry can set fashion free from consumerist ideals, move away from growth logic and instead prioritise earth first over profit, a reality the authors recognise as uncomfortable to say the least.
The Sustainable Fashion Roadmap
The action plan is divided into three parts. Part I looks at the values-explicit context and provides a framework to reassess projects and future research. Their eight values comprise of multiple centres; interdependency; diverse ways of knowing; co-creation; grounded imagination; care of world; and care of self.
Fletcher and Tham provide neat checklists in Part II which guide the reader on practical initial solutions that prioritise earth over growth logic. This chapter specifically acknowledges the pressing timeframe in over hauling the fashion industry. Thus, it calls to recognise that dynamic approaches must be adopted immediately to not postpone momentum and warns against waiting for the perfect solutions before acting. They note the continuum in sharing of information by local stakeholders across different sectors and disciplines in open feedback loops will be crucial.
Subsequently, the final section is devoted to six holistic landscapes that specify practices that can be automatically actioned and provide focus for forthcoming action research. These landscapes are:
1. Less: Grow out of growth
2. Local: Scaling, re-centring
3. Plural: New centres for fashion
4. Learning: New knowledge, skills, mindsets for fashion
5. Language: New communication for fashion
6. Governance: New ways of organising fashion
Whilst the first three landscapes directly address the transformation of the fashion industry, the latter half look to the supporting structures and processes that keep the market turning. For each element, they provide action research directions, specify which stakeholders should be involved and discuss the scope, size, place and time. They also set out how each area fits into the wider system. The flavour of life section describes a futuristic world where these ideas are brought into fruition. For instance, on the landscape of language, it asks the reader to “imagine watching a news report that helped you see and feel the connection between global frameworks, such as the SDG’s and your local fashion practice”.
Key Takeaways From Earth Logic
It is vehemently obvious that the fashion industry can no longer operate as business as usual. In order to follow the calls from scientists and activists to take action, mass mobilisation is required. The Fashion Research Action Plan needs to be adopted by all stakeholders across global value chains whether that be communities, corporations, NGO’s, citizens, media and academic institutions.
A noteworthy takeaway is that “the only solution is less stuff – there are no other options”. The authors integrate the limitations of the circular economy in promoting pure earth logic within the fashion industry. They admit that whilst it mitigates over production and creating value from waste, it incentivises resource efficiency by monetising it, meaning it further enables shareholders bottom line growth at the expense of the planet. On this tangent, Fletcher and Tham observe that artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and purely quantitative approaches, such as material indices and lifecycle assessment alone are not sufficient and “risk deferring radical change”. Tham interestingly sets out that historically production and consumption have been set as polar opposites. However, she states that this is problematic, as it positions consumers as “passive victims in a system they cannot understand” which is not true as we know our shopping behaviours can prove powerful in swaying retailers to reconsider sustainability!
Localism is underscored as powerful in devising the new world order envisioned in the research. The plan calls for the recognition of the salience of communities to solve many of fashions challenges on a smaller scale. They argue that a reduction in scale does not compromise on the quality of enriching fashion experiences. We can move towards this by “trading in the economies of time, creativity, community and imagination.” As active citizens, many must unlearn materialistic tendencies in replacement for a style orientated approach, as opposed to trend led. Fletcher and Tham reiterate the importance of the individual urging readers remember “each citizen has value, capability and responsibility to create sustainability”.
Additional themes to grapple with include how the industry must move against the grain of growth logic which has borne witness to industrialisation, globalisation and fossil fuel dependency. Key messages include the pivotal nature of language and the power of communication. The authors also foresee how the valuable principles of permaculture would do well to be projected onto the fashion landscape; care for the earth, care for people and fair share.
Fashion Roundtable Policy Researcher, Maria Stoic attended the Earth Logic workshop on the 13th March at the RSA House, London. She witnessed the message to “Put the Earth first” rang clear. Following a presentation by the authors on the main elements of the plan, attendees collaborated through a series of activities including creating a blueprint on how to integrate earth logic within their respective organisations.
Final Thought – The Time to Act is Now
As Fletcher and Tham warn, the Fashion Research Action Plan is not the type of research that sits on the shelves gathering dust, we cannot afford to wait.
If there’s anything the coronavirus has taught us, it is that when left with no other choice to preserve humanity, we can instantly accept adaptation. We should then readily apply this to the impending longer-term crisis in which we are so desperately running out of time to fix, the climate emergency.
You can discover more and download a copy of the Earth Logic Fashion Research Action Plan here.
You can read the comprehensive interview with authors Kate Fletcher and Mathilde Tham via GQ here.