The current fashion system puts profits above people and the planet. But what if we could flip this on its head and get fashion to actually put human and ecological health first?
Well, that’s exactly what a wellbeing economy for fashion could do…
- Wellbeing Wardrobe: A wellbeing economy for the fashion and textile sector
- Post Growth Institute
- EP.11 Fashion Activism: It’s Time for Brands to #PayUp with Ayesha Barenblat
- EP.20 How We Can Make Mending Mainstream with Josephine Philips of Sojo
- EP.45 Are Better Brand-Supplier Relationships The Missing Link to Ethical Fashion?
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Read the Transcript From This Interview:
This season of the podcast is focused on slowing down fashion and envisioning the possibilities of a post-growth future.
What is post-growth exactly? Well, according to the Post Growth Institute, post-growth “is a worldview that sees society operating better without the demand of constant economic growth.” And by better, they mean that we can achieve “widespread economic justice, social wellbeing, and ecological regeneration.”
Similar to the degrowth movement, post-growth understands that we cannot have infinite economic growth on a planet with finite resources.
A post-growth future for fashion would look like getting away from this obsession of more clothes at cheaper prices and instead focus on fewer, better items worn more often. It would be rewearing, mending, sharing, choosing pre-loved, celebrating artisans and thoughtful production instead of mass-produced fashion that enriches just a few billionaires at the top of the fashion food chain. Basically it would be the slow fashion movement.
And today’s conversation on wellbeing economies in fashion is very related to this concept of post-growth and slow fashion, making it a natural fit for this season.
Let’s talk about today’s show and guests!
A couple of months ago, I came across a report titled Wellbeing Wardrobe. This report, commissioned by the European Environmental Bureau identified the ways that fashion could build a post-growth future and actually work in the interest of the common good.
I was so fascinated and inspired by this report. It is incredibly in-depth and far-reaching, covering a myriad of solutions to improve the environmental and social impact of fashion. As soon as I read it, I knew I had to get the team of researchers on this podcast to share their findings with all of you directly. And now, here we are!
You’ll hear from the following researchers from the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney
- Dr. Samantha Sharpe, who is an Associate Professor and Research Director
- Dr Monique Retamal, who is the Program Lead for Resource Stewardship
- and Dr. Taylor Brydges, who is a Research Principal
Samantha is going to start us off here first, sharing what exactly a wellbeing economy is and how it differs from our current economic systems.
Well, a wellbeing economy really just has a different focus to our current economic systems. So if you think of our current system, the goal is continuous economic growth and material accumulation. It’s reflected in how we think about economic success — we’re all focused on measuring GDP growth.
And we know that this model is not environmentally sustainable. This focus on continuous growth has got us to a really unsustainable position. We’re using 1.75 planets. This is expected to be two planets by 2030. And this current economic system has really triggered the climate crisis that we face, and the immense biodiversity loss.
So a wellbeing economy starts from a different place. It looks at people and planet and designs an economic system around those and around what’s good for them. So it puts wellbeing of people and wellbeing of the planet first.
Wellbeing is pretty broadly defined as meaning the satisfaction of human needs. And this is basic human needs, obviously, for food, water, security, safety, but as well as mental and emotional needs for identity, relationships, meaningful work.
And there are really, I guess, a broad range of perspectives that are contributing to what wellbeing is, you may have heard post-growth thinking or degrowth, or donut economics, you know, they all share some of the same elements. And it’s really a focus on reducing the environmental impact of human activities, supporting fairness, or supporting redistribution of resources, including income resources. So they talk about things like universal basic income.
And it’s also a focus on transitioning us away from material consumption and consumption-based societies to more community-orientated or participatory societies. And so that might include thinking about shorter weeks, you know we don’t need to work as much, because we don’t need to have as much money to consume things. And new ways of recognizing unpaid labor that a lot of actual work and economic activity is unpaid and unaccounted for in our current system.
Yeah. And there’s so much there to dive into. But I’m very curious to hear about what a wellbeing economy for fashion would look like? And I know, that is a very big question. But what are some of the overarching ideas or main concepts behind a wellbeing fashion economy?
Yeah, that’s essentially what we tried to do in that in, that wellbeing wardrobe report was talk to a broad range of stakeholders in the fashion sector to think about how we would apply these concepts. And we really came up with four principles.
You know, the first and I think it’s like, really fundamental is limits, we need to have some limits, this idea of endless growth is not possible. And this is true in the fashion sector.
So first and foremost, we need to reduce the amount of clothing that we make and consume. And for, for the clothes that we continue to make, they need to be of higher quality. They need to be cared for and use so much longer, have multiple life cycles, either with us or through secondhand or other forms of exchange. And I think we really need to understand what drives overconsumption and overproduction and how we might address that.
So we had the four key principles: so limits, first and foremost. But also thinking about fairness. And that’s, I guess, a little bit of what I said previously, is like, well, how do we, how do we make the sector fair? Because it’s really not fair at the moment.
We’ve got a lot of people in a number of countries that really bear a lot of the environmental and social costs, about clothing consumption. And so we need to, you know, start redistributing the burdens or hopefully minimizing the burdens and better distributing the benefits and the costs.
So, what kind of systems and, you know, there’s some initial steps that have been taken if we think about some of the due diligence, transparency, work policy, work that’s coming in the EU that is trying to stamp out some of those poor purchasing practices. But there’s a long way to go, in terms of talking about fairness.
Obviously, just governance, because if you’re going to think about limits, and you’re going to think about redistributing, you need to have really participatory processes that include everyone in that decision-making. So how you design those processes and how you ensure inclusivity, openness, open dialogue, and allow for a diversity that can, you know, create change.
I think this governance, particularly at a global level, is not something that’s going to be easily achieved. Because we need to bring in so many stakeholders, and we need to essentially create new global institutions. And if you look at, you know, many of our current global institutions, they’re not working so well. So this is, it’s a big task. But again, we’ve got good, I guess, starting places in the fashion sector as to start from with a number of these kind of big movements.
And the fourth one is thinking about new systems. So this is a new system for the way we make and exchange clothes. So, this can be new business models, we’re seeing lots of B corps and social enterprises, really at the forefront of sustainable fashion. So it’s having greater number, greater diversity of those types of businesses, less emphasis on profit-driven activities, and support for making that switch to less profit-driven.
And there’s also a whole lot of nonmarket activities like fashion design or clothing swaps, that don’t even have to take place with money involved kind of thing. So there’s a lot of nonmarket activities that we need to find and support as part of these, these new systems of exchange.
Yeah, thank you so much for laying that foundation and giving all that context to wellbeing economies and wellbeing economies in fashion.
Monique, why do you think that we need a wellbeing economy for fashion? And why are the current sustainability efforts not enough in fashion right now?
I think we need a wellbeing economy for fashion, because the social and environmental costs of the industry are currently too high. And those impacts are increasing rapidly.
We currently have an industry that is focused on ever faster and higher volume production. And that’s having a significant impact on workers and the environment. So we really need to make change.
And so current approaches to fashion sustainability, include a range of things such as responsible sourcing of materials, improving transparency in supply chains, also providing better information, labeling certification of sort of responsibility that’s been taken in supply chains.
There’s also efforts to drive textile recycling. However, that remains relatively small scale.
And many businesses are looking at substituting synthetic fibers for natural fibers or recycled synthetics. So there are a range of different activities going on. There’s even fast fashion brands that are offering small product lines that use more sustainable materials. But however, this accounts for a small percentage of their offerings, and they’re otherwise continuing with business as usual.
So all of these things are helpful, and they contribute in an incremental way. But they aren’t enough to deal with their greenhouse gases, pollution, resource consumption challenges, and they don’t really address the critical issues of volume and the speed of clothing production.
So we really need clothes to last longer. We need to use them for longer, we need to buy less. And these are things we need to come to terms with and to address in a practical way.
Mhm yeah, absolutely. And moving to a wellbeing economy for fashion, what Sam described in the beginning from where we are today, which you just explained these incremental efforts that aren’t really substantially changing the status quo. It feels like a really big leap. But as you explained in the Wellbeing Wardrobe report, moving beyond growth economies, it should be seen as a transitional process. It’s, you know, not an overnight switch.
And so, I wanted to talk with you about some of these transitioning business models or structures. And you know, what that would look like in fashion. So, could you share some elements of business models or organizational models that are paving the way for post-growth fashion?
Yeah, sure. Yes. So agree, does feel like a huge leap from our current reality. There are some great examples of the kinds of business and organizational models that can contribute to a wellbeing economy, though. So we are seeing examples in niches, I guess.
So one thing that Sam also mentioned was that not-for-profit businesses are really important, because, you know, removing the profit motive helps to reduce the pressure to overproduce.
There’s also businesses where profit is used for a social benefit. And that can be really helpful for redistributing the benefits and helping to enable the wellbeing economy.
So there are examples of alternative business models in the fashion sector. That can include things like social enterprises, B corps, which Sam mentioned, as well. There’s also cooperatives, so sort of worker-producer cooperatives. And there’s also charities selling secondhand clothing. There are also collaborative consumption models that facilitate sharing and sort of more intensive use of clothing. And that can be peer to peer, for example.
So in terms also, of fashion sustainability, I’d also point towards businesses focused on repairing clothing or selling second-hand. There are also businesses that include service arrangements, for example, around sharing or renting or other exchange practices that encourage long-lasting design and ongoing care for clothing. So there are examples out there of how this concept can be applied to the fashion sector.
Mhm yeah, and it’s really great to have those tangible examples. And we are even seeing, as you sort of tied it together, like what Sam just described as like a wellbeing economy for fashion, we’re seeing like little snippets of it in the slow fashion space, the conscious fashion space.
And you know, that’s really the space I operate in. So sometimes I have this perception that these things are commonplace and happening everywhere, but they are still relatively niche. And so we have to think about how to, I don’t want to say scale them, because a slow fashion economy should be very regional and localized. So it’s hard to say scale, but to expand these concepts and these ideas and make them more accepted.
Yeah, they can also be replicated doesn’t always need to be scaled up. Yeah.
That’s a fantastic word. I really like that. Yeah, like replicating and then maybe modify to that local context. And inspired by people can take these models and be inspired by them.
Yeah, and thinking about this is getting me so like, excited and inspired. And it’s very cool to think about how some of us are already sort of involved in that future already, especially with the rising growth of secondhand and like peer-to-peer sharing models.
And I definitely think listeners of this podcast are involved in some shape or form. So my next question is for you, Taylor. What are some of the activities or movements happening in fashion right now that you see as providing pathways for a wellbeing fashion economy?
I think the good news is that there are a lot of existing activities and movements underway, that are providing pathways for a wellbeing fashion economy. And a lot of these have been talked about on the podcast before, like thinking about those alternatives to ownership, and engaging in collaborative business models like sharing and swapping, or investing in slow fashion.
I think though, when we do decide to go shopping, it really is important to look at the labels. And think about buying, for example, natural fibers rather than synthetics, these are your nylons, and polyesters, and spandex, which really are plastics.
And however we can’t consume natural fibers at the pace at which we’re consuming currently, which is why we also need to be focused on really reducing our consumption. And I think this brings us to what is likely the most important practice that listeners may already be involved in, which is buying less.
So reducing our consumption is key to reducing the environmental and social sustainability impacts of the industry. And then when we are buying less, we can focus more on caring and wearing the garments that we already have.
And here that includes getting creative about shopping our own closets, as well as some of the activities Monique was just mentioning around mending and repairing, that helped to challenge the notion that our garments are disposable, instead, keeping our clothes in use for as long as possible.
Yeah. My follow-up question for you on that is what are some of the gaps in the current efforts? You know, how can we sort of mainstream replicate relatively niche practices that are happening right now in slow fashion? Like, how can we get those the main sphere of the fashion industry?
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. A lot of the practices we are talking about here, are still quite niche. And one of the gaps that we found in our work was this lack of buy-in from those mainstream brands like heavier High Street or mid market labels, to incorporate things like slow fashion, or circular design principles, or engage in practices such as offering garment take back and repair.
So really, only a fraction of overall garment production in the industry today, could be described as a high quality, ethically sourced, responsibly manufactured, or transparent about things also, such as the material content, labor conditions, and the environmental impact of those garments.
And this relates to another key gap, which is around a lack of reliable high-quality data, which accurately portrays the environmental and social impacts of the industry, which can then be used in more concrete ways to help shape those business and production practices.
So there really is this need for improved communication and transparency around these wellbeing or sustainability initiatives, particularly then, as consumers, we have the tools that we need to be able to interpret the actions of brands and make more informed decisions.
So we’ve been doing some work also, for example, around fashion rental, and when it comes to the impact of these types of consumption alternatives, better data is still needed to actually help us determine whether these alternatives actually are more or less sustainable than your business as usual, or for example, clothing, ownership.
And more broadly, this lack of data and transparency means that industry actors can still kind of get away with making those nebulous claims around the supposed sustainability of their practices.
Obviously greenwashing is something you’ve talked a lot about before. But it creates confusion around what brands are doing, and also creates or contributes to confusion around concepts such as ethical fashion, which continues to be a barrier then for sustained consumer engagement with a lot of these alternatives.
And just finally, I’ll say policy plays a really big role in this as well. But I know it’s something that’s a, we’ll get into some more. And that’s when he can Sam have a lot of thoughts on as well.
Yeah, that was a perfect segue into my next question, which is for Monique, that such transformative changes for fashion in the economy, require involvement from many stakeholders, policymakers, businesses.
And we touched on business model shifts, and also some of the individual activities like buying less, you know, prioritizing, secondhand, mending, looking for quality, you know, all that kind of good stuff.
But we have not talked about this third pillar yet, which is policy. So what are some of the policy opportunities that you found in your research that could drive this transition to a wellbeing economy for fashion?
Yeah, so as you’ve described, this kind of long list of actions that are required, we kind of need to take action from a whole load of angles and policy is a really important one for enabling a wellbeing economy, also to help limit overproduction and to encourage more sustainable practices or consumption practices, and also to ensure a just and fair transition for workers and for those in the supply chain.
And, and also to support these new systems of exchange, which we’ve talked about. So we have a long list of policy recommendations in our reports, and that I can try and share some key ideas.
So with regards to setting limits, to fit within planetary boundaries, some of the, you know, sort of potential policies could include eco-design standards to drive better quality and durability of clothing that is made.
We could have extended producer responsibility or also known as product stewardship arrangements. And that is where producers take responsibility for the end of life of garments and this responsibility could be extended to consider limits on overall volumes produced. There could also be levies for virgin fiber use.
Also, there’s a potential to ban the export of textile waste from countries and banning the destruction of unsold stock. There could also be support for consumers and businesses that are involved in reuse and repair economies, through tax incentives or other kinds of supports.
So beyond these kinds of initial policy initiatives, we also need to start a discussion on setting limits and targets to bring production and consumption to within sustainable levels. And so for this, we could learn from other sectors, so things around, for example, carbon budgeting, or fishing quotas, systems, or that kind of thing, that take into account planetary boundaries. And these kinds of targets are limits, they could be voluntary initially, and then mandatory as they are established. So that’s kind of just one aspect, like thinking about the kind of the environmental limits.
But then in terms of encouraging global and intergenerational equity, we could have policies around enforcing the value chain accountability, through due diligence regulations. Also, through public disclosure mechanisms to improve transparency. It’s also important to regulate purchasing practices to improve labor rights, as well as unfair trading practices. And this can improve fairness in supply chains.
And so this whole wellbeing economy kind of shift, you know, requires deep change and will therefore require fairly significant stakeholder dialogue. So you need a lot of participation and deliberation amongst stakeholders across the supply chain. So that could include, to enable that kind of dialogue, there could be things like stakeholder assemblies, to help to drive an agenda for the transition and also to coordinate national and international institutions.
And this kind of deliberative engagement in supply chains can also help to enable some trends. formative education and learning systems, which is also really important. Like, obviously, it’s critical for the industry to change. But it’s also really important more broadly in changing the cultures around fashion. So for example, supporting decreased consumption or promoting quality of work.
So yeah, so I know that’s a long answer, but it was just kind of one more thing is, which is around supporting new systems of exchange. So supporting these new kinds of business models can include policies that support not for profits, could be things like tax incentives, access to seed funding, you know, sort of legal regulatory support, that kind of thing.
And there’s also other kinds of support that can be provided for non-market, sustainable fashion practices, you know, even physical space and accessibility for clothing swaps and repair cafes and that kind of thing.
So that’s, I know that’s a lot. But there’s plenty more ideas out there. And all of these policy ideas need to be considered, and sort of developed in relation to each other and considered as a sort of a coordinated approach and the way they interact.
Yeah for sure. And there was so much there that we can dive into further and I can could ask a million follow up questions if we have more time but I’d definitely will be linking the Wellbeing Wardrobe Report in the show notes so that listeners can read through all of those policies suggestions, get more details on the ones you mentioned and read even more because there were a lot in there that were all super fascinating to think about.
And I think that it’s so important to be getting at some of these root causes, like you mentioned limits on production, right now most brands don’t even publish how much they produce.
Getting back to the point about the lack of data that Taylor mentioned, there’s just such a lack of information and data on fashion but it’s really interesting to think about all these different angles that we can start to get to that. And I really don’t see, for instance, how, how we are going to start producing less without policy.
And then another point that you mentioned was purchasing practices. And this is something we covered a lot in episode 45 with Arjen Laan of the manufacturing company, Pactics, but it’s just such a huge topic.
So I was wondering if you could elaborate on purchasing practices from a policy standpoint, so like what is wrong with purchasing practices between brands and suppliers today? And what sorts of laws and policy actions could be put into place to make purchasing practices more fair, and equitable, and sustainable?
I might ask Sam, to answer this one, because she’s a bit of an expert on supply chains, and particularly in production.
Sure, I can jump in there. Purchasing practices, I mean, this is essentially the way that a brands and buyers purchase order clothing to be produced. And I think the pandemic really highlighted the unsustainability of many of these practices that manufacturers get very little knowledge of what the orders that are coming.
They’re not paid until several months after they have produced and sent off the order. They get very little control or notification in how the size of orders, the variety of orders. And this has really big impacts on how they, you know, how they manage their workforce.
Because if you start the week thinking, Okay, I have to produce 10,000 shirts, and actually the order comes through over the weekend that no, it’s going to be 5000 now and actually then tomorrow, it’s going to be 15,000. You can’t, you know, have your workforce in place that can adequately meet those.
So we get lots of examples of people working really long hours of overtime. And sometimes that’s forced, you know the worker doesn’t have an opportunity to say, No, I don’t want to work any more overtime. So you can have examples of forced labor.
If it really puts manufacturers, you know, to the wire in terms of their viability, maybe they will think about switching off the effluent treatment plant, because that’s an additional cost. And so then we’ve got additional water pollution.
When people were working long hours, lots of overtime, they tend to make mistakes, because we’re not meant to work those long hours. And so you can have increasing occupational health and safety risks.
And then if you’re not paid until several months afterwards, and you know, as the pandemic highlighted, you know, many of those manufacturers didn’t get paid at all, for orders that they had produced. You know, it’s just, it’s a really unsustainable situation.
Through the pandemic, the price that manufacturers get in many of the big production centers in Asia, actually, the price per garment actually reduced, it was kind of called pandemic pricing. So, you know, at a time when, you know, we’ve had a greater focus on supply chains, that’s actually the risk of the supply chain is always transferred down the supply chain to those manufacturers, and then largely to workers. And that’s where we see really limited viability of many manufacturers, and that causes a whole range of social and environmental sustainability issues.
Yeah, I think that is just such an important issue that we need to be talking about more in this space is how the purchasing practices set by these brands, how they deal with their suppliers, is really driving a lot of the problems we are seeing with the environmental and social cost of fashion.
And I think a big reason why we’re not hearing about it more is because, if this big fashion brands are, sort of, narrating the sustainability conversation, if they’re driving the sustainable fashion narratives then, of course, they’re not going to talk about that because that kind of points the finger back at them and it has caused some to have to change.
But anyway, going back to what we are talking about before we’re transitioning to a post-growth economy, I wanted to talk a little about the concept of a voluntary transition. So a lot of the definitions of degrowth have to do with creating participatory economies, equitable societies, you know, not just focusing on the ecological sustainability but also making sure it’s very community-centric and that it’s not a top-down transition.
So Sam how do you think that we can balance making these large-scale policy shifts that Monique was talking about while also assuring that this transition isn’t like top-down and it is considering the needs and the desires of various communities?
First, I’ll just like to, I guess, unpack voluntary a little bit. And I know this is a big, slightly contested debate within the kind of degrowth space is what do we mean by voluntary? Do we mean people have the option to opt-out of like, oh, no, I’m not, I’m still continuing my life as it is now, I’m not kind of reducing consumption.
I think what voluntary means is that everyone is empowered to be part of the change, not that people can opt-in or opt-out. So I think voluntary and inclusivity is really the key.
That’s why we need these participatory approaches. This kind of deliberative processes that ensure everyone is involved in the decision making in the sector around limits and purchasing practices and volumes. So everyone has a say, and therefore can put their case forward.
Unfortunately, when you look at much of what happens in the industry, at the moment, it is very top-down. It is even in the environmental and social initiatives that are too kind of other aimed at improving things along the supply chain are always very top-down. They’re kind of like brands saying well, you need to do this, meet these criteria. You need to be certified in these ways. It’s not really a collaborative approach coming to a problem.
And so one of the things that post-growth will really require of us is this deep collaboration, this deep supply chain collaboration. We’ll need to have all the partners involved across the supply chain. Because it’s so interconnected. You can’t expect change kind of in the way we buy clothes and use clothes if we haven’t changed the whole supply chain.
So having that collaboration and building the collaborative structures, because in many ways, the fashion sector is not collaborative, it’s more competitive. And so yeah, there’ll be lots of changes in mindsets required to, to foster this deep collaboration.
There are some existing collaborative structures or multi-stakeholder platforms, as we like to call them within the sector at the moment. And, you know, they’re a good starting point. And a lot of the voluntary initiatives have come from those platforms.
But again, I think we need to start stepping away from kind of like voluntary initiatives, or voluntary compliance with social and environmental standards, because I mean, if you look particularly at labor standards, we really have seen some progress around occupational health and safety, but really limited progress on wages and working conditions for much of the sector, despite kind of 20, 30 years of efforts.
So and that’s looking at the global picture, obviously, there’s going to be pockets of good practice and where things have changed significantly, but the global picture, not a lot, unfortunately, changed.
So if we’re going to use those multi-stakeholder platforms, we need to really think about what makes good multi-stakeholder platforms, what else, what needs to be in place for all those actors to come together?
Do they need some capacity building, to allow them to participate in making those decisions or contributing? And I think that would be definitely the case. If you think of workers or union in the Global South. You know what do we need to build their capacity to so they can take their place at the table and start thinking and discussing these issues.
And we need a real mindset of change, like we really need the industry to recognize the problem and want to change and want to work together with other aspects, or the partners in the supply chain to get to get that change?
Yes, I really appreciate that sort of questioning and deep dive into the word voluntary. And I didn’t even think of that before that I was thinking more volunteer in the sense of like, citizens, like it’s a democratic process, right? It’s not like, forced upon in that sense, in that we’re, we’re voting we’re participating.
And I didn’t even think about that voluntary could also be taken in the context of like, these brands, sustainability efforts that yeah, as we’ve seen, these voluntary efforts from these big fashion brands are just really not cutting it at all. So I really appreciated that.
And then also, you were talking about bringing the workers and the communities from the global south to the table when we’re talking about post-growth fashion, which I think leads into a big question that I had for you, which is, you know, how can we ensure that a post-growth fashion future doesn’t leave out those most economically vulnerable and dependent on the fashion industry behind? What would a just transition that considers the workers and their futures look like?
Yeah, just, just transition is a big, big question. And I think in the fashion sector will be as big a change as it is, as we’re kind of talking about in the energy sector as we transition away from fossil fuels.
With any transition, it’s not necessarily a smooth transition. So I think we need to, to realize that and and plan for the transition and plan to make it just and I guess how we do that is identify where workers or enterprises in the supply chain will be negatively impacted by the changes.
And in the short term, even though well we economists has, has the overall perspective of, you know, putting people in planet first, there’s, you know, in any kind of economic system change, there’s going to be disruption. And that will also include negative impacts on certain populations and places.
So I think it’s knowing that they’re going to happen, planning for the transition, and identifying where we expect those negative impacts to happen, and making plans for those people in places to safely transition.
So in the post-growth literature, they talk about different redistributive mechanisms. And so this might include support, you know, payments, income, and investments in communities, such as in Bangladesh, so they’ve been really radically affected by the impacts of water pollution to so that they can regenerate the environment, and so they can regenerate industries and employment in other sectors.
If we did implement the Wellbeing Wardrobe Principles, then we would already be looking at, you know, a greater sharing of resources and income from the sector across the supply chain. So we might have a situation where we have less people working in the fashion sector, particularly in the production links, but those people that are better paid and have more secure and better employment. And that we have, we’ve planned for other workers in their communities to be able to be retrained or supported to find other forms of employment as well.
So yeah it’s a big, again, it will require those kind of big global institutions of economic governance to help do this. Because unless we can have that global kind of leverage, it’s hard for individual countries to take actions that will definitively ensure a just transition.
I know much of the steps that the European Union taking a kind of work walking in that direction. So you know, there’s, it’s not to say that we have to wait for the formation of these global institutions. Because it’s highly unlikely that we’ll all just get together and decide to form them, they’ll actually have to slowly evolve.
So I think the work that policymakers are doing about due diligence and changing those purchasing practices will slowly start to make that change. It’s just whether I guess the climate can wait as long.
Yeah, the last question is definitely one that weighs heavy on my mind about the climate and how we, how we make these changes in a fair way that also takes into account the urgency of our climate crisis.
But something that I wanted to bring in, to this conversation about just transition that Ayesha Barenblat of the advocacy organization, Remake, talks about is that, if we integrate living wages, paying higher wages to workers in our conversations on sustainability, the natural by-product of that will be less production.
Because right now how brands are able to produce so much and waste so much, how consumers are able to buy so much which is that the prices are artificially low. They do not take into account the true cost, the real cost of producing a garment in a, you know, sustainable and ethical way and there’s a lot to that, but wages is just such a huge part of that and it is just such an obvious way that we can tackle fashion’s social and environmental impacts in one, sort of, full swope.
And then another element I’ve been thinking about is how most garment makers work like 60-hour, 80-hour weeks, even up to 96-hour weeks according to Clean Clothes Campaign. And if, you know, if we reduce production, if we cut production in half, it not might even have to mean that garment makers lose their jobs at all, right?
If we cut from an 80-hour work week to a much more reasonable 40-hour work week, what most people in the Global North are accustomed to, then we’re sort of fixing this problem of over-working, excessive overtime, and reducing production without losing jobs.
I mean, again if we all require raising prices but I do think that there are more connections between safe fair conditions and living wages and sustainability and overproduction. I think there’s a lot more interconnections with that than what gets talked about in the mainstream fashionsphere.
But getting back to the Wellbeing Wardrobe Report, wellbeing economies, we’ve talked about such a range of issues and solutions and there was a lot there. So Taylor, as we start to round out this interview, could you share what you hope listeners take away from this conversation, like what are some of the main points that you want to sort of emphasize?
It’s a big one, I think that there’s really, there’s no denying the significant environmental and social challenges the fashion industry is facing. And really, then to build this wellbeing economy, there is a need for collaborative solutions between all industry stakeholders.
And like as consumers, we will play an important role in this transition. And for example, slow fashion is a really great place to start. And then also talking about and sharing our practices with others to help build that momentum and understanding. But at the same time, we can’t do it alone.
So really, for there to be this meaningful industry transition. This needs to be a multi-stakeholder process that Sam was talking about before. And still, while these are really big problems, that is overwhelming, it is important to also keep in mind there are pathways forward and these different strengths that we can build upon.
And with that momentum building, now really is the time for the industry to come together and start working towards this wellbeing economy for fashion.
Yeah, absolutely. And what can we do as citizens slow fashion lovers, you know, what can we do to be part of this change and the shift towards a wellbeing economy for fashion?
I think there’s lots we can do. But the biggest one would be to limit our resource use and really be consuming less. So some industry estimates put this about reducing the number of new clothes, we buy by about 75%.
So at an individual level, this means buying fewer clothes, as well as considerations about where and how we do get the garments that we feel like we need. So that could also include things like secondhand, and rental as well as some of the nonmonetary forms of exchange Monique was discussing earlier, such as swapping and borrowing.
And of course, then when we do buy clothes, thinking about slow fashion, prioritizing things like quality and classic styles, as well as focusing on taking better care of those garments that we already own, to help extend their lifespan, whether it’s mending repair, as well as things like better laundry practices. But this will also require us to have those broader societal conversations about sufficiency, or how really how much clothing is enough to live well.
In our communities and daily lives, we’ve lost so much of the kind of cultural and emotional value around our clothes. And here we can turn to our communities and networks to help rebuild a lot of those emotional connections and change how we see the value of our clothes.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s a great word like sufficiency and like enoughness instead of this constant, more, more, more, faster, faster.
And there’s just so much more that we could cover like, I could think of a million more questions for you all. But we are coming to the end of our time here. So I will close out with my final question that I’d love for each of you to answer, which is: what would a better future for fashion look like to you?
I guess I could start there. And then I know we’ve heard that before. But a better future for fashion is an industry that creates fewer but better garments that reflect the true costs of production and are valued and cared for. And really just as the garments are cared for. So too are the people that make them.
Yep, I totally agree with what Taylor has said. And I guess to add to that, I’d also like to see different cultures around fashion. So we’re mending clothes is the norm, where we have good quality clothes that can be valued, shared, passed on to others, even through generations. And also to see I’d like to see new forms of exchange flourishing. So things like repairing and sharing and swapping and so on.
Yes, definitely, all of those things. And I guess I would just like to add, you know, I think our wellbeing wardrobe is where we, you know, we look at our wardrobe and we see you know, we have this deep emotional connection to all those items of clothing and we can have an appreciation and gratitude for all the hands through those that have contributed to making those clothes and all the hands through those where those clothes will travel because I want them to have a long life.[OUTRO MUSIC]
And that’s a wrap for this week’s episode.
If you would like to learn more about wellbeing economies and fashion, definitely check out the full Wellbeing Wardrobe Report, which will be linked in the show notes.
And if you found this episode, interesting and informative, and maybe even inspirational, it would mean so much if you share this episode with a friend, maybe you get the share link, maybe you take a screenshot, or perhaps you can share on Instagram through your Instagram stories. You can find me and this podcast @consciousstyle.
And if you have been liking the Conscious Style Podcast so far, it would help the show a lot if you gave us a rating and or review on Apple podcasts. This helps me get even more amazing guests. And it also helps people find the show and hear the messages that we’re sharing here about slow and sustainable fashion. So thank you in advance. And thank you so much for tuning in to today’s episode.
I will meet you here again, same time, same place next Tuesday for another episode on slow fashion.
In the meantime, some other similar episodes that I would recommend if you like this one, are episode 11 with Ayesha Barenblat of Remake, episode 20 on How We Can Make Mending Mainstream with Josephine Phillips, and episode 45 with Arjen Laan about purchasing practices.
So I hope that you enjoy those episodes. And I’ll catch you again here next Tuesday or maybe I’ll be in your inbox on a Saturday if you’re subscribed to the newsletter. Either way, take care and I’ll see you again soon.
About Our Guests:
Dr. Samantha Sharpe
Dr Samantha Sharpe is an Associate Professor and Research Director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at University of Technology Sydney. Samantha is a highly experienced policy analyst and social researcher investigating how sustainability transitions are driving employment and labour market changes within a development context in Asia and the Pacific. She has deep expertise and extensive experience in the textile and garment sector and how social and environmental sustainability can align and accelerate transitions with research projects in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Thailand and Viet Nam.
Dr. Monique Retamal
Dr. Monique Retamal is Program Lead for Resource Stewardship at the Institute for Sustainable Futures in Sydney. She has a background in environmental engineering and social research and fifteen years’ experience undertaking research into sustainable urban systems, including for water, sanitation and solid waste. She specialises in sustainable systems of consumption and production in the Asia-Pacific region. Her research is currently focused on circular supply chains and environmental governance for packaging and textiles.
Dr. Taylor Brydges
Dr Taylor Brydges is a Research Principal at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney. Her research investigates sustainability and the transition to a circular economy in the fashion industry, including collaborative consumption, local/global production networks, textile recycling, and the impact of Covid-19 on sustainability initiatives in the fashion industry. Taylor holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies and a Master of Arts in Human Geography from the University of Toronto, Canada. In 2017, she completed her PhD in Human Geography at Uppsala University, Sweden. She has worked in Australia, Canada, Sweden and Switzerland.