|Business Models On The Catwalk|
“Just like the first industrial revolution started in the fashion industry, so will the second that leads us to sustainability.” (William McDonough and Michael Braungart, authors of Cradle to Cradle)
NO, NO, NO was the word popping all over Victor & Rolf's last collection. Whether painted on the models’ faces or embossed in 3D on a jacket, it was time for a catwalk statement: NO to the disposable culture of fast fashion.
And V&R are not the only ones saying NO; in late August, the House of Lords condemned this mentality as a major factor in Britain's swelling pile of domestic waste. The high profile report issued by the House of Lords Science Committee was unequivocal, fuming about a culture that “encourages consumers to dispose of clothes which have only been worn a few times in favor of new, cheap garments.”
Some designers contribute in raising awareness in this devastating industry simply by choosing to create differently. One example is Graeme Black who recently stated in The New York Times: “When I started the business, I wanted to do something that had quality and durability and is timeless”. Black provides his clients with a wardrobe that builds upon previous pieces, rather than sharply changing from season to season. This idea is the core thinking of many ethical designers who prove that it’s possible to look amazing without being a victim of fashion trends.
As a highly visible industry, fashion is a great way to actually show how business can be done differently. By purchasing and wearing eco fashion, you express your desire for sustainability every time you put something on. Wouldn’t it be great to always wear garments from companies whose business practices are as beautiful as the long-legged models wearing them on the catwalk? Behind every fashion label there is a vision, a mission and a business model that bears the questions: “are we moving towards a more ethical business model?” Is it just a matter of buying soy fabric to keep up with a trend, since we’re hearing ad nauseam that “green is the new black”? Or is there more going on behind the scenes?
Big brands like Marks&Spencer, Nike and H&M are examples of companies that are trying to make a difference. With the help of organizations like Organic Exchange and Made-By they work on developing more transparent, fair and environmentally friendly production chains. The challenge begins at the farmer level. Many farmers don’t have the resources to switch to organic crops. Brands often have to find their group of farmers themselves, commit to buying their raw material and support them in the process of getting organic certification.
Currently the industry is suffering from uneven cycles: sometimes there is too much organic cotton on the market, if farmers can’t sell it, they might switch back to conventional cotton or other crops. This is very bad for the market because the demand is rising as more consumers want to buy organic products. Further up in the production chain, labels struggle with similar issues: finding the right suppliers, building long-term relationships with them and getting the activities certified. The challenge for the different stakeholders is to work together on boosting innovation while developing sustainable chains.
The “war on commodities” pushes companies to develop long-term contracts to secure their input of raw materials. This renewed perspective of how to deal with the actors in the chain might have them start using the expression “value chain” instead of “supply chain”. This process as well as the notion that sustainable pricing is becoming a common concept, holds promises for the future.
In the meantime, individual designers are dealing with other issues, like sourcing the small quantities they need to create their lines. These eco-preneurs don’t have the resources mentioned before but are still actors in this dynamic eco fashion world. In their quest for alternative solutions, they are learning to share resources and create networks and alliances. And this little shift is big news for an industry that normally switches suppliers as fast as it change trends.
We’re bound to wonder: with so many challenges to overcome, why are the new green fashion entrepreneurs launching into this risky business. Do they start their brand fired by strong values? Are they trying to break away from a conventional career path to do something fun while “saving the planet”? Is their main drive the money that they foresee in the long run since this is such a growth industry? Are they all fancying themselves the next Annita Roddick who changed the way we look at natural cosmetics with The Body Shop? Is it to leave a healthy planet for their children (like so many young mothers who launched their brands following the birth of their firs child)? Or is it still, as Noir’s Peter Ingwersen likes to joke, all about sex? Does it even matter?
Whatever researchers will find out by studying this community, most actors themselves will probably not even think that they are developing a new paradigm of doing business. They are simply trying to survive in a field that is becoming as competitive as the conventional fashion industry. Eco fashion pioneers have many reasons to start their business but they are, in fact, creating a community and clearing the path for a new way of doing business: responsibly and profitably. And that’s something that Braungart and McDonough would definitely be proud of, in fact they might just shout a resounding: YES, YES, YES!
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