The n°1 thing
to make sustainable fashion more transparent
and circular

Sara Francesca Lisot
January 13, 2020

What is the most upsetting in the sustainability of fashion? It's the absence of rules, right? Some parameters are set for ethical working conditions and CO2 saving manufacture processes and they are owned by private certifying bodies. Globally, there is a lack of fashion sustainability standards. This is not helping the recovery of an industry highly impacted by COVID-19.

If we take a look back, fashion industry used to be ruled by a handful of big brands that dictated standards about style, palette, textiles, shopping needs and sustainability. With the advent of the internet and the exponential growth of online shopping a grass-root movement of independent designers and artisans got into the spotlight, as now anyone
could sell anything to anywhere in the world.

Each individual got the opportunity to express their creativity through fashion design and to re-explore the good old practices of sustainability, which often means artisanally and locally made with redeemed or upcycled materials. This led to a not-so-symphonic chorus of voices, each with their own understanding and interpretation of the abstract concept of "sustainable fashion." Shall it be durable? Shall it be a-seasonal? Shall it be inclusive, a-gender, socially impactful, zero-waste, biodegradable, or...?

We, the people working for and loving sustainability, created an unruled jungle of terminologies and conflicting priorities which is difficult to grasp for the insiders, let alone for the outsiders trying to get it. Like walking into a Costa Rica natural park, their attention is caught by every delightful sound, color and feather they see. They are surrounded by options of "becoming sustainable" and they all look great, shiny and with a big promise of boosting up their sales charts.

That's why the new must for sustainability in fashion is full supply chain traceability,which is a step further than transparency. Transparency is a matter of company communication and disclosure, whereas traceability is reliable as far as technology can go (AI, blockchain, bacteria analysis, and more). We have all seen what happened to the first "most transparent company" in the US, so now we know we cannot stop at company declarations and letters of intent.

What the system is desperately calling for right now is a conceptual revolution on how we see, produce and consume fashion. We need a conceptual reinterpretation of fashion to shift from individual-based to community-based. To shift from dearly owned to dearly worn - for one night or a life season.

As humans, we are inherently "circular" in the way we daily meet our biological needs and the cycle(s) of life we go through. Digestion, healing, pro-creation... they are all processes where the available resources are accurately optimized, disassembled, transformed and re-used into new value cycles. Waste is a foreign concept to the Earth, as much as Nature is a man-made concept that was made up to create a degree of separation from who we are and the places we live in.

Only, now we know there is no such degree of separation. We are where we live and we live who we are. Circular economy is not odd, is not distant or out of reach and - above all - it is not fundamentally new. Go ask the farmers and the traditional crafters if there wasn't a circular economy approach to their business and resources management.

Forward-thinking brands and fashion professionals are exploring new products and business models that seamlessly integrate with the environment they were projected for and the people they were supposed to serve.

If we can make new yarn happen out of ocean plastics (and tons of other innovative sustainable materials from jellyfish, mushrooms, wine, fruits, etc.) we do not need to wait for technology to develop any further. We do need our imagination, though, to develop a lot faster. In order to make circular products and sharing business models to be the new norm, everywhere, we need a conceptual revolution both on the producers and on the consumers sides.

Among all the forms of manmade arts, fashion has always been the means by which the societal spirit and values of a time were expressed. Our values as a society have changed. Especially now, that we are confronting an environmental, socio-political, economical and health crisis altogether. A thriving future for fashion cannot be but the expression of staple values of the new generations: continuous interconnectedness,
care for the environment and care for humanity.

Sara Francesca Lisot is a life coach and start-up founder based in Italy.  Her social impact start-up 'VeryImportantChoice.com' was the first one in the world offering clothes rental solely from sustainable and ethical brands locally sourced. VIC empowers people to make better informed choices for their sustainable fashion purchases. They also consult companies on sustainability parameters, circularity, blockchain traceability and PAAS business models.

All photos via Unsplash.