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[Sustainable Future] Green is new black as environment leads fashion world

The smart set, it turns out, wants to save the planet too

Oct 28,2019
Top left: A model wears clothing made only from neoprene and manufactured by PARTsPARTs. Right and left: Models showcase the green Beanpole collection from the casual brand’s 2019 fall and winter collection. [PARTSPARTS, SAMSUNG C&T]
PARTsPARTs is a women’s high-end fashion brand built on the concept of zero waste. The collection is made with neoprene and with the intention of not producing any excess in the manufacturing process.

According to Im Seon-oc, the brand’s creative designer, she hopes to make clothes people can wear every day, just like an “undershirt sold at Dongdaemun.”

“We’re living in a world where demand and supply overflow,” said Im at a sustainable session held at Dongdaemun Design Plaza, central Seoul, during Seoul Fashion Week last week. “That explains why modern consumption patterns have made fashion and the environment inseparable.”

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, fashion may be the world’s second most polluting industry, after oil. Boston-based McKinsey says nearly three-fifths of all clothing produced ends up in incinerators or landfills within a few years of being made. In the same report, the consultancy argues washing and drying 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of clothing over its entire life cycle creates 11 kilograms of greenhouse gases. The global consumption of fiber materials hit 11.4 kilograms per capita as of 2016, according to a report from Lausanne, Switzerland-based Quantis, an environmental sustainability consulting group.

With fast fashion identified as a major cause of pollution, it has become essential for labels to evaluate the environmental costs of their businesses. A growing number of brands are developing strategies to design, manufacture and distribute clothes in eco-friendly ways.

This way of making clothes creates additional challenges.

“Using a single material to design clothes could limit a designer’s ability to follow the trend,” said Im. “It’s also tough to make seasonal clothes with just a single material. We take on the challenges by adding layers over layers to make winter clothes and embedding eye-catching designs to make them look less dull. Though challenging, there are solutions.”

Im added, “We can’t encourage consumers to buy our clothes just because they are made with good intentions. Sustainable fashion brands first need to make consumers choose us for the design, and then help them realize that the clothes are made in a sustainable method, not the other way around.”

The effort to go sustainable is global, joined by big luxury fashion houses.

Chanel in June purchased a minority stake in Evolved by Nature, a green chemistry firm working to replace toxic chemicals and develop sustainable materials, while Prada in May joined other fashion houses, like Mulberry and Gucci, in the fur-free movement. Stockholm-based fast fashion brand H&M started selling second-hand and vintage items in April.

“As consumers become more informed about the damaging impact of fashion on the environment, industry players face increasing pressure to take a stance on ethical issues, such as animal cruelty,” said Nina Marston, Fashion & Beauty analyst at Euromonitor International. This is especially true as young consumers who have risen as the leading consumers have a strong tendency to shop from brands that share their interests and values, according to Marston.

Ulkin is a domestic upcycling fashion label that makes bags with the canvas of paintings that were about to be thrown away. By cooperating with lesser-known artists, the brand says it upcycles materials as well and gives the artists exposure. Ulkin uses some of its profits to hold exhibitions featuring the works of the artists.

Not Ours is a vegan fashion start-up that makes clothes without the use of animal products, including fur, cashmere and pearls. Instead, it utilizes imitation animal materials, like fake leather.

“As part of the effort to make fashion sustainable, we introduce basic clothes that don’t follow trends so that our consumers can wear them for many years,” said Shin Ha-na, brand marketer for the start-up that launched the service in February last year. Shin, however, admitted to using disposable materials like plastics to make clothes.

Vegan Tiger is an eco-friendly fashion brand launched in 2015 with similar intentions.

Though not as aggressive, bigger local brands are also joining the effort.

Hazzys from LF announced in September that it introduced an “Ecoful” lineup targeting women who actively make eco-friendly purchases, like buying electric cars.

The primary materials Hazzys uses for the lineup are recycled poly - a man-made fabric produced from PET and polyester fabrics - and micro Tencel, an eco-friendly cotton substitute. The fashion label said it applied eco-friendly production methods, like solvent recycling and the utilization of eco-friendly water repelling agents, to save water and energy as well as reduce the level of carbon dioxide emission.

“With the lineup, we hope to offer diversity in terms of not just colors and designs in our clothes, but also materials for consumers who are increasingly making smarter consumption decisions,” said a spokesperson for LF. “But our goal with the lineup isn’t to promote our brand as eco-friendly, because that would imply that rest of our clothing is harming the environment.”

In the move to reduce waste, Top 10 in March replaced plastic and vinyl shopping bags with so-called corn bags. Made of corn starch, the bags are biodegradable, disintegrating after a year of being exposed to the sunlight, according to the domestic fast fashion brand.

Hyundai Motor also joined the ongoing fashion movement by upcycling leftover leather from car seats and turning it into designer clothes. The automaker in September hosted Re:Style, an upcycling fashion event collection, with New York-based fashion brand Zero + Maria Cornejo.

“The growing influence of social network services has alerted companies of the need to raise transparency of company management and connection with consumers,” said Seo Yong-gu, a professor of business at Sookmyung Women’s University. “The social recognition has made it difficult for even major firms without a proper social agenda to succeed. How companies grow has become just as important as their performance.”

[ULKIN]
The environmental recognition is especially notable among younger people.

“On top of millennials, Generation Z’s demand for a company to be operated ethically has become particularly notable,” said a spokesperson for Style Share, a fashion social media start-up that also sells fashion items. “Generation Z is able to honestly speak out about what’s socially wrong because the online age and the popularity of influencers has shown them that getting employed is not the only way to get a paycheck.”

Generation Z refers to people born after the mid-1990s, while millennials are people born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s.

The fashion industry is closely connected with environmental issues in diverse ways, but many fashion companies often simply focus on designing clothes using eco-friendly materials, according to Prof. Park Ju-hee, who teaches fashion design at Kookmin University.

“A lot of strong chemicals and water are used in the process of dyeing clothes and in the finishing stage to ensure the colors don’t leave a stain on the buyer’s skin. The polluted water is then discharged into the drain.” Park added, “Although we are still in the initial phase, fashion labels have started to realize that eco-friendly is no longer just a trend, but something they are obliged to tackle.”

On top of having released a green Beanpole collection for women’s wear for the fall and winter season, Samsung C&T’s casual fashion brand got rid of the dyeing process for its new bags.

Last week, Beanpole introduced to reporters women’s bags that have been made without using water. According to Beanpole, it melts polyvinyl chloride (PVC) compound chips on threads to add colors to the bags without the use of dyes.

“Going eco-friendly has become inevitable in the fashion industry,” said Alex Bang, team leader of Beanpole Accessory. “But manufacturing items using eco-friendly materials and designs usually costs a lot more since it requires additional manufacturing and time. The problem is whether consumers can accept that increased price.”

The bags are part of the brand’s spring and summer collection.

Also important to make fashion sustainable is the consumer awareness.

“The desire to have something exciting and new is always going to be there,” said Michael Ferraro, director of the FIT/Infor DTech Lab, at a Seoul Fashion Week event. “We need to resist the programming that we are subjected to so we actually make informed decisions about what is good and what we feel is righteous and purposeful. And not respond to an individual marketing message, which is driving their particular point.”

BY JIN MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]


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