What does the title even mean? Well, it means a fashion industry where clothes are produced in an ethical and environmentally friendly way, where the fashion creators make financial profit and where the clothes are still affordable and attractive for the customers.
After four years of thorough research on sustainability in each step of the fashion chain, on fashion systems and on clothes psychology, I had decided to share my finding with the world. Last Thursday was the perfect day for that. My book, on which I had spent eight months writing, rewriting, correcting with the help of great people around me, and fine-tuning until the very last minute before it was sent for printing, was finally ready. I presented my solutions for the polluting and harming industry of today to more than hundred people from the fashion industry at Hotel Droog. The title of the book is “Paradigm Shift in Fashion” and that is exactly what I wanted to achieve during the evening. My suggestion is to revolutionize the fashion industry of today when it comes to the way clothes are designed, produced, presented, offered to the customers and disposed. You can imagine that my solutions might have sounded rather radical to people who are working in the existing fashion industry for ten – fifteen years.
I knew that it would certainly be the case. I knew that the visitors might find my ideas amazing, inspiring, innovative, but also ridiculous and naïve. So to make sure that I would receive all the reactions, I provided each visitor with a small booklet and a pen to write everything down that went through their minds. At the end of the book launch I kindly asked them to hand in the booklets so that I would know what they thought and what their motivations were for embracing or rejecting my concept.
But what are we talking about here?
What is the concept and why do we even need anything to change in the fashion industry?
Thirty percent of clothes produced today is never sold. One of the main reasons for this is that those clothes are undesirable by the customers. And the fact that a brand didn’t know that in advance is because there is no dialogue between fashion brands and customers. The brand, and also the retailers, don’t personally know their customers and offer clothes based on assumptions. Those assumptions create a tremendous risk for those designs to never be sold or only be sold in sale. Thirty to forty percent of clothing produced is only sold with great discounts. This situation naturally puts an enormous financial pressure on the fashion brands. It is then not surprising that they choose for cheaper textiles and manufacturing, while being prepared to spend a lot of money on marketing to make sure that their clothes will catch the attention of consumers and result in purchases. The clothes that are being sold, have lost their quality over the years and wear out fast, which means that the consumers need to come back more often to the shop to get new clothes. This might sound as a good thing, but in reality it is not. Five percent of the total landfill exists out of textiles, guess what the reason might be…
The abuse of clothing production workers to satisfy consumers’ short-term desires while at the same time creating a tremendous amount of pollution only for the sake of financial rewards is mildly expressed ignorant and unethical.
After the first years of my research I understood that fashion could only be environmentally friendly and ethical if everybody involved in the fashion chain would benefit from the change. Therefor I developed a design system of creating desirable clothes and a new business model that makes it possible for marketing to bring money in instead of costing money.
How do you make desirable clothes?
My design system helps to connect consumers and fashion brands, produce high quality ethical clothes and work without creating waste. It consists of 5 steps.
In the first step a fashion brand listens to their future customers to understand their needs, problems and desires. Social media has made it very easy to communicate with a large group of people, so that can be used here as well.
The fashion brand then analysis the received information. In this second step the brand develops design solutions and shares those with their community for feedback on aesthetics and practicalities.
In the third step fashion brands make the first samples of the designs and give those to their audience for trying out. People who will wear the samples can offer valuable insights for eliminating mistakes.
Only after those 3 steps, when the fashion brand makes sure that their designs are successful, can they proceed to ordering a full batch production from the factory.
The final step of the design system is honest communication with the consumers about how the fashion brand is working and why. Honest and personal contact will helps to build a community and improve the collections in time.
According to my design system, ideas can be tested with the consumers on many criteria, before the full production batch is ordered. That will eliminate overproduction of unwanted clothes, the thirty percent that I mentioned earlier. That alone would already result in less pollution, but wait. The brand can even go further and produce clothes intelligently in a closed loop. This means that the brand would reuse and recycle the clothes they have created after consumers no longer want them.
If you are getting stressed about the price tag, don’t worry!
I suggest fashion brands to use a different business model. The main changes would be that they reduce the marketing expenses and the profit margin without losing money. In turn they invest in services and a clean and high quality production. Clean production means that the way textiles and clothes are created would not harm people and the environment. So how would this work?
Marketing today costs a lot of money spent on advertisement and fashion shows meant to seduce consumers. But when a brand has a dialogue with its customers and delivers clothes that actually meet their expectations and desires, superficial seduction is no longer necessary. Each brand will have its own community. That community will keep growing when the brand does a good job.
The profit margins that today are calculated can also decrease significantly. The margin is higher than necessary because the retailers and brand want to earn their investment back, even if clothes would only sell in sale and if thirty percent does not get sold at all. The design system makes it possible to know in advance that clothes are going to sell, and that eliminating uncertainty and risks.
A part of the budget that now has not been spent on expensive marketing and the production of unwanted clothes, can be invested in high quality clothes, ethical and environmentally friendly production and services towards the consumer.
Finally clothes don’t need to only be sold once, they can also be loaned and sold second hand. By borrowing clothes, customers would be able to try out greatly designed clothes and see if they really fit with the rest of their wardrobe and their lifestyle without spending a lot of money. For the fashion creators this option is financially profitable too. First of all this offers exposure. Instead of these clothes stay hanging in the shop, while the fashion brand is spending money on marketing, people who have paid to borrow them, will now wear them to different places and events. This way clothes might spontaneously catch other people’s eye and result in new customers. Did you notice that marketing shifted from costing money to bringing money in in this new situation?
The brand would also have more clients per piece, resulting in a higher financial profit per item in time.
What I am suggesting for the fashion brand is to shift their focus from making profit, to creating value and contribution. The result will then not only be the financial profit, but also a good conscious, great environment and loyal customers.
As I did at the book launch, also here I would like to ask you to share your questions, remarks and compliments with me by leaving your reaction below.
Let’s take bigger steps towards a better fashion industry together.
* Photography Noortje Knulst