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Fashion: The Sustainability Issue


Baby Food Talk or Serious Reflection for Action? Asks A. Vouyouka, FCFI, FTI, Clothing Technologist Expert…

A. Sustainability issue background

The Fashion Sustainability issue has been around for some time. However, the meaning and the factors that may be affecting it are still unclear. Companies despite the great economic and environmental issues involved, still address it like a sudden flood. They drain the basement, but they have not yet addressed or even identified the reasons why their draining system does not work! As a result, recycling, land-filing or second level stores are the attempts to minimise loss, and apply some damage control.

Retail and generally the fashion industry is plagued by the practice and even at the best brand names all over the world, overproduction, unsold garments and great stock leftovers, lead to piles of burning, and land-filling in tens of hundreds of tones every year.

Consumer dissatisfaction, is expressed by not buying everything served. Chaotic sizing and poor design interpretation, lead to unwanted products on sale. Trends do not represent reality any more and have phased out. Uncertainty is the reality for both designers and companies!

This fact has led to hundreds even thousands of closures of big and long standing company names in the USA and in Europe…(Retail Dive, bankruptcy lists 18/19).

There have been formed committees and specialist groups that try to investigate the reasons, the causes, and find probable solutions. However, after almost 10-years now, of slow developing awareness, neither the industry, education, or technology have even scratched the surface of the reasons for failing to satisfy customers, or help young students to get the skills necessary.

That means that every attempt to apply or impose solutions or changes that do not respond to the real reasons are a waste of time and resources. More dangerously they perpetuate the problem.

Now a British thorough report WRAP has come to the conclusions below:

(The Environmental Audit Committee that investigates the social and environmental impact of disposable ‘fast fashion’ and the wider clothing industry, of the British Parliament).

1.Design Process Role on Fashion,

(80% of the Impact of a Garment happens at the Design Stage, WRAP Report)

2.Industry ‘s (Retail & Manufacture) Role on Fashion,

(There are large economic benefits if strategic sectors pursue new business models aggressively, in order to bring about a more sustainable way of working, Alexandra Woods ,Wrap Report) and,

3. Education’s Role on Fashion, and the above Freelance UK: ‘Fashion skills not being tailored to jobs

B. Design’s and Education’s Role in the fashion outcomes

It is a good sign it has been identified for the first time that DESIGN is very important and that 80% of the impact of a garment happens at the Design Stage.

What does this mean?

It means that DESIGN is being seen as the holistic process that it is. It means that Sizing, Garment Fit, Fabric Performance, and Related Assembly are paramount to succeed in Design.

Does this happen now days?

Are there skilled people to deliver that?

Do young Designers come with any of these skills that are very important to the design they want to make?

Do they learn the language of communicating their skills to others, who are expected to translate their ideas?

Does such a language exist?

I suppose most of the answers will be NO, so what kind of communication does design have in Fashion?

We presented such conclusions in academic papers at international conferences throughout this decade. In those, we attempted to raise awareness and bring forward the issue of garment fit, skills lack, and education in Clothing Design…

(Digitally creative the future of creative pattern Cutting, Rebecca ryder –Caddy, Creative Pattern Making, a Challenge for Education and Training, A Vouyouka, ToyBox or ToolBox? Is Fashion Education merely an expensive hobby? A Vouyouka)

It is now understood starting 20-years ago, that young fashion students do not to, or cannot get properly involved with the clothing part of design. In most situations they are not trained to do that. However the impact of subjects like Design, Product Development processes, unidentified Consumers’ needs, and unmoderated Technology in Fashion is misunderstood and addressed with ignorance and total confusion.

So we witness that:

Design is misrepresented, as it happens now.

It has lost its strong hold of control of the processes!

This has led to confusion in both Production Processes and Education.

Development of a system for sustainable fashion from recycled clothes- Based on U.S. fashion brands – University Korea, Cornell Univ.USA

Promises for AI solutions, may help some parts of activities in fashion, but they should not be expected to cover all that is needed. There are suggestions that companies can rely on 3D design, 3D sampling, 3D prototyping and Artificial Intelligence to cut down on waste. How far from reality this is!!

We need to remember:

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.” – Archilochus

We should by now, know how to make proper use of the available technology to our best interest!!

Studies have accepted that…‘There’s no doubt that ‘AI’ is super-hyped these days. Endless opinions abound, institutions and startups alike claim AI super-powers…But just don’t scratch the surface with most, or you might be disappointed.’

We need to acknowledge and accept the hard truth, that young people should get the skills that empower them to deliver the tasks they are called to perform, as early as possible.

They face the challenge to save the industry, the planet, and the economy without proper weapons but distanced from any realistic media or targets.

C. Product development realities in Collection Design& Industry’s role

To understand the design’s role we should check fashion design as it is being taught and as is it is being applied in companies. It will be clear then, where the problem with fashion industry lies. This impact of lack of design true to itself is huge and very decisive to achieving consumer satisfaction and sales.

This holistic process design has been neglected and misunderstood to a level of full confusion today.

The current scattered process of design implementation, is below:

In any company a collection or a number of designs are being prepared either by one or a number of young and fresh graduates, with some supervision.

Their ideas are usually presented in excellent illustrations. These ideas may be accompanied by a tech sheet. However, this info is not enough to illuminate or inform the team that is called to make the sample.

This clothing technology & sample team that is located either in an eastern European country or in an Asian one, or even in the same country, tries to interpret to the best of their understanding and ability, how to translate the beautiful drawing they have in front of them.

This usually proves not possible and a number of samples and exchanges comes forth and back with courier service, until some agreement, but mainly a compromise, is reached, usually by over-simplifying the design idea.

Result: Waste is generated through unwanted garments due to inefficient design. So here we see the lack of the common language that could make sense to all, in action. Besides the unwanted final products, great waste is generated at the design process, in the studio, during this ineffective process of sketches and samples coming and going. The size of this is neither identified, or documented. This is due to design details confusion, and uncertainties about most of the making details, during the process described above.

Common Language and understanding is totally missing. No need to go into further details , but this process whether it happens in London, New York, Paris or in any other city in the world, is the same.

A recent article at Retail Dive, “Why are fashion supply chains so wasteful?” touches the subject of in studio wastefulness which becomes greater all the time, even before going to the store house or touching the shop floor!

So even at the first level of direct communication a Babylon situation prevails! Young designers of the world are taught how to draw garments beautifully, but they have very rarely the chance to make one themselves or one that fits a real person!

In our search for sustainability solutions it is vital that the impact of the Design Process Model cannot and should not be underestimated under the existing paradigm. In traditional processes art & craft were one process. (See ‘the Greek word Art [ΤΕΧΝΗ] meant Art & Technology / Craft.) However, the illusion of the Virtual Reality paradigm of the last years, distances our young from skills and crafts and gets them frustrated, equally with consumers and companies.

As a result, we have all three parties dissatisfied! Why then nothing happens to remedy this? In addition to confusion and ignorance, cost of retraining, experimenting and making mistakes is not picked up by anyone.

So any change, when there is still uncertainty of processes, cannot even start.

Here comes the responsibility of the company not only to invest, but also to educate itself to be able to evaluate solutions. This challenge does not seem to be taken seriously. Random technologies that very few understand, are invested in, and applied but in the same limited approach. This is how we end up with randomly designed unwanted garments.

The Design Process is important as it influences the product development process and the final outcome, affecting image, size, fit and shape of the product. As it happens now, there is no connection in the designers mind between all these nor it is demanded as part of the design process.

Instead somebody else is expected to provide this. Designers should be able to make the patterns they design for and understand the limits of real fitting on real people.

In addition to drawing and technical skills they need to know the design communication language. A language simple, easy for all and visually accurate to all, clear of virtual reality illusions, targeting to create real garments for real people.

D. Call for reality check and action

Many advise that Retailers should change their business model. This is true even more,as the current Design Process blurs the choice priorities for companies and influences the business model decisions. Understanding it, can determine the dramatic changes to be made to avoid waste, and bring profit.

Companies and designers should be able to address the confusion for Sizing, Pattern Fit, Original Style details, Making up details, Grading details in relation to their customer base.

This lies neither in virtual reality nor in head scratching for inspiration. We dress in Real garments and not in Virtual ones. We can only connect to them on the real human body.

To achieve it with success, it requires practical hands on involvement, from the first to the last stage.

The last 20-years of design and technology super hype have conveniently pacified both education and company marketing sectors, while there were still available skilled technologists to cover the industry needs. Now this is gone! Real and comprehensive design process is the main key to sustainability.

A call for action on Design & Education ReDesigning, is vital for Sustainability!

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