Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The ongoing quest to define "Green" in the fashion world

Everyone from luxury firms to discount stores to auto manufacturers are “Going Green”. While the true Green movement has long advocated incorporating sustainable practices in order to lessen our environmental impact, the buzz around eco-conscious businesses (and lifestyles) has created an enormous gray area. Sure it’s great to hear promises of a brighter, more eco-conscious tomorrow but are these companies actually following through on their word? To answer this question we would have to define what it actually means to be Green. In the automobile industry it comes in the form of alternative fuel sources and hybrid cars. In the culinary world, Green means buying local and using organic ingredients. In real estate, Green comes in the form of solar panels and draft proof windows. While Green standards are being put in place in various industries, we eco-friendly fashionistas are curious as to what qualifies fashion as “Green”.

Since Miamore Communications represents Avni, a rising star among eco-friendly fashion designers, we were especially aware during this season’s fashion and market weeks of how many designers and manufacturers were suddenly touting their Green practices. Some were legitimately eco-friendly, some were questionable, and some were just painfully misleading. We had several conversations with industry insiders this past month debating: ‘How many precautions are enough to be considered Green?’ and ‘Do some of these Green practices outweigh other practices?’ Sure a designer could make their entire line out of organic cotton but what if that cotton is dyed with toxic chemicals? A designer could buy locally and support their local economy but then package their clothing in wasteful materials and physically damage that very community they supported economically. Our conclusion: with all this “Green” confusion, consumers and buyers the fashion world need a standard. So, we were thrilled this week to read in the New York Times, WWD and other media that the fashion industry is taking a step toward such a standard… or at the very least, adding some transparency and clarity about “Green” claims… with the formation of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition was started by eco-conscious leaders from global apparel and footwear companies, along with environmental and social organizations. The long list of impressive founding members includes a range of companies and organizations, from Gap and Nordstrom and Duke University to H&M and Walmart. The coalition was founded on the belief that sustainable, eco-friendly apparel has a positive impact on people and communities. But it is faced with quite a large task in developing a way to measure and evaluate the sustainability of apparel. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s desired outcome of putting into place a standard sustainable apparel index requires measuring improvements in water use and quality, energy and Greenhouse gas emission, minimizing waste, chemicals and toxicity and creating positive labor environments and social effects.

Although the organization has been operating for less than a year, there is already great buzz in the apparel industry on how they will transform the “Green” fashion world. The index will give designers the knowledge and tools that they need to create Green products (and buyers the understanding of just how “Green” a design firm truly is). With this focus on what needs to be done for a designer to be considered sustainable, we hope that more time can also be spent on developing technology and research that can contribute to the “Green” apparel movement.

Going “Green” may be trendy at the moment but, in reality, it is a necessity and is becoming a way of life. We look forward to what organizations like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition have in store for not only the environment but for the future of the fashion.

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