What is the Biggest Challenge Facing Sustainable Fashion Today?

by , 10/08/09   filed under: Ask a Designer, Green Designers

John Patrick working in his studio

John Patrick of Organic in his studio.

One of the biggest challenges today for designers and producers is the lack of readily available credit. In the past 18 months, we have witnessed a shrinking of the money flow. I was with the director of a think tank yesterday and I told him that it was imperative that we immediately set up a “grameen”-type of funding bank so that each season, emerging and growing businesses can access small loans to be repaid by the end of the shipping cycle. A first-time borrower, for example, would be able to access $2,500, which would be paid back within a specified time frame. This would vastly help the manufacturers and creatives by opening up some credit.


John Patrick Organic Fall/Winter 2009 Collection

Photo by Don Ashby/Style.com

A NEW ECONOMY

With the possible bankruptcy and restructuring of a giant financial entity looming overhead as I write this, I believe that as a community we absolutely need to pull together and arrange this emergency financing immediately. Countless people with incredible ideas languish because they are not able to access the necessary funds to enter the marketplace. Growth in our industry usually means that a business is expected to grow by 20 to 30 percent, or even more rapidly, often with no thought to the integrity of the brand.

Countless people with incredible ideas languish because they are not able to access the necessary funds to enter the marketplace.

And then when the goods don’t sell at retail, the designer is forced to take them back and turn around to sell them to a “discounter,” further extending the cycle of “more for less.” This obviously doesn’t work.

The distribution channels are clogged with an oversupply of merchandise that no one really needs or wants. The pullback that happened with the “financial crisis” has actually helped the oversupply situation, and I predict that we will actually see less merchandise going into the “off price” tunnel, which will actually help full-price sales since consumers will once again happily pay a fair price for something that is made well.

John Patrick Organic Fall/Winter 2009 Collection

Photo by Don Ashby/Style.com

ESCAPE THE GREEN BOX

On a broader note, I think that the biggest challenge will be for sustainable designers to understand that the world is their marketplace and that education is a key tool we all need to use to grow and further our work. Years ago, I met a woman who took the waste from organic flax seed and turned it into certified-organic linen. It is this type of deep thought and experimentation that challenges me. In short, the challenge is to push our work further out of the green box and join the artistic mainstream.

Sustainable designers need to understand that the world is their marketplace and that education is key.

If there was a “single largest obstacle,” it would be the continued isolation and separation of the organic, ethical, sustainable, and local fashion movement, which prohibits it from entering into the mainstream chain of retailers both small and large. This has been hampered by the advent of the global “economic crisis” that has run roughshod over so many businesses of all sizes.

Conversely, however, the past 18 months has seen a groundswell of new designers and small businesses setting up shop, which is just what’s supposed to happen in these economic downturns—the entrepreneurs jumpstart the local economies wherever they happen to land, and flourish.

John Patrick Organic Fall/Winter 2009 Collection

Photo by Don Ashby/Style.com

PERSONAL BEST

As a designer, one of the biggest hurdles for me over the years has been to accept the impermanence of fashion and design, yet also embrace the lasting influences of our work. When I fully recognize that I am part of a bigger chain and that I am partly responsible for supporting all of the people involved in the garment-making process, it actually becomes easier. I realize that I’m part of a bigger picture, and I’m helping things along to the best of my ability.

When the day comes that all of the stores are filled with ethical, organic garments and beautiful handmade things, I will know that our movement has succeeded.

This is, in fact, the thing that pushes me forward each day and enables me to be enthusiastic about new projects, ideas, and people. When that “same old stuff” feeling surfaces, I have to give myself a reality check—an ego check!

When the day comes that all of the stores are filled with locally produced, ethical and organic garments and beautiful handmade things, I will know that our movement and words have succeeded. For that, I will be eternally grateful to the people who dilligently worked before us and opened up the channels of communication so that my generation and the next can keep growing.

+ John Patrick Organic

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2 Responses to “What is the Biggest Challenge Facing Sustainable Fashion Today?”

  1. […] Ecouterre Asks what is the biggest challenge facing sustainable fashion today? […]

  2. melody says:

    Kiva.org – the micro loan organization that has worked in the third world, has starting offering US micro-loans for the first time; eco-fashion would be a good venue for them to tap into designer-makers struggling through the recession. :-)

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