SLOW FASHION – Opportunities and Obstacles for More Sustainability in Clothing Production and Consumption

Photo: Patrick Slesonia

Photo: Patrick Slesonia

 

Hanover University of Applied Sciences and Arts, 7 March 2018

Within the framework of a day-long closing event for the project Slow Fashion, which was sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the central findings were presented in terms of a) innovations for sustained development from the areas of design, technology and business models as well as b) the potential for more sustainability in clothing consumption. With respect to this project devoted to Slow Fashion, sustainable clothing consumption was defined as 1. the conscious (and limited) purchase of environmentally and socially compatible clothing and 2. the prolonged use of clothes, including post-purchase further use in the form of exchange, second-hand sales or upcycling. 

In the first presentation from the block “Innovation for Sustainable Clothing”, Prof. Martina Glomb and Beatrix Landsbek (Fashion Design program, Hanover University of Applied Sciences and Arts) showed where the value chain for textiles can be addressed by designers in order to make the production process more sustainable and prolong the useful life of clothes. They stressed that some rethinking will be necessary on the corporate side of things, and that education and teaching will require changes as well. In other words, sustainability must be firmly anchored in the curriculum. 

In a presentation on innovations in the textile industry, Kai Nebel (Faculty of Textiles and Design, Reutlingen University) addressed a subject that had been revealed in the research: the weak points that appear in garments such as T-shirts, dress shirts, sweatshirts, jeans and cycling jackets after prolonged use. The life expectancy of clothing depends to some extent on textile-technical factors: material quality, thread, weave, seams, dyes and additional accessories. But of course, intensity of use and care on the part of consumers are decisive as well.

Birte Freudenreich (Centre for Sustainability Management, Leuphana University Lüneburg) outlined which business models companies can adopt to make a contribution to longer, more intensive use of clothing. She presented a tool that had been developed over the course of the project. This tool can be used to create slow-fashion business models. Moreover, Freudenreich discussed approaches for marketing. 

In the block “Potential for More Sustainability in Clothing Consumption”, Dr. Silke Kleinhückelkotten (ECOLOG Institute for Social and Ecological Research and Education) first presented the central findings from a representative survey carried out as part of the project. The purpose of this survey was to determine the diffusion potential for sustainable consumption alternatives and to identify not only approaches to the promotion of sustainable behaviour in the garment industry, but also to recognize relevant target groups for (social) marketing action. Consumers from well-educated, high-income social milieus form an important target group, for many of these people stand out in that they have high consumption levels and are open to sustainably produced clothing. Younger milieus show the greatest potential for increased use with the possibility of swapping and borrowing clothes or buying clothing second-hand. Prof. Dr. Gundula Hubner (MSH Medical School Hamburg) concentrated her presentation on the significance of social norms as a factor that can influence clothing consumption. Furthermore, she spoke of the vital role played by selfish motives in marketing and stressed that it is important to focus on personal advantages (e.g. the fun of swapping and recombining clothes, health benefits, status). 

 

The three concurrent forums saw around 60 participants from companies, academia, publishing, government and the media. The following questions were discussed: 

A) How can consumers be won over to the idea of making their clothing consumption more sustainable?

B) How can the implementation of sustainability-directed innovations be promoted in processes of design and production?

C) What factors could affect the success or failure of Slow-Fashion business models?

These questions led to some discussion from practice.

In Forum A, Kathrin Krause (Federation of German Consumer Organizations) initiated a discussion on whether it is not actually the task of politicians and corporations to set proper guidelines for environmentally and socially sustainable production and offer products that have been manufactured correspondingly. Responsibility should not be “offloaded” onto consumers, who may be overchallenged. The significance of school was accentuated, particularly in terms of teaching different ways of consuming with the aim of extending use and limiting new purchases (sufficiency). First and foremost, communication with consumers should provide positive examples. It would also be good to involve celebrities as role models.

Forum B, following the impulses from Friederike von Wedel-Parlow (Beneficial Design Institute) and Susanne Pass (Dialog Textil-Bekleidung), first discussed the role of quality and innovation in connection with sustainable clothing. Any change in production or consumption must rest on a change in the mindset among all those who are involved in the value creation cycle (producers and consumers) in which designers act as facilitators. Problems should be addressed in an ongoing, shared dialogue; positive solutions should be communicated as attractive and “cool”. The rest of the discussion was devoted to transparency and interconnectedness as well as to working out shared guidelines.

In Forum C, participants took up the subject raised by Thekla Wilkening (Kleiderei) and discussed the challenges faced by (young) Slow Fashion enterprises. The necessary processes of learning and change which can be connected with the growth of an enterprise, but also with the further development of the business model, require that businesspeople accept feedback, take time to reflect and be inspired (for instance, by business models used in other industries). In the experience of participating businesspeople, it is essential to develop personal, trusting relationships with customers and business partners (“They know who I am“).

Following the conference, there was a fashion show featuring works of design created at Hanover University of Applied Sciences and Arts as part of the Slow Fashion project, which carried the motto USE-LESS.