How to make the fashion industry more planet-positive

…and other things we learned from the ‘Fashion Forever’ exhibit

When people think about the fashion industry, what usually comes to mind is its luxury aspect. We see it in the movies with characters performing in fashion montages, presenting stunning garbs after another in just one scene. In TV series, fashion professionals show everyone how the different facets of the industry work. They try to open people’s eyes to the fact being part of the industry isn’t as glamorous as they thought it would be. As people continue to consume more content about the industry, their knowledge and awareness grow larger to the point that they have uncovered even its secrets hidden in the closet.

"Fashion Forever" exhibit

In the past years, the fashion industry has been seen as one of the many culprits that caused the deterioration of Earth. It is guilty of irresponsible use of natural resources, being a big contributor to global waste, and unfair labor and human exploitation, among others. These concerns have pushed many people to dive deep more on the stories behind the pieces they purchase, change their shopping habits, and select items that are ethically and sustainably made by people working in safe environments. But finding the solutions to these problems must not be left to the hands of today’s shoppers. Brands, designers, and textile and garment manufacturers have bigger roles to play in creating a fashion industry that is user-oriented, technology-driven, and planet-positive.

Those are some of the things presented at the “Fashion Forever” exhibit in SM Aura, Taguig City. The exhibit, led by the Embassy of Sweden Manila, provides an overview of the emerging fashion industry in Sweden and novel approaches in fashion design, production, and distribution.

H&M South Asia’s Regional Head of Communications and PR Dan Mejia, Swedish Ambassador Annika Thunborg, and SM Supermalls’ Senior Vice President for Marketing Jonjon San Agustin

“The demand for sustainable and green industries is increasing, pushing companies toward more circular business models—in energy, transportation, and textile and fashion,” said Her Excellency Annika Thunborg, ambassador of Sweden to the Philippines. “My government has put textiles high on its agenda. Becoming a world leader in sustainable fashion production and consumption is a key part of the national drive to achieve the global sustainable development goals of Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement on climate change.”

On display at the exhibit are products of textile innovations by Swedish government-supported initiatives, conscious pieces courtesy of fashion retailer H&M, and designs crafted by Filipino designers who are graduates of the Sweden Alumni Network. The exhibit also informs industry leaders about the key elements, solutions, and approaches to building a responsible fashion and textile industry. Here are some of the things we discovered.

The vital role of circularity

In order to make the fashion industry more sustainable, experts advise brands to adopt a circular business model. This model pushes brands to be more responsible for their products' lives even after consumers have purchased their garments. Unlike the linear business model, where resources are turned into products, which are then purchased by consumers, and will become waste in the future, the circular business model challenges brands and garment manufacturers to maximize and reuse unwanted products, residues, and textile waste.

Examples of how circularity can stir the fashion and textile industry to a greener future can be seen in the works of Siptex and Renewcell. A first-of-its-kind facility, Siptex sorts textiles based on color and fiber composition for recycling. While textile recycling company Renewcell makes Circulose, a fabric made of 100 percent textile waste such as worn-out cotton jeans and cotton production scraps, which is used to make viscose, lyocell, modal, and other fabrics and sewn to create other high-quality textile products.

A piece from Lily of the Valley; designers Zarah Juan and Camille Escudero

Made-to-order process

With the fast movement of today’s world due to modern technology, what’s trending in the fashion scene shifts as quickly as a single Tikok video. This led brands to produce more products to generate more income without analyzing how long a piece would stay in one’s closet or even on their stores’ shelves. Overproduction and overconsumption continue to be among the problems in the fashion and textile industry. The thing is, brands and manufacturers have the power to influence consumers’ shopping habits. And the way to combat overproduction and overconsumption issues in the industry is through slow fashion.  

Slow fashion revolves around conscious production and consumption—producing only what’s needed and quality products. Homegrown intimate wear brand Lily of the Valley presents it best through its made-to-order process. Led by Camille Escudero, the brand creates women’s undergarments that are made by hand—and made to last. It produces 100 percent made-to-measure innerwear, which helps in reducing overconsumption and waste, and avoids inefficient use of resources. The brand also takes its mission even further with its take-back program, wherein it gives old and unusable underwear a second life.

Pieces from H&M's "Innovation Stories"; Zarah Juan's locally made bags

Supporting other enterprises and communities

As we return to how our lives were before the pandemic, we are also returning to the rat race, where people are in a competitive routine and so are brands. In making a more planet-positive fashion and textile industry, each brand must do its role and also support each other to meet their common goal. As Dan Mejia, H&M South Asia’s Regional Head of Communications and PR, pointed out, “We acknowledge that we are part of the problem… By we, I refer not only to H&M but to the entire fashion industry. We all have a stake here. We may be one of the largest fashion retailers in the world, but we only represent two percent in the market, to move the industry to be truly fully sustainable, we need the other 98 to join in.”

Apart from its existing projects such as the “Innovation Stories” and “Let’s Reuse,” H&M further uses fashion for good with its latest collaboration with Filipino artist Marika Callangan of Woman Create. Their partnership presents a limited-edition tote bag that focuses on circularity. According to the brand, 10 percent of the proceeds will be given to Women Create to support and encourage arts within the female community and advocate women’s rights empowerment. 

Doing the same thing is Filipino accessories designer Zarah Juan. Known for using locally sourced materials and sustainable production methods, her namesake brand has been working with seven communities that are fully engaged in providing the fabric lining of bags, bag shells in wood or rattan, straps, hand-painted designs, woodwork, and leather work.

“Upcycling, reusing, and eventually recycling, rather than using up even more virgin resources are some of the ways for the fashion industry to become good for the planet,” Ambassador Annika said. “Through the integrated work of fashion retailers, design schools, and science parks in Sweden, supported by the Swedish government, the fashion industry can continue to be creative, exciting, and lucrative, all while being kinder to the planet and better for the consumer.”

The ‘Fashion Forever’ exhibit is an initiative of the Embassy of Sweden in Manila, supported by the Swedish Institute and held in partnership with SM Aura and H&M. It runs until Sep. 14, and will be part of Cebu Design Week in November.

Banner photo by Francois Le Nguyen from Unsplash.