SUSTAINABILITY D E F I N E D /// If I had said I understood ‘sustainability’ four months ago, then I would have been a very foolish young lady. Why yes, I grew up being fed by my vegetarian hippie of a mother, I was raised to dispose of cardboard and plastic in the separate trash cans in my garage, and I have always felt a little guilty for running the water too long in the shower or when I brush my teeth, but these habitual differences in my lifestyle aren’t even the half of sustainability. Previously, I viewed sustainability as recycling, shopping for organic groceries and products, and conserving energy. While all of these actions are steps toward sustainability, they are only small steps. Sustainability and sustainable design are a combination of concepts that play off of each other – empathy, industrial ecology, and product-service systems. I hardly knew what these concepts meant four months ago. By designing (and shopping) empathically, the reasons to consume and waste are minimized, and all of this is made possible with the help of knowledgable professionals that offer a relationship between the product and the service it provides to consumers. These concepts have great potential to be applied to the fashion industry; however, I was rather oblivious to the idea of sustainability in fashion prior to this course. My idea of sustainable fashion was the use of upcycled materials that were solely functional rather than aesthetically appealing to fashion-forward individuals like myself. This was a very false assumption on my behalf. To have this mindset about sustainable fashion would place all responsibilities on designers; however, over the course of the semester I have learned that manufacturers, merchandisers, and consumers play an equal role in the sustainability game. As an apparel merchandising major, I see how the merchandiser serves as a huge communicator between the designer, manufacturer, and the consumer to assure all ends of the spectrum are being satisfied – preferably in a sustainable manner. Sustainability and sustainable design go beyond the small steps that I implemented into my life many years ago.
SUSTAINABLE E P I P H A N I E S /// The most interesting topic covered during this course was certainly the effects that material selection and laundering have on the environment. There is a great deal of room for growth in the apparel product labeling sector. I imagine that I speak on behalf of a majority when I say that I know very little about the reasoning behind the laundering instructions in my garments. I wash on cold, when instructed to wash on cold. I hang dry, when instructed to hang dry. I do not dry clean, when instructed not to dry clean. My garment labels have surely never instructed me on how frequently I should wash my garments, though. This concept proved to be very influential on sustainability. Greenhouse gas emissions are created during laundering, materials are exhausted and consequently shortening the garment life cycle, and even the requests for mass quantities of particular materials by designers can have harmful manufacturing effects. I found this topic to have a great learning outcome. I have started to regulate how frequently I launder my clothes and I have made efforts to hang dry more of my clothing to minimize energy and heat consumption. Additionally, I have identified a potential white space in the sustainable design sector that needs tending to – labeling.
COURSE R E L E V A N C E /// Overall, the knowledge that I gained during this course seems to be very relevant. Not only has it worked my creative mind in new ways, but it has introduced me to factual information that I will be able to apply to my future place in the fashion industry. Sustainability and sustainable design are malleable concepts, that is, they can be adapted to essentially all aspects of the economy and society. I continued to be intrigued by the information that I was fed about sustainable design and would love to keep up with the new technology and concepts that evolve throughout my life. Additionally, I have developed a greater interest in working for a company or brand in the fashion industry that welcomes sustainable designers with open arms. While I believe that everyone needs to be sustainably enlightened eventually, I feel that there is currently a demand for individuals with interest in and knowledge of sustainable concepts.
THE NEXT S T E P S /// I learned more than I had prepared myself to learn in this course; however, I continue to question what materials have not been fully developed that could have a sustainable impact on the fashion industry. In other words, what materials could be developed that possess multiple qualities such as durability, aesthetic appeal, a cradle-to-cradle life cycle, zero harmful dyes and chemicals, etc.? While technology continues to advance, I look forward to seeing what the sustainable world will pull out of their sleeve next. If GREEN is the new black, then it seems to me that sustainability is already headed in the right direction fashionably.