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Retail And  Conservation

Initially a necessity of life, clothing was a tool – at most an emblem of human modesty and sophistication – but nonetheless a cultural banality. The gradual emergence of ‘fashion’ as an aesthetic concept thus succeeded in romanticizing this need as a form of pleasure. The cry for fashion has incited a relentless overproduction of clothing by retail industries, alongside the brash exploitation of natural resources.

Conservationists and Fashionistas

Fashion and conservation have been fighting each other for decades over ethical incompatibility but perhaps it all ends here. Fortunately, retail and apparel brands are becoming more and more inclined to joining green establishments in the promotion of sustainability. While the mingling of conservationists and fashionistas seem at first an abhorrent notion, the remedying mechanisms of conservation are perhaps now the only hope for fashion’s self-customizing luxuries. Only by identifying artifice as an integral form of materiality in our interactive world, can fashion and conservation then begin to go hand-in-hand as interdependent systems of human development.

Kering raises the bar

France’s renowned luxury, lifestyle and sport brand Kering is lauded for having recently committed to a decade-long sustainable project incorporating its supply chain from start to finish.  Their brand new philosophy consisting of three C’s (Care, Collaborate and Create) will go above and beyond in its goals for 2050: positive environmental impact, transparent loyalty to employees, suppliers, and clients, and heritage preservation through innovation and pioneering. As the first to seriously commence talks with auto companies about strategic assimilation and long-term investments, Kering destabilizes the surmise that consumption could never equate nor yield sustainability. In fact, the CEO of Kering states that real luxury bases itself on ‘authenticity and sincerity’, where the product is almost ‘secondary to experience’ and needs to be ‘in sync with a higher set of values’.  

Flickr | Nick HarrisNo ‘greenwashing’ please

While Kering has certainly been the most vocal about its current priorities, others like LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE are perhaps more meticulous and rigorous, according to CEO of Positive Luxury Nieto, in the implementation of sustainable strategies across multiple brands and product life cycles. Torn between marketing eco-credentials and developing sustainable business practices, companies are forced to decide whether it would be more efficient to propagate conservational efforts through flagrant publicity, or to demonstrate the necessity of sustainability through a modest, yet systematic adoption of green projects. ‘Reinventing the wheel’ is similarly a potential setback for sustainability. American Eagle Outfitters for one has decided that building connections would work better in its favor: they brushed up their supply chain with the help of Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). Although it is indeed important for brands to solidify sustainability efforts quietly and without unwarranted public attention, it is equally critical for customers to monitor the measures being taken to discourage ‘greenwashing’.

Future for the people and planet

Both commercial and non-profit industries remain consistently engaged with the future. Longevity and posterity are notably the most recurrent areas of concern in today’s society. While longevity may relate to terrestrial health and apocalypse, an industrial life span, the generational survival of species, or very literally individual wellbeing, posterity pertains not only to our descendants but also to all descendants of our natural environment.

While fashion conventionally investigated the importance of these two central issues within the context of its own sector, conservation has long approached these time-related phenomena from a global perspective. Now, Kering’s new app My EP&L seeks to bridge this gap by allowing designers to predict the environmental impact of a hypothetical creation as well as to allow an open assessment of raw materials against chemical and animal welfare standards.

Flickr | Quinn ComendantNevertheless, retailers must not be alone in this quest – and thankfully, it appears that they are not. A 2015 Nielsen report confirmed that 72 % of adolescent shoppers (15-20) would pay more for products – 17% more likely than those back in 2014.  As ‘Generation Z’ begins opting for durable and authentic fabrics, fast-fashion brands like Mango, Zara, and H&M will eagerly rise up to meet these demands by diversifying their sustainable range. 

Mango has recently launched its Committed Life collection and is now working with Green Peace to minimize water consumption in its production processes, all of which echoes Zara’s own efforts in initiating its first green clothing line. The biggest names in retail are also favoring collaboration with small-scale, niche retailers as they seem to be a key indicator of sustainability for consumers.  Although immediate satisfaction and growth still largely take precedence over the reliability of sustainability efforts in many cases, leading labels are no doubt advancing in the right direction.

Interdisciplinary collaboration

Einstein would perhaps be proud to see multidimensional issues finally being met with transdisciplinary and transtemporal strategization, as it had been one of his many convictions: “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”.

A society that prioritizes disciplinary fragmentation will only lead to problems diluted by the disjointed circumstances under which they have been created. Therefore, the world’s dirtiest industry (after the Big Oil) needs to be saved by prudent adaptation. Knowing the greater universe to be characterized by plurality and complexity, humans should by now know to adopt this interdisciplinary strategy of sustenance in their own micro-universe.

By Serene Chiang - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs conservationdevelopmentteaching and adventure travel projects in over 50 countries worldwide - so join us and explore the world!

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