Megan St Clair Morgan | 03.23.2021

Collaboration is key to limiting fashion’s negative impact on nature

We all know fashion has a negative impact on the environment, but what can be done to limit the negative effects and value nature? In January 2021, at a Roundtable with our Fashion Values Advocates we discussed the need for collaboration and sharing of knowledge to ensure we create benefit to nature and work toward a more positive future for fashion.  

Catherine Bottrill, CEO and Founder of Pilio noted how “bringing together the cross-disciplinary issues from the science to the economics, to the creative elements of this is really critical.” Sustainability isn’t a simple black and white issue, nor is it an issue for fashion alone. It’s the collective responsibility of many sectors to ensure the impact and effects of fashion are controlled, reduced and respond to the needs of people and planet.  

By bringing together voices from across education, design, science and media our discussion shows the strength of collaboration in practice. Sarah Cornell of Stockholm Resilience Centre adds that the gathering of facts to bring together “the many little strands of experience here is so vital in this cross-disciplinary space.” 

When it comes to the voices that are coming up in the industry from the next generation, Emily Chan, Sustainability Editor at Vogue Global Network, Condé Nast, notes that “it’s really important, the idea of collaboration”, and she believes that “the next generation of designers is already very attuned to that.” Speaking about young designers, she reflects on what success is and looks like for them and she points out that “Success is very different for young designers nowadays.  Whereas back in the day it might have been about working for a big brand, now a lot of designers are more attuned to how can they come up with solutions, and really address the climate crisis.” 

Centre for Sustainable Fashion Research Fellow, Dr. Francesco Mazzarella chaired the discussion with some of our Fashion Values Advocates:  

As part of a virtual room filled with sustainability experience and knowledge, Francesco asked our advocates to focus on the next generation of fashion professionals, questioning ‘what have you learned that you’d like to pass on?’ 

How can fashion work towards having a positive impact on nature? 

The Roundtable conversation foregrounded critical considerations on how positive change is not only possible but possible at scale, when we work collectively. But how can we ensure fashion makes a positive impact and how media can support this?  

Emily Chan shares how the narrative is shifting within the fashion industry and “it’s not just how fashion can limit its negative impacts, but how can fashion actually have a positive impact on nature”, and she mentions about the current idea of climate positivity and the fact that “we don’t have the solutions to how we can achieve that, but I think  that is becoming quickly the vision or future goal for the industry."  

But what are realistic goals for the fashion sector, and how feasible is it for fashion to create positive rather than negative impacts on the planet?  

When it comes to addressing the challenge of changing the supply chain and practices that have been long set in stone, Julie Stein, Executive Director and Co-founder of Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network notes how “one of the roles that we find ourselves in is sort of playing a liaison role between producers or artisans in the field, and brands and consumers.”  

The difficulty arises when taking the theory and putting it into practice, notes Catherine Bottrill, CEO and Founder of Pilio: “We care about nature and we want to do it, but actually knowing what are the best interventions to make.” She continues, “the science around this is still emergent, so it’s how to work in an ever-shifting landscape. So we know we want a transformation and we know there’s a business case, but we also need the science and the tools.” Therefore, the call is for next-generation to propose and develop innovative solutions to action the change. 

Scientific insight is needed, but who pays the bill? 

When it comes to involving science in the changes needed for fashion, Dian-Jen Lin, Founder of Post-Carbon Lab shares how now as the design industry wants insight from the scientific community, “the scientific community is a bit like what, you want to do what?... Do you have funding?  Is this meant for like something that’s going to be beneficial in terms of commercially?"  

Investment in development and large-scale scientific innovation is often hard to come by, Bottrill adds: “We know there’s a business case, but we also need the science and the tools. And so I think there’s going to be a lot of like rapid prototyping and working together in new ways, but right now I would say that there are still some big data gaps...So I think it’s got to be this partnership, not just collaboration, but partnership with the science community as we figure out the methodologies and tools that can support that, and the evidence base.” 

There are many different places to start when it comes to limiting fashion's negative impact on nature, with no single solution or answer we’d to inspire you to be the innovators behind the changes necessary. We’d like to invite you to be a part of that change by engaging with the learnings available on Fashion Values. Our Advocates have begun to map the changes that they want to see and their insights can help to inspire those who are planning to respond to the upcoming Fashion Values Challenge, which calls-out for innovative product, services and systems to disrupt the fashion industry. 

More highlights and learnings from the Roundtable will be shared through our open-source educational resources available via the Fashion Values platform.  

Keen to reduce your own impacts as a fashion creative?   Gain more knowledge on sustainability, via our range of resources: