On the panel was fashion consultant and former Barneys fashion director Julie Gilart, H&M's Global Head of Sustainability Helena Helmersson, Loomstate co-founder Scott Mackinlay Hahn, Ecouterre editor Jasmin Malik Chua, H&M Global Head of Fashion and Sustainability Communication Catarina Midby, and Honest by designer Bruno Pieters.
The incisive and candid Simon Collins, Dean of the School of Fashion at Parsons, moderated the hour-long discussion; and given Parsons' status as a leading fashion school for sustainable design, he was uniquely suited for the job.
We all know (and the panelists all acknowledged) that sustainability in the fashion industry is a tricky issue for many reasons--one being that the industry and the act of purchasing clothing is inherently not sustainable and another being that "sustainable" does not really have a definition.
While H&M's recent actions--the Conscious collection, recycling program, and recent transparency--and the actions of other eco-minded retailers are great, they're not going to save the world all on their own--mainly because corporations are going to continue to make profits a priority over sustainability.
The panelists agreed pretty much unanimously on that fact, but they also agreed that the responsibility lies largely in the hands of consumers. Each panelist offered some pretty brilliant and fairly reasonable ideas for how we can reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry on our end.
Not to sound preachy (I'm pretty disgustingly wasteful myself), but our own actions might make more of a difference than those of fashion companies. As Mackinlay Hahn pointed out, Levi's did a study that found that customers were responsible for 60% of the environmental impact of its jeans.
Even though I left the discussion feeling a little like I was being blamed for something, I also left with some good tips on how I can take this whole sustainability thing into my own hands. Some of them seem pretty obvious--but they're rarely followed. Here they are!
• Wash your clothes in colder water and line, or at least tumble, dry.
• Recycle your clothes (by donating or reselling) so that they don't end up in landfills.
• Buy higher quality items that will last longer.
• Mend things when they fall apart.
• Take the time to know where everything you purchase came from.
Do it! At the very least, you'll feel like less of an asshole.