This article is part of a series of exams Responsible fashionand innovative efforts to address issues facing the fashion industry.
Lately, one word has come up again and again in conversations about fashion and climate change: degrowth.
What does it mean? Jason Hickel, an economic anthropologist and proponent of the movement, has written that degrowth “is a planned reduction in energy and resource use intended to rebalance the economy with the living world in a way that reduces inequality and improves human well-being.” “.
At first, it seems like an awkward fit. Fashion is rooted in the constant consumption and extraction of the earth’s resources, but degrowth is an anti-capitalist movement that challenges the long-held view that more is always better.
The term, coined in 1972 by French political theorist André Gorz, is becoming more common as consumers become more aware of the catastrophic levels of global warming.
Degrowth is hitting the shelves in Tokyo, where Kohei Saito, the philosopher, has published “Capital in the Anthropocene,” a popular book on the subject. In the debate halls of London, How to Academy is presenting events such as “The pursuit of growth is a disaster for our country and our planet”, and degrowth also appears on TikTok, through outlandish explanations that appeal to Gen Z.
Discussions about degrowth are not limited to the fashion industry. Still, it seems a particular challenge, given that global consumption of clothing is expected to increase by 63 percent by 2030, from 62 million tons to 102 million tons, according to Boston Consulting Group research (the equivalent of more than 500 billion additional T). – t-shirts.)
The decline may be especially resonant now because evidence suggests that as climate change accelerates, emissions from textile manufacturing are projected to soar by 60 percent by 2030, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
At the same time, unpredictable weather patterns and dwindling resources are affecting supply chains, including cotton fields in Pakistan and the Amazon rainforest, making it difficult to source and produce materials. And so far, many targets set by fashion companies for pollution reduction and better labor standards, or investment in new technologies and green systems, are having little effect.
No household name company is completely revamping business models to align with hard-line downsizing. But decades after Patagonia debuted its infamous “Don’t Buy This Jacket” holiday ad campaign, some are tentatively exploring how the concept can be incorporated into their business.
Almost all efforts involve circularity, that is, approaches to ensure that products are continuously recycled, reborn and reused. In September, British department store Selfridges announced that it wanted almost half of all customer transactions to be based on resale, repair, rental or refill by 2030. Upstart brands such as Early Majority, founded by a former Patagonia executive, are being promoted as a decrease. brands because they urge consumers to buy products only once. And Ralph Lauren is exploring what “financial growth through diminishing resources” might look like.
“We saw that our finances improved even though we produced fewer units compared to five years ago,” Halide Alagöz, director of product and sustainability at Ralph Lauren, told delegates at the COP26 conference last year.
The company declined to provide further details when contacted by The New York Times in October. But essentially degrowth is used here to mean supply chain optimization; Improve efficiency by using raw materials to make more products that actually sell, meaning less wasted product and higher profits.
Like the term “sustainability,” which means different things to different people, degrowth is used in a variety of ways, leading to wide disagreements about what it is and what it entails. Some say the broadness of the definitions makes it vulnerable to greenwashing – the practice of companies making misleading claims about their environmental credentials to deceive customers.
“Part of the problem is that nobody knows the terms,” said Daniel Susskind, an economist and research professor at King’s College London and the University of Oxford.
Economists who believe degrowth is the answer are adamant, he said, that the only way to reduce carbon emissions is through lower growth. But he said a mindset focused exclusively on reducing the fashion economy would be a mistake.
“I think to be credible, the focus should be on different growth, better types of growth, and how to incentivize that,” Susskind said. “The accelerator or brake mentality is not realistic here. Helping people find a safe route to more responsible business practices is a supply.”
American designer Eileen Fisher, considered the godmother of the Western slow fashion movement, has spent four decades preoccupied with the idea of how to buy less, consume less and produce less while still maintaining a profitable brand. She is also wary of the term “degrowth.”
“We don’t say ‘decline’ here, we talk about good growth and how to grow the good things in our business while weeding out the bad,” he said. (She decided not to take her business public 20 years ago after investment analysts told her she didn’t have an “aggressive” enough growth plan, she said.)
“Healthy growth means fair wages and being mindful of the earth’s dwindling natural resources,” Fisher said.
Their solution is to sell timeless designs made from durable, ethically sourced fabrics that can be easily repaired and recycled. She also started Renew, a buy-back program, in 2009 where customers could return clothes they no longer wanted to be resold, donated or transformed into new designs.
Others believe that the real degrowth will come from consumers, not brands that manufacture demand. Buying less is the easiest way for consumers to reduce their impact on the planet because it avoids all the headaches and contradictions that come with trying to buy sustainably, said Alec Leach, former fashion editor and author of “The World Is”. It’s burning but we’re still buying shoes.”
“I’m pretty skeptical that any company is going to give us the cut, it’s something we’re going to have to take on ourselves,” Leach said. “Brands may offer resale opportunities, but they will continue to work with influencers, push ad campaigns, run international runway shows and ultimately produce just as much, if not more.”
New legislation may have an impact. In the US and Europe, potential new regulations could improve supply chain due diligence and require durability requirements designed to reduce waste
Many experts say conversations about fashion’s decline must also take into account the livelihoods of millions of women garment workers. Fast fashion retailers rarely own the factories that make their clothes. The vast majority of clothing and footwear orders are outsourced to suppliers in the Global South, where the cost of human labor is cheaper.
The economic fallout from the pandemic may have amplified some of these concerns, and degrowth advocates have suggested that efforts should begin in rich countries. Mostafiz Uddin, owner of a Bangladeshi garment factory with 2,000 employees, noted that any slowdown in orders, unless managed carefully, could have a catastrophic impact on jobs.
“I often read about achieving net zero goals, and I’m not against them,” Uddin said. But, he also pointed out that workers could lose their jobs depending on how the downsizing efforts are implemented.
With the global economic recession, rising energy costs and geopolitical instability, Mr. Uddin has managed volatility recently, although it is not related to the decline. Its orders fell as the economy cooled and it cut back on its employees’ hours.
“We must be very cautious and have many clear and collective conversations between the East and the West to create a proper infrastructure,” he said.
While saving the planet is critical, he said, “we also have to consider people.”