As we mark the ten-year milestone of the Fashion Revolution (FR) this week, a key question arises: How might we shape the industry’s trajectory for the next decade?   

FR’s initiatives have transformed conscious consumers into proactive advocates, sparking questions like “Who made my clothes?” and rallying 240,000 EU citizens to support living wage legislation.   

However, fashion brands still have work to do, as highlighted in the latest Fashion Revolution Transparency Index (FTI) report, which highlights the ongoing challenges of tackling overproduction. Alarmingly, 88% of major fashion brands conceal their annual production volumes, while almost none show a commitment to reducing the proliferation of new items.   

For example, the consumption of second-hand goods has become popular and is seen as a solution to the clothing sector’s waste problems, but consumption patterns have also begun to follow the logic of fast fashion: clothes may only be worn a few times and then discarded.   

The fashion industry faces challenges in changing its trajectory if products are not made from scratch with higher quality, designed to be easily repaired and modified, as well as suitable for resale.  

From an artisanal craft to a wasteful global industry   

At its most basic, fashion as a verb conjures up a vision of skilled craftsmanship, involving shaping and crafting, often by hand, intricately intertwined with the realms of tailoring and garment design.    

Today, the reality is far from this image, as the industry’s production speeds up, driven by the micro-trends of social media and ultra-fast fashion brands. This underlines the urgent need for increased transparency, accountability and a transition to a truly circular fashion system. 

While circularity is critical to a sustainable transition, it also needs to address broader cultural issues that are deeply embedded in industry. In the circular economy’s concept of value hierarchy, proximity to user needs correlates with the level of value retention. This requires the creation of well-designed services for clothing that can serve many users and significantly extend its life, thereby reducing production volumes. There is considerable potential to explore circular business models and rethink design processes that fundamentally change our current consumption patterns.

While new solutions for textile recycling and fibres offer innovation, they should not overshadow the need for broader systemic and cultural change that promotes less consumption in the first place.   

Shifting to a circular, regenerative fashion system requires curbing rampant over-consumption, fostering a deeper connection to the origins of materials and garments, and recognising regional nuances of biodiversity. Although regenerative business is still in its infancy for companies, it provides ‘new’ and essential knowledge on how apparel companies can act as stewards of natural diversity.

To give just a few examples, Swedish sportswear company Houdini has published the first corporate sustainability report based on the Planetary Boundaries framework and has launched a regenerative lifestyle project to get it’s community more involved. Luxury group Kering aims to have a net positive impact on biodiversity by 2025, regenerating and protecting an area six times the size of its entire supply chain footprint.   

How can we collectively influence fashion culture? 

Culturally, the fashion industry should pivot towards maintenance, repair, and higher-quality textiles, designing garments for durability and longevity. Embracing collective efforts, sharing skills, and fostering a culture that values repair are instrumental in effecting cultural change.   

Exploring for instance the not-too-distant history of Finnish frugality, textile consumption and garment valuation provides invaluable insights into the intersection of cultural heritage and contemporary circularity.    

Throughout Finnish history, textiles were esteemed investments, passed down through generations and meticulously maintained. Even in the 1960s, clothes were not thrown away, but old clothes were adapted to the times as fashion changed. Women’s magazines were full of advice on how to do this.   

However, modern Finland faces the reality of producing 100,000 tonnes of textile waste per year, mirroring a global challenge of 92 million tonnes of waste per year. This alarming predicament underscores the urgent need for systemic change to address the profound shifts in our culture.

What can we learn from the history of valuing and relating to clothing, especially considering that clothing was treated very differently not many decades ago? 

Nevertheless, there are also some recent examples where positive change is happening: France is the first country in the world to restrict the marketing of fast fashion, and there is also an exemplary incentive to repair clothes in France, by paying a rebate to citizens. We need more exemplary acts like this to change and slow down our current fashion culture. 

Citizens have the role of transcending from mere consumers to ‘shapemakers’, actively influencing the fashion landscape by actively demanding from brands circular services & genuinely better products.   

Shaping the next decade: Actively transforming fashion culture

Looking ahead, the fashion industry needs to embrace regenerative practices and biodiversity standards in material sourcing and design. This requires transparency, measurable targets and community engagement.  It would also be crucial for companies to move more towards circular business models and set measurable targets for them to enable the creation of a resource-efficient industry.

A commitment to replacing production volumes with circular services is essential.

In conclusion, Fashion Revolution Week 2024, with its theme ‘How to Be a Fashion Revolutionary’, calls for collective action and collaboration towards a fashion ethos that respects both humanity and the planet. As we celebrate Fashion Revolution’s ten-year journey, let us pledge allegiance to a vision of the fashion industry that embodies a true understanding of what it takes to make our clothes responsibly.    

Kuva: Seams Helsinki