Taxis. Movies. Mapping. Airline reservations. Hotels. And, of course, the delivery of art and culture. These, and many more industries have been disrupted by a sea change in business models and ethics for over a decade.
Enter the runway. Fashion, too is in disruption mode. As workplace attire and etiquette changed, so fashion has evolved from formal to ‘business casual’ to ... untucked.
Still, the demand for fashionable wear remains, if not for the original then for the knock-off or copy. We still want to express ourselves through unique and interesting clothes. But how to look great without harming people and the environment? With working conditions and environmental damage, from factory fires, child labor and pollution from mass manufacturing making the front pages, how and what we wear has entered the social conscience.
Couture, too, is being disrupted. By virtue of its high ticket, the category is a playground of the rich and privileged. A clubby community, couture is challenging for unknowns to crack. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, right?
Happily, entrepreneurs and tech-minded business people around the globe have been rethinking the sustainability of both workplace fashion and couture. To better protect workers, new designers are hiring local artisans and implementing higher standards of safety; by employing sustainable materials (such as bamboo that can be spun into soft cloth) and locally grown and organic fibers, and by making a commitment to pay living wages and supporting indigenous cultures, the future of fashion is looking better.
Several years ago, Adam Werbach, former President of the Sierra Club, and Andy Ruben, former Chief Sustainability Officer at Walmart, co-founded Yerdle with the idea of empowering reuse. Clothing was a popular category. In an interesting pivot, Yerdle recently announced a B2B service called Yerdle Recommence, which provides technology and logistics to brands who want to allow their customers to recycle their items. Eileen Fischer and Patagonia have signed up, with more brands to follow.
Other companies succeeding in this space are Agaati, a San Francisco company that sells only artisan made, fair trade, recycled, humanly made, organic, eco-friendl and zero-waste clothing. Agaati also donates 5% of their profits to non-governmental organizations that deal with the impact of fast fashion.
South of the border, Sindashi contributes to the preservation of Mexico’s indigenous communities by paying living wages and giving incentives to local women. At AzEcoDesign in Brazil, Aguida (the founder goes by one name) is also the founder of Reciclar-T3 Institute, an NGO for sustainable product design in Brazil.
Shirin Hashem founded Fashion Community Week with these and other issues in mind. On her agenda to disrupt fashion is to showcase designers from developing countries. Hashem produces Fashion Community Week in San Francisco, London, Paris and Dubai. Fashion Community Week donates all proceeds to deserving non-profits such as Dress for Success, Remake and Wardrobe for Opportunity.
Beside couture, Fashion Community Week includes events on Sustainable Fashion, Men’s and Tech wear, one of the hottest trends in fashion. Not your 2000’s hiking vest with a pocket for your cell phone and charger, tech wear is using 3-D printing and materials not necessarily found in nature. In the New Yorker this week, reporter Rebecca Mead writes a feature on Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen. The designer’s high tech couture “combines 3-D printing and hand stitching to reimagine the possibilities of the human body.” Mead reports on one compelling of the compelling aspect of Herpen’s breakthrough work: “In collaboration with Jolan van der Wiel, Herpen made shoes from resin mixed with iron filings; while the material was still in molten form, it was subjected to magnetic forces that distorted its surface with alarming, spiky growths.” Van Herpen sells her designs to museums, and couture clients like Lady Gaga and Bjork.
A last disturbing subtext to fashion is size. Many couture designs are not made to flatter those of fuller figure. Several designers featured during Fashion Community Week are committed to designing for all body types and sizes. The idea is that all women and men who want to look glamorous without doing damage to the environment and humanity should be able.
Fashion Community Week runs in San Francisco through September 24th.