Sinem Celik, working as a sustainability change agent and lecturer at her platform BluProjects, shares her radical opinions about sustainable denim and recent conversations with the valuable players of the denim community…

"After the unusual days of the pandemic, I felt overwhelmed with witnessing the vulnerability of the fashion system and questioned the pre-Covid perception and practices around sustainable denim. Despite the trauma, I feel motivated and optimistic about looking for new possibilities, initiating a positive movement, and spreading this spirit. In this article, you’ll find my own thoughts around these ideas. Moreover in part-II [to follow this week, note of the editors], I will share the contributions of Mikkel Hochrein Albrektsen, Alberto Candiani, Benjamin Ergul, Aditya Goyal, Martin Gustafsson, Jordan Nodarse and Dion Vijgeboom.

'Sustainability' might be accepted as one of the most misused words of the century. Although one of the loudest industries speaking of it, the fashion industry is still the biggest supporter of unconscious consumerism and contributor to waste.

I believe there is no better time to recognize this truth, and honestly ask ourselves: Why does the majority of the fashion industry fail on sustainability?

Basically, on the existing model, this massive conflict occurs between the growth-obsessed system and the sustainability targets.

When we compare these targets' positive impact with the consequence of the constant growth, the system is far from offering a long-lasting solution.

It looks like trying to fill water to a bottle with a hole.

How environmental-friendly practices are perceived and practiced by the fashion industry is also limited.

The main discussions occurred around recycling already-created waste and replacing the processes or materials with less impact substitutes.

No doubt that all these efforts are very important, though here arises the struggle: While the sustainability goals are being set on these parameters, the majority of the brands’ core strategies are still centered around continuous growth.

The practices offering the required growth are either by opening more stores or more product drops into the stores leading to more volume than the actual need, and, ultimately, more waste.

Not to mention the excess capacity, investments on quantity instead of innovation, and the extreme competition of the sourcing world, all fighting to reach the same pie of the cake and sell more.

Is it possible to embrace a system in which the supply-demand and profit- sustainability (social and environementally) can both exist in balance?

From the dawn of the industrial revolution, economical growth always linked with affluence and wealth. However, the consequences of the desire for growth on humanity and the environment were highly underestimated.

After suffering impacts of the pandemic, as well as living in the midst of climate emergency and social inequalities, I feel a rising discomfort of this fundamental dilemma around growth-mania.This led me to inquire about the term 'de-growth movement,' which aims to shrink the economy and seek a “world of less.” Even though it seems like a utopia for now, it also indicates an alternative world of new possibilities.

Another point to realize is that the parameters of success in business and the methods we tend to use are all designed to serve one major thing: consumerism.

The fundamentals of design, sales, marketing, and engineering, also the entire education system, have been set up to train people to cater to this model, encouraging higher consumption. Designer, engineer, or salesperson whatever our profession is, we are educated in schools and managed in corporations, accordingly.

Trying to solve problems with the same methods that have created them is not functioning at all, especially when it comes to creating a positive impact.

As very well quoted by Albert Einstein: 'We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that have created them.'

Now it is time to rewrite the entire perception of sustainable fashion.

To rewrite, we should direct our attention to the causes instead of only trying to treat the actualized symptoms. The core factors for waste generation must be exemined carefully, and the sustainability goals need to be in line with and based on these core reasons, too.

We can relook all of our everyday actions with a new filter of consciousness.

Recognizing the reasons for waste, start asking NEW questions both to ourselves and to our sourcing associates;

Do we really need all these seasonal flow?

Do the consumers really need four stores on the same street?

Do we need to develop 100's of (so-called) new fabrics and garments on each season, and what does season mean for the denim industry, anyway?

Does this garment that i‘ve designed, sold or produced include a fair worker fee?

By doing so, we can add that invisible, hidden cost of the waste, the impact on the environment and the requirements of workers;
eventually, understand the actual and reasonable value (cost) of one pair of jeans.

We, either an executive, designer, buyer, or sales representative, need to act immediately, right after this pandemic, and open a new chapter.

By relooking at our areas of responsibility and realizing our own impact but also power, we can choose to be active citizens, instead of continuing with what’s convenient and easy.

Knowing this does not sound very fashionable in a world of volume and competition, though, how about employing some radical targets on sustainability, i.e.
- decreasing the number of jeans produced yearly, and increase quality and durability,
- instead re-setting the price/value perspective by including all of the hidden cost (nature, the workers) start working seasonless filtering every new development request through its potential environmental impact and waste,
- decreasing the number of development/ prototype and questioning the hit-rate efficiency.

This listing is just an example of a personal mind-shift, but the main takeaway is that it is time to think and act differently, and rewrite the rules of sustainability.

Why not start making your own list, right now?

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