In the latest issue from my journalist colleagues at the magazine Camino I read about the outlet company Lager 157. I used to know it as a place not that far from where I grew up, where people went to buy designer clothes cheaply. Now they have brought the Code of Conduct, that many companies have, to a new level with what they call Open Conduct. There they will try to show as much information as possible about the clothes – not just the names of the factories where the clothes are produced and use of chemicals etcetera, but also how much the price of a garment is raised in the every step of the distribution chain and some other economic calculations. Read more about it here (autotranslated from Swedish)
This is certainly an interesting idea, but as Camino puts the question: How would you react if you saw that the cheap top from Bangladesh has costed the company eight kronor (= less than one Euro) to buy?
Other companies reporting their activities from different sustainability aspects are H&M, IKEA and many others following the UN standars Global Reporting Initiative, GRI. In H&M’s CSR Report they publish for example the existence of child labour or if the overtime hours are within the legal limit.
At the GRI website it’s possible to see which companies publish their reports openly.
One can only wonder who has the time to go through all these reports before going out to buy a new television or a winter coat… But the Swedish grocery retail group Coop’s own sustainability report actually provided journalists with the material to write about bad working condtions in the production of some of Coop’s products earlier this year. So – there are people who do read them.
“Sustainability” can mean a lot of things. In ecology the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time, but social sustainability is another important aspect of it. If humans are treated badly, exploited or suppressed, it doesn’t really help if the products they are working with are 100 percent organic – the totality still wouldn’t be sustainable in the sense that it has the capacity to endure.
This is an important aspect for those fashion designers included in an exhibition at the Scandinavia House in New York this summer. In Eco Chic – Towards Sustainable Swedish Fashion a whole bunch of designers who try to take care of both labour and natural resources participate.
The name of the exhibition is honest, I would say, because reaching full sustainability is quite a difficult thing. Knowing exactly how the material has been produced isn’t easy.
And no matter how much work the designer has put into making production as fair, safe and environmentally aware as possible, it’s still up to the consumer not to overconsume it. Buying ten fair trade, green skirts doesn’t make the world better than buying one and actually using it until it’s worn out…
But when New York Times wrote about this exhibition earlier this spring, what seemed to fascinate the reporter most was the funny names of the Swedish fashion labels:
“Among those included are Zion Clothing, Righteous Fashion, Nudie Jeans and Julian Red, named for the art-loving character in the Bret Easton Ellis novel Less Than Zero. The cutest has to be DEM Collective, a label that stands for Don’t Eat Macaroni. Karin Stenmar, a partner in the company, said it was founded to show that eco-clothing could be made inexpensively, not to scare people off of a delicious comfort food.
– Macaroni is a symbol for fast-food culture, she said, comparing its perils to those of fast fashion.”
Mathilda Wendelboe's Cradle to Cradle collection. Photo: Tina Axelsson.
When discussing sustainability the term “lifecycle analysis” sometimes comes up. The idea is that it’s important to figure out a product’s full impact, from production to destruction, from cradle to grave.
But what if there were no need to bury things? This is the thought behind the Cradle to Cradle concept, developed by the American chemistry professor Michael Braungart together with the architect William McDonough in the book ”Remaking the way we make things” published in 2002.
The idea of the Cradle to Cradle concept is to use Nature’s own processes as a model for human production, bringing all materials back either to the technological or to the biological cycle.
These ideas have gained ground in Sweden, and for example several fashion designers are now trying to incorporate this thinking in their work. One of them is Mathilda Wendelboe, who is presenting her own Cradle to Cradle collection this week.
She says that she won’t just be working with biodegradable organic materials but also “technological non-organic materials”, which through the right design will be possible to reuse almost infinitely.
– The goal is to imitate Nature’s own cycles also in the industry, and make sure the materials are brought back when these garments are not used any more, she says.
Other designers who have recently started using their first Cradle to Cradle certified fabrics in children’s clothes are Bonkeli.
Here is a video explaining a bit more about the idea of Cradle to Cradle:
Earlier I have written about how people have started to swap things with each other instead of buying everything new. But this weekend Stockholm experienced another phenomenon in this genre: the clothes library. As Stockholm Fashion Week has been going on, the concept of borrowing clothes has been tried out at the Ecoteque in the cultural centre Kulturhuset.
Trying on the evening gowns
Fifteen minutes after opening the Ecoteque was already full of people crowding around the clothes stands, flickering through both new, designer outfits and vintage garments. In the fitting rooms people were trying on everything from neat shirts to fantastic evening gowns and after filling out a form they could take the garment home for one week. I spoke to two Finnish visitors, who had just arrived in Stockholm for the art fair Supermarket and wanted to complete their light luggage with some sensational clothes for going out Saturday night.
24 kilos of textiles
I find this an excellent way of renewing one’s wardrobe without overusing resources. Faster and faster changes in fashion have led to a situation where the average Swede buys 24 kilos of textiles every year. That is 9 kilos more than in 1994. So I hope this idea has come to stay. And why not extend this concept to other areas, so that we can borrow tools as drilling-machines at the library instead of everyone getting their own and using it once a year?
… is one of the founders of Sweden’s first climate magazine, Effekt. Seeing the connections between society and nature results in a lot of thoughts about how we live our lives. How are Sweden and its inhabitants setting about the challenges of making our society a more sustainable one? Why is Sweden often rated as one of the world’s most sustainable countries? Do we earn that title? And what have we got left to do?