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Exploring Fashion Sustainability: A Transatlantic Dialogue

Clothes on rack
  • Written byAnabella Mohamed
  • Published date 05 June 2023
Clothes on rack

Fashion is a powerful medium of self-expression and an ever-evolving industry that impacts society and the environment on a global scale. As the world grapples with the urgent need for sustainable practices, it becomes crucial to examine how different regions approach this critical aspect of the fashion industry. With this in mind, LCF's BSc Fashion Management department and LIM NYC College joined forces to host a thought-provoking transatlantic collaboration on "Fashion sustainability in the United Kingdom and the United States”, on 20 April. Due to the 5-hour time difference, the collaborative panel was held virtually on Zoom, allowing both institutions to bridge the gap between continents and engage in meaningful conversations about the future of fashion sustainability. Students who attended the panel received a certificate showcasing their dedication to expanding their knowledge and staying at the forefront of sustainability practices within the industry.

The event was moderated by Gavin Goldstein, Professor of Law and Business at LIM NYC.

Representing London College of Fashion were Fran Sheldon, a Fashion Management and Sustainability lecturer; Toyin Laketu, a lecturer specialising in product and supply chain management; and Serena Gossain, an expert in luxury brand management.

From LIM NYC, the panellists included Andrea Reyes, a Professor in Trades and Marketing; John Simone, a Professor in Corporate Social Responsibility and Marketing; and Mary Austin, a sustainability management Masters's student from Columbia University and LIM alum.

The panel discussion began shedding light on the substantial greenhouse emissions generated by the apparel and footwear industry. It is estimated the fashion industry contributes between 4-10% of global greenhouse emissions, making the fashion industry the second largest polluting industry in the world after the oil industry. The panellists emphasised the urgency of addressing this issue and shared their views on how the American and British perspectives differ when it comes to acknowledging and tackling the fashion industry's contribution to global emissions.

The panel also touched upon the fact there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to tackle sustainability in the fashion industry. The diversity of the fashion industry means a range of both positive incentives and negative restrictions are needed to tackle sustainability holistically. One example of positive incentives given was tax exemptions for companies who invest in ethical raw materials, bypassing the cheaper but more harmful materials.

Both sides of the Atlantic did agree, however, that there was one, overreaching method to curb the fashion industry’s greenhouse emissions: legislation in the US and UK fashion industries. While both sides acknowledged that the UK industry was more advanced in understanding the impact of sustainability, neither country had significant legislation regarding sustainability in the fashion industry. Professor Goldstein from LIM pointed out that the New York State Senate proposed the most far-reaching sustainability legislation, known as The Fashion Act.

This Act would bind any fashion company in New York generating over $100 million in global revenue to publicly publish their sustainability targets every year, as a method of public accountability.  This potential legislation would have significant implications for fashion companies, ensuring the largest contributors to global emissions would finally be accountable for their environmental impact, and pressure them to finally “walk the talk” on sustainability. While The Fashion Act is still generating support amongst grassroots campaigners in New York, it is significant the UK has no comparable Act being proposed, let alone discussed heavily in political circles. From LCF’s side, Lecturer Fran Sheldon who sits on the education committee of The UK Fashion Roundtable noted that even proposed sustainability legislation has difficulty in gaining support as the retail sector is one of the largest in the UK (£495 billion in 2022), making the government heavily reliant on fashion companies tax revenue.

The thought-provoking panel discussion sparked new areas of interest for individuals considering a career in the business of fashion and lifestyle, including advice to students who are looking to launch their own sustainable fashion startup in the future. The focus on sustainability and corporate social responsibility highlighted the growing demand for professionals capable of navigating the complexities of sustainable practices while meeting business objectives. LIM Trade professor and Chair of NYC Fair Trade Coalition Andres Reyes mentioned that throughout discussions of sustainability, garment labourers who are usually at the bottom of the fashion supply chain, are continuously left out of sustainability discussions. Reyes suggested one method of promoting sustainability outside of materials and supply chains, is to guarantee labourers an ethical wage by paying them generously and in-line with living standards. The panel discussion significantly contributed to a deeper understanding of fashion management and strategic fashion management in the context of sustainability, underscoring the importance of seamlessly integrating sustainable practices into all facets of the fashion business. Fran Sheldon stated the panel “uncovered variation in the progression of sustainability regulation between US and UK policymakers, the panel was unanimous in our call for more comprehensive legislation with incremental targets, to ignite the competitive advantage for those businesses investing in slow responsible fashion business”

In conclusion, the collaborative discussion on "Fashion sustainability in the United Kingdom and the United States" provided a comprehensive overview of sustainability activities, legislations, corporate social responsibility, and strategic fashion management. The insights shed light on the contrasting perspectives between the US and UK fashion industries, emphasising the collective need for action to address the environmental impact of the fashion sector across the Atlantic. The panel inspired attendees to explore careers outside of traditional fashion jobs that contribute to positive change within the fashion industry, whether by promoting ethical sourcing, driving sustainable innovation, or advocating for responsible fashion consumption. Ultimately the LCF and LIM NYC panel was successful in igniting new questions and passions, encouraging participants to pursue careers that actively shape the future of the fashion industry and daring to imagine how a sustainable fashion landscape could look like in 10-20 years.

Written by BSc Fashion Management student, Anabella Mohamed.