philip_warkander Photo courtesy of Philip Warkander

Philip Warkander: “To think that fashion would lose its allure if it were also sustainable is a complete misunderstanding”

In an industry driven by trends, obsessed with “the next thing”—is it possible that sustainability could be just that? We asked Swedish fashion doctor, Philip Warkander, to help us see the synergies of fashion and sustainability—can the two co-exist?

“Almost ten years ago, I began working as a PhD Candidate in Fashion Studies. At that time, an interest in sustainability wasn’t considered very fashionable by most scholars in the field. I remember the amusement some scholars expressed when faced with questions regarding sustainability: Naturally, it was considered important but at the same time people found the topic immensely boring. Underlying this reaction was the notion that fashion was vibrant and aesthetically interesting while sustainability on the other hand was drab, depressing and had a lot to do with how many times a garments should be washed and at what temperatures. Again: important, but boring.

Today, the distinction between fashion and sustainability has—thankfully—been recognized as a false dichotomy, not just among scholars working with fashion but also within the industry as a whole. To think that fashion would lose its allure if it were also sustainable is a complete misunderstanding. In fact, I would argue that it is the exact opposite. Caring about and working for a more sustainable fashion is not about lifestyle choices but about the very possibility of life itself. If we don’t facilitate this change, society as we know it will be over. However, even though this insight is more or less common knowledge today, few people seem willing to actually act on it.

« Today, the distinction between fashion and sustainability has—thankfully—been recognized as a false dichotomy »

One evening I was discussing this apparent paradox with a friend. She suggested that there are two basic reasons for why this: When shopping, the act of buying something gives you a kick. In addition, the threat of climate change is abstract, while the purchasing situation is very concrete and clear. This explains why people continue to spend money on fashion even though they know it’s bad for the environment (and subsequently also for themselves). It also sends a very mixed signal to the industry about how concerned people actually are, allowing many companies to continue with business as usual. In this sense, the answer to the question is: no, sustainability does not seem to be very fashionable.

But, the question in itself is worth a closer examination. In my opinion, there is a problem already in how it is formulated, as if sustainability could be a trend among others. This is dangerous, because what is fashionable now will undoubtedly be out of fashion later. For this reason, I argue that there is no need for sustainability to be fashionable at all. Instead, it should be an evident and integrated part of how all fashion practices. To be perfectly clear: sustainability does not need to be fashionable. The matter is far too important to be discussed in this way. Rather, the question should read: how can fashion be sustainable?”

Follow Philip Warkander here and here.

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