1.1 From Somewhere ‘Fluff Cardigan’, AW12
The fashion label From Somewhere produced upcycled high-fashion garments constructed from pre-consumer textile waste such as production offcuts, ends of rolls and other surplus materials.
Rethinking Fashion Design
This chapter introduces the key issues associated with the current fashion design and production process. It also discusses key developments in sustainability, including the circular economy, and looks at the contribution of the fashion designer in supporting change.
As the critical link in the chain of design and production, fashion designers in micro-, small- and medium-sized companies have both the ability and the opportunity to influence the development of products and services that can lessen our impact on the environment while addressing ethical and cultural concerns.
“I can honestly say that I did not start as an eco brand; I just became one as soon as I was exposed to how much we were throwing out and consuming.”
Orsola de Castro, co-founder of From Somewhere and co-founder/creative director of Fashion Revolution
The global fashion industry is made up of a variety of market levels, ranging from luxury labels and bespoke tailoring to mass-market and value brands. The characteristics of the garments and the scale of production vary according to the market level, but broadly speaking the garment design and production process involves a common set of stages that occur within all market levels of the industry. This process, which forms part of the conventional ‘supply chain’, includes five distinct stages: design, sample-making, selection, manufacturing and distribution.
Each stage in the process involves a set of activities that range from sourcing and selecting materials and processes and designing the different ‘looks’ within the collection (the design stage), to distributing garments from the place of manufacturing to the retailers or customers (the distribution stage). The time dedicated to the manufacturing stage often differs according to the scale of production and the manufacturing method used. For example, a smaller fashion label can produce selected samples relatively quickly compared with a larger company. This may be related to manufacturing taking place offshore and the need to approve a factory sample range, for quality purposes, before production begins.
The role of the fashion designer
Many people employed within the fashion industry make an important contribution in the process of creation. The fashion system employs designers, buyers, pattern makers, machinists, knitters, textile designers, finishers and dyers, production managers and so on, and each brings specialist skills and knowledge. In the case of small- and medium-sized companies, the designer is often expected to lead the development of the collection from the design stage through to the sample-making stage, and will often be accountable for key decisions during the process.
•Market and trends research
•Designing the collection
•Sourcing and selecting fabrics and textiles processes
•Pattern-making and toiling
•Creation of a sample range
•Modifications to the sample range (small companies)
•Editing the collection
•Modifications to the sample range (large companies)
•Sample range is presented to buyers and selectors
•Selected garments are manufactured (on or offshore depending on scale of production)
•Garments shipped to retailer
•Sales information recorded and fed back to designer
1.2 Activities in the fashion supply chain
The key stages and activities in the supply chain are illustrated here. The way in which companies engage with their supply chain model varies between different brands, but the phases within the supply chain typically remain constant.
The production, use and disposal of fashion clothing have a wide range of impacts. In general terms, these can be considered from an environmental, economic and social perspective. As a society, the obsession for consuming fashion goods has seen an enormous growth in mass-produced fashion, in particular ‘fast fashion’ that focuses on bringing runway trends to the high street in the quickest possible time.
The issues outlined in figure 1.3
, which take into account the stages in the supply chain along with consumer-based phases, represent a number of environmental and ethical concerns that are often associated with fast-fashion clothing, but they also represent the multiplicity of problems that the fashion industry in general is facing. For example, the fashion industry contributes to the use of natural resources, such as fossil fuels, to create energy for production processes which release toxic emissions into the atmosphere. At the same time, water is depleted for crop cultivation, textile processing and laundering, and some of these processes pollute our waterways with chemicals (Allwood et al. 2006). In the garment factories, where employment should be considered positive, the pay and working conditions for many people are poor. Since the fashion industry is made up of a global network of suppliers, producers and retailers, the battle to make improvements involves liaising with a multitude of stakeholders, working under different laws and legislation.
Fast fashion and JIT technology
‘Just-in-time’ (JIT) technology makes use of new production technologies that allow a garment to be manufactured up to 30 per cent or 40 per cent more quickly than when using conventional processes, without building up unnecessary stock. Although approaches may vary, a producer can use technology-enabled facilities to handle specific functions. For example, rather than outsourcing work to manufacturers, fast-fashion producer and retailer Zara handles its own supply chain and has built a number of factories that use robots to handle specialist processes. The aim is to speed up the time it takes to move from a sketch to a finished garment.
•Pesticide used in cotton growing
•Water used in cotton growing
•Genetic modification of fibres
•Fair conditions and prices for growers
•Use of oil in synthetics
Fabric and garment production
•Use of chemicals in textile treatments
•Water and energy use in textile processed
•Fabric and resource waste
•Working conditions in factories
Distribution and retail
•High-street working conditions and pay
•Treatment of suppliers
•Energy use in retail outlets
•CO2 emissions and waste in transport