If Mother Earth wore clothes and went shopping at the mall with her besties Mars and Uranus, she’d definitely reach for an ethically made grass-dyed skirt and top, and she’d wear it for one hundred plus years — if she can keep from spilling an asteroid smoothie and staining the outfit, of course. Humans should be buying ethical and sustainable clothing, too — take it from Mother Earth herself (and a couple panelists discussing sustainability).
On Thursday, Sept. 23, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s fashion department’s Professional Advisory Council held a Zoom panel discussion about sustainability and ethicality in fashion. The fashion industry is a large contributor to worldwide pollution, and it accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. Also, many fashion companies are known for paying overseas workers low wages and inhumanely testing products on animals.
The panel consisted of three business owners and representatives. There was UNL alumnus Chris Hughes, founder of American-made accessories company ARTIFACT, UNL alumnus Nicole Rudolph representing American Duchess, which makes reproductions of historical shoes, and Cassie Uecker, the digital marketing manager for the ethically focused bag company Sapahn.
The panelists agreed that one of the most important things for a company to be sustainable is to make something that will last a long time. If the customer can keep an item instead of throwing it away, it will reduce the amount of textile waste cluttering landfills.
“Our company has lately been focusing on the actual lifespan of an object we create,” Rudolph said. “We’re working on figuring out, once an object leaves our store, that it will have a long life, and it won’t just be thrown away in a year or two because it is falling apart.”
Hughes felt that the longevity of an item equates to the quality of that item.
“If you’re making a product that just can’t even handle a wash cycle, then you’re not really supporting that notion of sustainability,” Hughes said.
Uecker and Rudolph also discussed trends and said while one trend might seem done after a year, trends do come back.
“Being more trendy can get you ahead of the game by understanding the fact that certain trends are going to peak and revert back really fast,” Rudolph said. “Trends are usually historical in that they’re all things we’ve done before. Nothing is new.”
Uecker related trends back into the longevity of an item.
“We want to cater to trends that we know are going to be timeless,” Uecker said. “When an item is recycled back through the trend cycle, it then stays out of the landfills.”
Another thing the panelists focused on was how a brand should be transparent to customers about what they are doing. If a company says they are sustainable or ethical without explaining how just so they can sell more products, that is called greenwashing.
“Consumers are becoming way more savvy and really want to know where you put your stake in the ground, and it’s not enough anymore to just say we are sustainable or ethical,” Uecker said. “We really have to show our practices and actions.”
To be more transparent with customers and combat accusations of greenwashing, Uecker described what Sapahn does to help make customers comfortable buying their products.
“We spend a lot of time requesting videos and photographs from the manufacturer, which we then share with the customer base,” Uecker said. “When I was working in Portugal, the people we were working with were like, ‘I will send videos every single day of everything being produced,’ and it was great because we could then know what was really happening. A lot of those videos then got shared on social media.”
Hughes also told the audience that consumers need to hold businesses accountable for greenwashing.
“I think to help with greenwashing and all that stuff, the future generation needs to work to create some type of accountability and measurement so that companies can say, ‘Yes, we fit that criteria,’’’ Hughes said.
Hughes also told the audience that, while the present may look a little bleak regarding sustainability and ethicality, the future is looking up.
“Right now there is a lot of gray; there’s a lot of work to be done,” Hughes said. “But I do think the future is looking bright … I urge you to continue this conversation with your friends and professors.”