In his first featured article with us, Yotam Solomon explores ‘true sustainability’, looking at the basics of renewable versus recyclable for the average consumer, and sharing his views on fashion production. Yotam is a fashion designer and product developer focusing on cradle-to-cradle innovation in apparel and footwear, and sits on our Expert panel as a sustainable fashion design expert.
As a fashion designer, product developer, and material technology pioneer I have gathered many facts throughout my career. I’m lucky to say that I was raised in a health-conscious home, where I was always fed nutritious meals with a heavy focus on vegetables and fruits. I was never exposed to drugs or alcohol and was always taught to think for myself, which is why I might be the only Israeli you will ever meet that has never even tried a cigarette!
Healthy living is all well and good, but there is so much more that we don’t know about. Let me explain. There are many basic facts that can, and in my opinion should, be taught in schools. Being eco-friendly can mean a multitude of different things such as recycling, re-using, or using less, which can all make a huge difference. But aside from using less water, electricity, and cutting back on our meat consumption, (since animal farming contributes 50% more to global warming than the petrochemical industry) there is a bigger underlining issue. It is about reshaping what we consume and how things are produced. Unfortunately, the average consumer can’t determine how materials are developed and we are all forced to buy whatever is presented to us in the marketplace. The good news is that governments understand how crucial it is to improve our current manufacturing industry ethics by imposing new laws, slowly but steadily.
In my line of work I see many components that range from farming, creation, and development of base materials. These base materials then undergo constructing, processing, and finishing methods to produce our basic products. The manufacturing process itself is quite long and most people aren’t aware that it takes many resources from all around the world and creates a huge carbon footprint. For example, did you know that the average shoe is made from over 100 different materials? It takes an enormous global supply chain to create one pair of sneakers, which an average consumer will use for less than a year! Subsequently, these finished products are then tossed into the trash, which marks the beginning of their end-of-lifecycle journey across the world, since they are non-biodegradable.
My product lifecycle management knowledge has expanded from working with mega brands on large-scale productions of apparel and fashion accessories. From my research and work, I have found that there is a fully sustainable approach or, in other words, a cradle-to-cradle (C2C) approach. In this system, all material input and output is seen as fully renewable and reusable with non-toxic biological nutrients. These materials can be consumed over and over again with no loss or waste because they are fully natural. This opened my eyes to the fact that making modern fashion products was far from what I wished eco-friendly or sustainable really meant. It also pushed me into exploring more solutions in order to reduce the usage of harmful materials, which I found to be excessive.
Let’s say you want to buy an eco-friendly shirt. There are many factors to think about. For starters, how was the material farmed? If you opted for a synthetic fiber, it’s not sustainable because it is made from non-biodegradable materials and also petrochemicals. Choosing synthetics is never cradle-to-cradle as it is based on non-eco-friendly production methods. If you choose a natural fiber, there are yet many variables to determine its true sustainability: whether the farming process is organic or inorganic; whether the production method is heavy on water and energy consumption or not; not to forget exploitation of physical labor, which has been a huge issue. Are local labor workers paid enough? Is farming and harvesting of materials sustainable for the local economy? The process becomes much more complex as materials need to be processed, dyed, and finished.
The entire process can be simplified but the main issue is that fast-fashion has created an ever low-cost trend that forces labor workers to work for well under minimum wages and factories to use the cheapest, most toxic chemicals. There are many problems with the entire model of fast-fashion, which greatly hurt many people around the world, not to mention destroy our environment. The movie, ‘The True Cost’ directed by Andrew Morgan and produced by Livia Giuggioli, provides an in-depth look into our modern fashion industry that is driven by the cheapest of prices. Oftentimes I wonder how people think and why they don’t question the fact that a dress can cost less than a salad, it just doesn’t make sense!
Unfortunately, in most cases, consumers spend more money purchasing many cheap products and then they dispose of these goods faster than they would of higher quality items. With teens living in the ‘here and now’, fast-fashion is not just a trend, but also an economic state. It is my job as a designer to educate others in order to change fast-fashion and alleviate its many issues in order to help our economy stabilize and help lives instead of destroying them.
All said and done, saving on all consumption makes a huge difference. Remember that when you buy fashion goods, you should look for locally made, natural fibers, and always ask your retailers about low impact products. You’re the boss and the more you ask for something, the more likely the industry will change their product to satisfy your needs. We are working to better our industry standards and invest in material innovation that will lead to further conservation of water, energy, heat, and freight along with reductions of gas emissions, waste, and refocusing our manufacturing on regional production to help sustain our beautiful planet and invest back into our communities and people. Please join me in my journey to make a difference by taking a stand as a consumer, because every decision you make is hugely significant.
*In his next exclusive piece for WhichPLM, Yotam will explore the reality of what the customer knows, and should know, about how things are made.