When Sustainability, Transparency and Zero Waste Is About Respecting Your Clothes

Sustainability is more than just avoiding waste, it is a lifestyle change that consumers need to eventually shift towards.

Whilst attending MBFW Russia in Moscow, I met Piia Lehtinen, a Finland based woman who is jump starting the conversation around sustainability. Holding three different titles, President of the Board at Design District Helsinki, Head of Sponsorship for Design Museum Helsinki and Founder of Design Club Business Network, Piia was part of the MBFW Russia Fashion Futurum panel where she presented her thoughts on how ethical fashion can rule the world.

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Piia Lehtinnen on the panel at Fashion Futurum

I got to know Piia when I approached her after her panel discussion was over. I wanted to know more about what sustainability meant to her. The first thing she stressed was that brands need to get to know their customers. In doing so they will be able to cultivate a long lasting relationship that is based on “human touch and personal service”. Continuing on, she mentioned a label called Anna Ruohonen. According to Piia, Anna Ruohonen is an ecologically responsible brand that shows respect to their clients by concentrating on quality and reducing quantity.

“Show respect to your clients by taking ecological responsibility and concentrating on quality and reducing quantity.”

Secondly, Piia brought up the need to establish a zero waste design process. This is a process that could counteract the fashion industry’s wasteful practices. The new movement is supported by designers like Kestrel Jenkins, founder of Awear World and podcast Conscious Chatter. She has built a community of mindful consumers and stylish change makers. In a recent interview with TrustedClothes.com she talked about how mind blowing the waste associated with the textile industry is. On this she explained, “Today, the average American generates 82 pounds of textile waste per year. The big bummer about it is a lot of that waste could be recycled. What we wear has the potential to also be a reflection of our values.” 

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Kestrel Jenkins, founder of Awear World and podcast Conscious Chatter

For designers to adopt the zero waste design process, the answer is quite obvious, they need to produce nearer to home. This is easier said than done. Manufacturing closer to home could have a domino effect on the livelihoods of those who live in places like India and China. Unfortunately, these artisans depend on the work to make a living. Believing in supporting local, Piia shared that in Finland stores like Liike are great because they stock contemporary break-out local Finnish fashion brands. Founded in 2000, Liike’s objective is to encourage a ‘produce near, support your local’ mentality. For some brands, manufacturing locally is not a viable option. I think that for them the solution could be embracing the process of designing garments with pattern pieces that do not generate any waste. This is possible because designers like Mark LiuJulian RobertsHolly McQuillan, Yeohlee Teng and Timo Rissanen are already creating products with no waste.

“For designers to adopt the zero waste design process, the answer is quite obvious, they need to produce nearer to home.”

Thirdly, Piia believes that we need to learn to respect our clothes. I think respect will come if brands produce timeless collections that can stand the test of time. If you think of how our parents (grand parents for some of you) would buy a  jacket and decades later it is still fabulous enough for us to ‘borrow’ it. We need to return to seeing our clothes as an investment that we do not want to throw away. A great example of a company thriving to design usable and functional clothing is Makia Clothing company. Their no-nonsense approach to clothing is great. They are unafraid to encourage their customers to take care of their clothes. For them, throwing away clothes is definitely not the solution.

To combat waste, Piia suggested that designers need to manufacture collections using recycled and discarded materials. Already doing this is a Finnish company called Globe Hope. They re-design and create unique clothes, bags and accessorises using left over and old materials. Living by three key values, aesthetics, ecology and ethics, Globe Hope is committed to offering consumers an ecological alternative. When it comes to limited earth resources, they do not compromise. Whilst familarising myself with the Globe Hope brand, I fell for their Tinja skirt. Made out of an army utility sack that used to work in the Hungarian army, the skirt is decorated with a line of metal hoops that were originally used to draw the army sack shut with a string.

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Globe Hope Tinja skirt

Moving on, Piia brought up material innovations. It seems like not many people know that there are responsible and ethical alternative brands available that embrace material innovations. We just need to be wiling to explore beyond the mountain of polyester products that the highstreet is currently offering us. Piia brought up Ioncell, an alternative textile that has become a significant trend of late. Ioncell-F is a textile created from plant material and ionic liquid. What I love about Ioncell is that the process does not yield any toxic chemicals. The result is a fabric that is made of all-natural materials. Piia shared that when it comes to water consumption of cotton production, one pair of jeans takes 7000 litres and  Ioncell only uses 3% off that.

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Ioncell-F: New Sustainable Fabric of the Future

Before concluding, Piia brought up transparency. She believes that it is important that brands provide supply chain information to consumers. I think that this kind of transparency sounds great on paper, but in reality there are a lot of hurdles that need to be jumped first before everyone gives up that information. The good news is that  hashtags like #WhoMadeMyClothes are still trending on social media. This is great because it looks like consumers are beginning to demand more transparency from their favourite brands. Transparency to me says trust us, and luckily there are some brands out there gaining consumer trust. An example given by Piia is Formal Friday. It is a brand founded by five guys from Finland. Formal Friday is on a mission to bring quality and sustainability to their customers. By being transparent, they are giving their customers the kind of information that will help them make ethical and environmentally sustainable choices.

“Sustainability is more than just avoiding waste, it is a lifestyle change that consumers need to eventually shift towards.”

Meeting Piia strengthened my belief that sustainability is more than just avoiding waste, it is a lifestyle change that consumers need to eventually shift towards. By doing so they will be able to enjoy a more sustainable consumption, which in the long run should allow them to adopt a new attitude when it comes to their buying decisions.

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