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Geared toward fashion executives, designers, students, researchers and policy-makers, journalist and author Paulina Szmydke-Cacciapalle’s soon-to-be-published “Making Jeans Green: Linking Sustainability, Business and Fashion” (Routledge Press) explores why the industry “has been so slow to adopt green technologies and offers practical solutions to designers and fashion executives who want to switch to cleaner manufacturing, including those working in the ‘fast fashion’ sector.”
Szmydke-Cacciapalle said the book also offers advice to the “eco-conscious consumer who wants to purchase denim more sustainably.” The book, which is available for pre-order and will be published this June, looks at the lifecycle of a pair of jeans and “presents examples of how to go green at different stages,” the author noted.
Here, Szmydke-Cacciapalle discusses the timing of the book, what it means for the $93 billion denim industry and key takeaways for readers.
WWD: What was the impetus behind writing the book? Why denim?
Paulina Szmydke-Cacciapalle: Each season, game-changing innovations in textile technologies enter the scene, promising savings on energy, water and raw materials, but only a small percentage ends up on the catwalk or shop floor. While denim is one of the most resource-thirsty fabrics, it’s also one of the most progressive ones, and it’s charged with emotions.
Nobody gives a jack about a white T-shirt, but people do care about their blue jeans. When talking about something as abstract as sustainability, for which there is no clear-cut definition, denim therefore is the perfect starting point.
WWD: And why is it needed now?
P.S.-C.: The global fashion and apparel industry is at a crossroads. Although it’s hard to put a date on it, it is looking at a radically different and uncertain future. Fact is, it manufactures more than it can sell with resources that are becoming increasingly scarce, particularly water. By 2030, global water demand is projected to exceed sustainable supply by 40 percent.
Safe to say, when push comes to shove, this precious resource is unlikely to go into fixing indigo or bleaching denim to satisfy the fashion folk. The time to change is now. Sustainability requires an initial investment, but it does pay off in the mid- and long-term.
WWD: What are some of the key takeaways for readers?
P.S.-C.: There has to be a pull from both sides. Brands need to produce less but better, while consumers need to buy smarter. From a sustainability point of view, most design today is outdated — that’s a pretty poor record for an industry that prides itself for being “on trend.” A creative approach to sustainability should be among the criteria by which designers and collections are judged today, instead of purely aesthetic criteria. As fashion media, we should celebrate design that is responsible and support those that work to make it happen.
Consumers, on the other hand, need to show more muscle. Next time you are shopping for a pair of jeans, just ask the brand what it is made of and how it was dyed. If this brand can’t answer the question, another one will. That’s how the movement will pick up speed.
WWD: If you were to plot on a graph where the fashion industry is on a journey toward 100 percent sustainability, where would it be right now? Just getting started? Twenty percent there? Halfway there? Why?
P.S.-C.: We still have a long way to go. When you just look at cotton, what passes as sustainable makes up only about 13 percent of the total market. Organic cotton alone is no more than 1 percent. Brands and retailers are simply not buying enough. They say there isn’t enough available, but we know from research that only 17 percent of all sustainable cotton is sold as such, the rest ends up on the conventional market at conventional prices, undermining the efforts of farmers who are switching to cleaner methods.
It’s true that the opaqueness of the supply chains complicates matters, but there is also a clear lack of will and strategy on the brands’ part.
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