Fashion degrowth could be the future of fashion, as it consists of a controlled reduction of the economy and new materials while maintaining revenue by increasing value. According to a growing number of experts and environmentalists this could be the best approach for fashion to genuinely address the climate crisis. Fashion degrowth involves a planned economic contraction with reduced production. In the fashion industry, the value for quality implies extending the clothes lifespan as one of the most effective ways of reducing their environmental footprint and extending services to care for loved clothes. Brands must find new ways to bring value to their customers that are not linked to production to maintain or increase their profit.
There is not a single alternative to our current model of consumption, but there are new industry models trying to align with the principles of circular economy. Some of these include reselling, tailoring, rental, upcycling and mending. Also, buying secondhand or textiles made from waste. “Degrowth is exciting because it opens up a plurality of fashion actions and expression,” says University of the Arts London (UAL) professor Kate Fletcher, citing regenerative agriculture, repairs, recycling, upcycling and localism among other things. As described by Susan Paulson, co-author of The Case for Degrowth, one way to achieve degrowth is “to widen the scope of possibilities, and that’s already happening.”
While there are no instances of full degrowth strategies, experts consider that existing initiatives put together could constitute something very close to it. An example of this kind of initiatives is The Trampery, London’s largest campus of fashion studios for innovation and sustainability. Particularly, their Sustainable Fashion Accelerator program focuses on integrating sustainability into new business models.
More brand-specific strategies are, for instance, the British brand Toast and their “Toast Renewal” free repair service, or their “Toast Circle” initiative, that offers the possibility to swap clothes at their stores, and their “Made to Order” line, aimed to minimize waste. The sustainable fashion marketplace Reture connects costumers with international designers who, as described by Sara Arnold, from Extinction Rebellion, can “upcycle preloved garments into unique treasures.” There is also ReKnit, a project by UK researcher Dr Amy Twigger Holroyd, which encourages and teaches people to revamp their knitwear. Online care and repair academy Fixing Fashion follows a similar premise.
In sum, degrowth fundamentally means consuming less and producing less, and the fashion industry is beginning to understand that it needs to find new profitable forms to do so. The tricky part of it is of course finding ways to transform this “less” into new business opportunities, so that economy does not stop, which is what detractors of degrowth fear the most. It is not a matter of stop working, but working with new priorities in mind. Mathilda Tham (PhD), from Earth Logic, says degrowth is not a recession, but a planned reduction. That’s why legislation and infrastructure are key to its success, because imagination is there, but institutional support is needed to help and protect businesses that wish to devote themselves to reducing production and waste.
Read more about decoupling production from profit here.