Driven in large part by the wider global narratives of consumer capitalism and exponential growth, the tremendous complexity of the global garment industry is daunting to consider. When defined by the rules of the status quo, the challenges facing the industry can seem insurmountable, and transformation to a new way of being nearly impossible. And yet, for some the hopeful future seems not only plausible but possible, with many artists, activists, designers, entrepreneurs, and even some industry leaders already striving toward it in diverse and ingenious ways.
Through the systematic analysis of the garment industry’s Three Horizons, light was shed on the events, patterns of behaviour, systems structures, and mental models that drive the current status quo, but also what could come to define the hopeful future. A brief summary of these can be found in the table below:
What is happening?
Exploitation, pollution & waste, overconsumption, anxiety, loss of design diversity
Meaningful employment, healthy ecosystems, agency and participation
Patterns of Behaviour
What trends are there over time?
Opaque supply chains, cost externalizations, distancing, commoditization
Waste as catalyst (value loops), diverse ecosystem of players
How are the parts related? What influences the patterns?
Growth paradigm, consumer capitalism, individualistic societies
Economies of culture, growth of ideas not material throughput, care for the collective
What values, assumptions and beliefs shape the system?
Domination and control over natural world, frontier economies
Harmony with the natural world, bounded capabilities, “overview effect” as societal narrative
Levels of thinking, based on the Iceberg Model of inquiry
How might we move from our current reality to a more hopeful future? One potential pathway might involve re-imagining the industry into fast, medium and slow systems that work symbiotically in support of a greater sustainable whole and cultivates that which makes fashion a vital part of our collective human identity – a tool for meaningful and authentic self-expression and identity making. It could involve looking at what companies, designers and individuals do best, and channeling them in different directions.
Fast fashion leaders, for example, might re-imagine themselves as experts in creating value loops – finding ways to ensure the system is as efficient and waste-less as possible (fast systems). In doing so these leaders could support smaller players to use their flexibility and social consciousness to foster authentic expressions of creativity, experimentation and novelty to bring out the best in fashion (medium-speed systems, supported by industry leaders’ value loops). Through the work and ventures of smaller players, individuals could be given vital roles in the process of fashion creation, giving them agency to create meaningful reflections of themselves and the world. This is not to say the above scenario is the only possible future, but instead just one permutation of a system where multiple speeds work in service of a larger sustainable whole. It might also be possible for a larger enterprise to combine all three speeds into one symbiotic business model, creating its own sustainable “ecosystem” of activities.
Instead of material throughput in the name of commodification, we might focus on cultural throughput in support of art, culture, social connection, beauty and nature. In this type of future, fashion could transform into the high expression of humanity it is meant to be.
(CC) Laura Dempsey 2015
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