Creating a sustainable fashion industry

Mannequins wearing different outfits

According to the United Nations Environment Program, 20% of the global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions can be traced back to one source: the fashion industry. The UNEP estimates that these statistics are “more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.” Alarmed by these numbers, Arizona State University students, staff and alumni, including the Business of Fashion group at ASU, are working to change it.

Last fall, the group held a sustainability night at the Fashion and Business Resource Innovation Center (FABRIC). Led by president and ASU MBA alumna Sherry Barry, FABRIC provides several solutions to small design firms who want to be sustainable. The event hosted by the Business of Fashion group highlighted problems in the fashion industry and proposed solutions. It also included a “radical fashion” panel and a pop-up shop of resale and sustainable brands. Connor Damaschi, an ASU alumnus, was one of the people in attendance and a speaker on the panel. He currently designs streetwear brand “Yellow Zone Limited” that uses fabric from anything that would typically be thrown out.

He acknowledged that as a small business owner, he has trouble with sourcing: “It’s hard to source something that is really sustainable. It’s hard to find fabric that’s sourced ethically and responsibly and it’s difficult financially to justify the resulting price to a consumer.”

Kevin Dooley, distinguished professor of supply chain management in the W. P. Carey School of Business and a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, agrees. According to Dooley, both large and small companies have trouble with their supply chains and the ability to guarantee ethically acquired materials at every step of the process.

“Sustainability requires both traceability and transparency,” Dooley said. “When you know where the yarn for your textile is being produced, then you can identify the social and environmental risk that exists and then you can ask about the state of those suppliers relative to those hot spots.”

Dooley is also the chief scientist of The Sustainability Consortium, where he leads a global research team that works with more than 100 of the world’s largest retailers to track progress on sustainability issues. The consortium’s tools are the basis of the Walmart Sustainability Index and have been used by other major retailers such as Kroger. This semester, he is working with his students on Project WearEver, in which they’ll put tiny digital tags into clothing to track where it goes.

“The end goal is to create a system whereby manufacturers who are designing clothing that has better usefulness and longer first lives can have a platform to proclaim that performance,” Dooley said.

Yet another prospective solution to the immense waste in the fashion industry can be found in the hashtag #NoNewClothing, a challenge to buy only second hand items or none at all. It’s a challenge ASU graduate student Anne Hall has taken up. Hall served in the Peace Corps in Ecuador last year and she credits her time there with helping her become more creative in re-using materials.

Sophia Toomb, a 2019 grad who recently launched the website Moda Verde to curate sustainable brands, lives by a similar philosophy: “My biggest recommendation is to shop secondhand. You can find so many current styles, designers and even clothes with the tags still on them at secondhand stores.” To those not inclined to buy used clothing, she recommends brands working to be kinder to the environment.