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Sustainable at all stages: changing the fashion industry

Published by Mark Bodnar

green line drawing of clothing hanging out a laundry line
A couple years ago I collaborated with our Interactive Arts & Technology Librarian on a series of posts about one of the "wicked problems" of our modern world: sustainability in the textile & fashion industries.

Cover of ebook: "Designing Fashion's Future: present practice and tactics for sustainable change"
That series was published to support an interdisciplinary cohort of students in our Business of Design program, all of whom were working on projects to change the way fashion and its materials are designed, produced, purchased, and discarded... change of the sort that our world so desperately needs.

The word "change" is key here. The Business of Design program has changed to Make Change Studio, but the students involved are still trying to change the world, and they've returned to the topic of fixing fast fashion.

Sticking with the change theme for a bit... I thought I'd take a look back at the four posts I wrote in 2019 and talk about changes & additions so that our Make Change teams have the best possible information to work with.


Post #1 — On sustainable textiles and the power of collaboration

... highlighted the many organisations of designers, producers, retailers, and governments who are collaborating to address sustainable fashion/textile issues.

This post has aged well — the organisations listed all still exist, and all still provide the latest reports, statistics, experts, and news that you need to understand both the issue and new initiatives.

Be sure to explore any resources, reports, blogs, those organisations provide to get the latest information such as...

Logo of the Fashion Revolution site
When you're looking for the sites of stakeholders, don't just consider the usual suspects: companies, governments, industry associations, etc.  Sometimes activist groups will collect and produce exactly the sort of information you need. For instance, Fashion Revolution offers reports such as "Why we still need a fashion revolution" which ends with an amazing list of references!

 Update: (June 8) - I just read about a new online materials library in which you can "discover the potential of previously unknown textiles" in four themes; Regenerative Crops, Remade Fibres, Harvesting Waste Streams, and Sustainable Colour. Visit the Future Materials Library to learn more!


Post #2 — On finding design inspiration

... featured our library's many books and ebooks on sustainable design, sustainable business, and the fashion & textile industries, as well as the intersections of all of those topics. The search links in that post will guide you to hundreds of other titles on your topics, including many published in the last few years... explore!

Some researchers skip ebooks out of a mistaken belief that such sources will be too long or outdated. In fact, a good book can save you time as it collects lots of information on your topic in one place... plus we are constantly buying the newest titles on topics such as sustainability, product design, and textiles. Here are just a few of the ebooks we've acquired for you in the last year: 



Post #3 — SimplyAnalytics: When only local market info will quench your thirst

... pivoted toward extremely local data with a look at Metro Van demographics, spending, and businesses, all mappable at a neighbourhood level in our SimplyAnalytics database.

Logo of the SimplyAnalytics database.

You have to see SimplyAnalytics in action to properly understand its power and value, so in post #3 we provided a sample map in which we'd colour-coded Vancouver's neighbourhoods by the amount households were spending on children's clothes, with an overlay of the locations of the stores that specialise in selling that sort of product. 

That seeing-is-believing spirit is behind the only addition I'd make to the post: check out this short guide that illustrates the value of the database in answering typical entrepreneurship questions. For instance...

Simple lining drawing of a map on a computer monitor

  • How can I figure out what area in my city is the best fit for a sewing supply shop? 
  • We're opening a new business and we're interested in comparing the interests and spending patterns of residents of several key neighbourhoods.
  • I'd like to understand the demographics and values of people who live within 2km of my clothing store, but I want to focus on pre-defined consumer segments such as "Eat, Play, Love" — younger, well-educated urban singles who like to try new things (including fashions) and prefer natural/organic products. (Sample map.)
  • How can I get a list of businesses in the city that have less than 100 employees and are in the "used merchandise" industry?

Post #4 — On the apparel, fashion, and textile industries 

... toured many of our top industry and market report databases to see what sorts of analysis and forecasts they could provide.

This post has also aged quite well. The databases we discussed are still among the first places I'd look, and most of them are constantly adding new content. I strongly recommend exploring them all to see what new trends and issues they are highlighting. For example, I found the following reports with just a few quick searches: 

But wait!  There's more!

Line drawing of a sewing needle attached to a tag with a leaf on it.
Now that we've brought the old posts up to date, let's talk about some fresh resources: 

Statista, our portal to statistics on almost anything, doesn't let us down when it comes to topics such as second-hand apparel or fast fashion.

  • Remember to always look for a link to the original source of each statistic mentioned in Statista, then follow those leads to get more context and often additional stats!
  • Also explore Statista's Publication Finder tool to dig up reports from associations, governments and other stakeholders from around the world. Sample searches: textile waste & sustainable fashion.

Vividata provides something that is extremely rare: data on Canadians’ opinions, demographics, and activities, as well as their product, service, and media purchases... plus it's possible to mix-and-match all those categories to measure things like: 

  • the demographics of BC residents who report having spent $500 or more on men's clothing in the last 12 months; 
  • the willingness to "make lifestyle compromises to benefit the environment" among those who shop at Lululemon; 
  • the percentage of Canadians who strongly agree that they like to keep up with the latest fashions, and also strongly disagree that we all have a duty to recycle.

With such great power comes great complexity... Vividata is not a simple database to use, but it's worth the effort to learn. Start with this blog post, then work through this intro guide (or watch this video version of the guide). If you're really keen to get the most out of Vividata, dive into this advanced guide!

Textile Resources
List of resources from Waste Reduction Week in Canada

What really happens to old clothes dropped in those in-store recycling bins? (news article) + Clothes from Canada account for huge waste (video)
The results of an investigation by CBC News : Marketplace

Engineering Out Fashion Waste
Report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers focused on the environmental impact of discarded clothing

Kyna Intel
Breaking news "related to sustainable fashion from brand and retail initiatives through to environmental impact, manufacturing innovations, and supply chain conditions. "

And (finally!) a few local resources and examples: 


Line drawing of a sewing needle poking through a heart.
Sustainable fashion is certainly a wicked and urgent problem. People around the world are grappling with the same issues and sharing their research and their solutions. Learn from others as you add your own ideas to the mix! 

I hope this list of resources inspires & supports you.


Questions? Please ask!


P.S.: (March 14) One more plug for the power of news sources: a Financial Times story published yesterday highlighted the use of blockchain to trace suppliers in the fashion industry. SFU students have full access to the FT
Mark Bodnar
Economics & Business Librarian

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