Sustainable 'v' unsustainable: articulating division in the fashion textiles industry

Joan Farrer, K. Fraser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The global Fashion industry is significant, worth 300 billion US Dollars and employs more than 26 million workers (University of Cambridge, 2006). However the industry is changing, due to devaluation of design on the one hand and economic pressure and re-evaluation of design ethics coupled with consumer integrity on the other. This paper addresses the emerging retail landscape, where production and consumption practices are separating like oil and water. We are witnessing a paradigm shift with regard to business models, where the new consumer desires and is demanding high value, performance and smart ethical fashion. These consumers expect co-creation, innovation, opportunities through customisation, supply chain transparency and business integrity, to build an ongoing relationship with a retailers ‘no worry’ brand. They are generation ‘C’, who often purchase from virtual retail environments, and who understand the relevance of design for behavioural change, and the true cost of products both in material and human terms. Sustainability, or people, profit, planet, inherent in the bedrock of a cradle-to-cradle fashion textiles system of the near future. In New Zealand, fashion is worth 326 million NZD in exports (NZTE, 2008) and as elsewhere the insatiability of the mainstream fashion consumer is being satisfied by an escalation of ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ outlets. Here the ‘dollar a day’ dress (Marks, 2005) made by a significant silent workforce of slave labourers, refugees, illegal workers and children exist in the black manufacturing economy, even here in the back streets of Auckland (Cumming, 2002). Consumer responses during the recent recession (Euromonitor, 2010; Vass, 2009) are poles apart, customers buying wisely what is needed, with integrity, in contrast to the pressure of ‘buy one, get one free’ and the frenzy of a fashion bargain. With these attitudes working in tandem, this paper predicts an unsustainable global manufacturing fashion/textile industry will continue to run parallel to an emerging model of fashion/textiles design and business systems. Fashion textile literature and theory relating to sustainability is often emotive, fragmented and vague. This positioning paper argues that a polarisation, or separation, of the producer, consumer, disposal and reuse markets is already taking place in the best and the worst of the industry, on every high street and mall. To illustrate this division we have focused on two fictitious adjacent clothing stores in the high street of 2018: we predict a continuation of the unsustainable global manufacturing fashion textile industry as Shop Two; running in parallel to an emerging new paradigm of fashion and textiles found in Shop One. This thesis has been developed by focussing on issues of sustainability, comparing existing fashion/textile retail supply and disposal chains and analysis of the cause-and-effect, using guiding principles from cradle-to-grave analysis and systemic reasoning. It is underpinned by, and reflects upon the knowledge of current local and global fashion/textile design business practice and data which forms the context for thinking through design to enable change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalAnti-po-des Design Research Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2011

Bibliographical note

© The Authors(s) and UNITEC, 2011


  • Fashion
  • textiles
  • sustainability
  • cradle-to-cradle
  • technology
  • supply chain
  • consumer
  • disposal.


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