Business sustainability meets high fashion

By: Justin K. Lacey

From catwalks in Paris to the design houses of Milan and New York, the world of high fashion is the embodiment of our “must have it today, don’t want it tomorrow” culture, and is anything but sustainable.
 
Poor labour practices, the use of cotton grown with incredible amounts of insecticides and pesticides, plus a marketing machine that spends vast amounts of money convincing people that they must wear the latest fashion accessory to be considered cool.

In fact, as John Grant observed in “The Green Marketing Manifesto“, fashion is not just a type of industry; it’s a type of marketing. Fashion marketing can be found in a wide array of consumer products, but is particularly powerful in the world of consumer electronics. Just remember the sense of envy you felt last time you were at the gym and noticed the person on the tread-mill next to you was using an iPod that was smaller, with more features and capable of storing even more songs.

But the world can no longer support this disposable lifestyle. Imagine the combined populations of India and China, estimated at 2.5 billion people, adopting the same lifestyle we have come to enjoy here in the West.

Something has to give, and it’s encouraging to see businesses of all sizes looking at sustainability not only as an environmental and societal necessity, but also as an opportunity to reduce costs and create competitive advantage.
 
We can even find examples in the retail fashion industry. Planet Claire is a Vancouver-based independent clothing store, focusing on sustainable and ethically produced clothing. Its owner, Claire Lindsay Burke, comes from a rich background of serving the needs of society – from running a food bank to helping homeless people and substance abusers as a social worker.

Though the work was fulfilling, Claire wanted to express her creative side: “When I finally put the concept of sustainability and creative expression with fashion, I had that ‘eureka’ moment.”

Clothing made from “eco-friendly fabrics” such as organic cotton, hemp, silk, recycled material, and even seaweed can be found throughout Planet Claire. Most of the clothing (80%) is handmade by the designers themselves, with the other 20% being made by local people who are paid a fair wage.

It’s never easy starting a new venture, let alone one that challenges your industry’s “status quo” at a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty. So, where does the founder of Planet Claire get her inspiration to continue on her path of business sustainability?

“I couldn’t open a clothing store any other way,” she says. “I feel like there is a lack of sustainable and ethically produced – as well as unique and beautiful – handmade clothing available to the public. My frustration is that I know it exists and that there are so many talented artists and designers out there.” 

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Justin K Lacey is the Founder of Walk Softly Communications, a consulting firm that helps small businesses implement effective marketing and sustainability strategies. 

To read the full length interview with Claire Lindsay Burke of Planet Claire, or to read similar stories about business & sustainability, please visit www.iwalksoftly.com/blog

 

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