Foreword by Paul Hawken – Fashion & Sustainability

Foreword: To be Clad

Although few doubt that the fate of the environment has become a major issue, there is no consensus on the nature, seriousness, or timing of the risks involved. Most of us believe that other people, experts hopefully, will solve the problems and we can go on living our lives. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of scientists and researchers are studying the earth and its systems to determine what effects industrial civilization is having and what the limits of human activity are with respect to the capacity of the environment. These studies include the effect of acid rain on forests, lakes and crops, the build-up of heavy metals in soils and animals, the increase of greenhouse gases and their effect on climate and incoming radiation, the loss of biodiversity including the world’s fisheries, and human and animal tolerance to the thousands of synthetic chemical compounds that are used every day in manufacturing, products and food. As critically important as these studies are, the work of transformation will need to commence everywhere by people engaged in what they do and know best. It will depend on shared knowledge, networks, and guidebooks that call upon the innate instinct of human beings to protect and nurture life. This is the book you hold.

Lynda Grose and Kate Fletcher pose a critical question: Are there principles and metrics we can agree upon that are key to a world that is not only sustained, but also actually restored? Second, with these shared principles, can we create a framework for change that guides business activities in the fashion industry, a framework that is practical, scientific, and economic?

There is no product category that elicits more press and scrutiny, or has more magazines devoted to it than fashion. Our voluntary attire has intrigued us since the day we became bipeds, as we are the only animal that changes its skin every day. We clad ourselves to be warm, cool, beautiful, functional, professional, or alluring. Many a woman and no small number of men sweat every day about what they will wear and how they appear, and for good reason. We consciously and unconsciously give great weight to others’ appearance. Clothing, shoes, handbags and hats are telltale as to taste, income, class, upbringing, and attitude. Three-sizes-too-big ‘gangsta’ shorts and opening night designer gowns are both chosen carefully to signal one’s tribe. Hyperawareness of style, cut, fabric, color, and design is intense and universal, but it has not included the world behind the rack, the technology behind the cut, the fiber behind the fabric, the land behind the fiber, or the person on the land. In short, the true impact of our clothing choices is barely examined or noticed.

In their book, Lynda and Kate have taken a complex industrial sector and reimagined it as an ecological system, and have done so employing two lifetimes of applied knowledge and experience. To do so, they have stepped back from the exigencies of delivering the fall line and have delivered a masterpiece of systems redesign. In all economic sectors, the initial conversations around sustainability brought forth a sense of constraint, a foreclosure of material freedom that was to be replaced by adherence to rigid standards. The idea that sustainability augurs a lesser world is true in the sense that it calls for less waste, pollution, harm, devastation, depleted soils, poisoned workers, dying bodies of water, etc. But it does not portend a monochromatic world of brown smocks and rice. Sustainability is the forerunner of greater diversity and choice, not less. It offers meaningful work, greater multiplicity of livelihoods, the reinstitution of local production, a safer world, and lives worth living. Truly, the worlds of biomimicry and ecological design presage transformation and innovation on an order we have not seen since the Industrial Revolution, and it is the responsibility of those who understand the metes and bounds of natural systems, both scientifically and economically, to lead the way and elucidate these possibilities. This is what Lynda and Kate have done so elegantly.

This is not a tome or diktat. It is a carefully researched description of a system of production being created by designers, textile companies, manufacturers, and farmers. Call it ethical, sustainable, green, or whatever-you-wish fashion, it is in the end a call to come home, a description of how we can come together in a movement to consecrate the habitats and resources we share and depend on. There are three things we touch upon every day that greatly impact the world around us: fuel (energy), food, and fashion. The first two are now wholeheartedly studied and worked upon. It is now fashion’s turn to inform and dazzle us with what is possible, to provide the moral imperative to change every aspect of producing and purchasing our second skin. I ardently believe that humanity knows what to do once it knows the task at hand. One couldn’t ask for a better description of what is happening and what needs to be done in order for fashion to support life on earth.

Paul Hawken