It's time to work towards the future
Since the crisis there is more awareness of the urgency of sustainability commitments on an individual level and amongst businesses. According to Shervin Fekri, people’s demands and expectations are changing. So let’s talk fashion. Also for this industry, it’s time to work towards the future.︎︎︎NIENKE VENEMA / SOCIETY
Shervin Fekri, Social Impact Lead at Board of Innovation, Works together with many international corporates (i.e. ING Group, NN Group, Swiss Re etc.) and organisations (i.e. UNHCR, SOS Children's Villages etc.) and helps them to design new products, services and business models. The Coronavirus made us reconsider many systems we make use of. As a result of that, there is a growing trend of becoming more conscious.
Fekri mentions that nowadays many individuals struggle with a sense of guilt and that many people try to cover up this by doing quick fixes. More people are becoming vegetarian or want to find a way to have a positive impact, which is great. However, even though people are adjusting some daily habits, at some point you are noticing it’s not going to change major things. ‘The biggest change should come from bigger players such as corporates, also looking at the fashion industry’, says Fekri. He confirms the trend that corporations also aim for a better future these days. ‘Unfortunately, these organisations will not always be the ones that start. It's hard to imagine that these big players will decide and say that they will produce less and that they will change the culture of buying unless they feel the pressure and demand from the people.’ states Fekri.
Changing consumerismFekri claims that a very big part of the problem is over-consuming; that is what should be fixed. The challenge is to make the consumer more conscious about not only the material but also the usage of a product. Ideally, the use-phase of a product should be as long as possible. Unfortunately, most of the products are used for a short amount of time and end up as waste in a landfill. ‘Very often, addressing this issue consumerism goes completely against many corporates’ profit-centered logic and way of thinking. Since the main goal of a business is making more profit, they have to retain their consumers and make them return as often as possible. It would be great if they could make you return every other week to buy a new product.’
But who takes the lead in changing this mindset? Do consumers need to be more educated and thus start to value durability? Or do businesses take the lead and mainly offer durable products? The answer is two sided, cliche but the reality. ‘Companies follow the market, do customer research and analysis to eventually respond to that. On the other side, corporations set trends that we follow and impact our culture. A corporate can increase the demand for a specific design, color or textile. Companies spend millions to impact our taste and perception.’
According to Fekri, the perfect solution exists. ’The best would be if a fashion company could say: we are here to dress people, but we don’t want them to buy more each year. A person has to buy three things per season, so six things in total: two pair of shoes, two pair of pants, and that's it. We want everyone to be our customer, but we don’t want them here frequently’. When he mentions this, it sounds very simple. ‘I think the real change would come when big corporates realize this. They have to encourage people to buy less, make their products durable, and then the customers will value their purchase’.
In theory, the bottleneck lies within the growth vision of the business. They want to sell more, and they will find a way to do so. You need revolutionary leaders to create a company's vision that stands up against the culture of buying. But Fekri doesn’t expect these leaders to come from big companies. ‘You don't have that many companies with the goal to sell less. I think it might be easier for smaller brands and entrepreneurs to try out new business models".
“We want everyone to be our customer, but we don’t want them here frequently.”
The fight against over- consuming, a big problem in the fashion industry. Image source BBC News
Small brands should be the change makers
When you are a small brand you are more flexible, that gives you the possibility to be more innovative. This enables small brands to challenge corporates. ‘Small brands have to make sure they outplay corporates. This way the corporates have to respond or imitate. As a small business owner or an entrepreneur, it might be easier for you to revise your value proposition, values and the way you communicate them and eventually this might mean that you can impact your consumer's values. Consequently, this will reflect on a higher level. Eventually, corporations will have to follow. And when they follow, the biggest change will happen’ Fekri argues.
According to Fekri, smaller brands should simply become the main competitor of fast fashion companies. However, these small organizations cannot always come up with expensive innovative solutions. How can a smaller brand reboot its approach to materials, waste and recycling? ‘There I would say the best way is to go with partnerships. Most of the time, you cannot afford a comprehensive R&D process in which you can identify new materials and technologies. However, you can try and partner up with other companies that are already in that domain’, he mentions. ‘The same applies to recycling and reusing consumer's products. A small business can have and maintain close relationships with its customers. It might be more accessible for them to create a system to bring back clothing. They can do these things easier than bigger consumer brands; for them to recollect and reuse could be a huge problem since it requires a lot of logistic arrangements.’
Sustainable fashion is for everyoneFekri mentioned in our conversation that investing in durable systems and materials could be expensive. This results in the fact that durable garments often are more expensive than fast fashion. Why would a non-wealthy family spend more money on sustainable fashion, if they can easily buy cheap clothing every month? Is caring about durability something only the wealthy can afford? Or is this only the case in western culture? Fekri gives an example; ‘I remember when I was traveling in some little villages in Iranpeople there had a very good idea of what it means to value durability. If you show them something low quality which could be used only a few times, they will say, “This is shit. That wouldn’t even last for a year.” More people there would put durability before appearances when they are buying some boots because they have to survive. I would say, the non-wealthy could be more conscious about durability and quality. When they buy something, it should last’. Unfortunately, the western perspective comes along with consumerism. Fast fashion companies entered the game and started selling cheap products which they could produce thanks to their highly optimized processes. Non-wealthy families can now easily follow trends and are triggered to consume. Fekri says we are missing the repair culture, ‘People in those villages would buy products but then they would also repair them when needed. You wouldn't have the luxury to throw things away as soon as there is a little problem with them. My dad would buy shoes and boots, keep them for years and fix them when needed. Today many of us don't do that anymore. And if we ask, why don’t you repair? The answer is that very often buying a new one is easier.’
Lessons we take from Covid-19Fekri believes that the coronavirus might have a positive effect on our consumer behavior. ‘Covid taught many of us that we’re all in this together. This crisis is a global problem. It’s the first time that a virus; which doesn’t recognize countries, eastern or western cultures, social classes and so on, is hitting us. We have to realize we are quite spoiled: we grow up with free markets, go to schools and everything is super accessible. Countries that are used to crises are dealing better with Covid than the people here.’
Since Covid-19, people have started to increasingly notice that we only have one planet to live on. Currently we are dealing with a global virus, but climate change is going to affect us in the exact same way. Climate change will make no exceptions based on background and is going to hit us all. We don’t have that many privileges anymore, even if you are living in developed countries.
Consumer behavior shows us due to the crisis, people are more aware of their health and the environment. People are shopping more locally and supporting smaller companies nowadays. As stated by Fekri, this way of consuming are the important elements for a better future. Maybe conscious consumerism is around the corner.