Fashion & Sustainability: Mike Barry & Kate Fletcher debate


On 27th April 2012, Mike Barry, Head of Sustainable Business at M&S and Kate Fletcher, Reader in Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion discussed wide ranging themes associated with fashion and sustainability as part of the launch of M&S’s ‘Shwopping’ recycling initiative and the two week creative ‘Shwop Lab’ co-ordinated by the Centre for Sustainable Fashion in Dray Walk, London to explore shwopping design implications.

The conversation, described by one journalist as one of the most interesting and wide-ranging she’d ever heard on fashion and sustainability, has been edited into four podcasts available for download. 

Part 1 covers broad themes in fashion and business:

  • Different ways to experience fashion – how are they influenced by business models? How does M&S’s shwopping initiative relate to this?
  • Statistics about global levels of consumption – and asks how they will be clothed.
  • Shwopping goes some way towards closing the loop – a pragmatic solution to clothing people in the future.
  • Consumption: requires a new balance between long and short-term objectives and involves hard choices: how can society be organised in a different way?
  • How can resources be maximised for the common good?
  • Many big businesses now recognise that they cannot go on as before. M&S engaged in a consumption model over the last 30 years – it needs new models and new collaborations. How should we talk about sustainability to the board?
  • The different challenges associated with different types of consumers.

Part 2 explores the themes of local manufacture:

  • Localism
  • Bringing manufacturing back to UK
  • Whether Shwopping could create a fibre resource in the UK
  • Human scale important to sustainability: connections to land, to community.
  • Different business models which include local: hyper efficient global; hyper local and the disruptive effect of environmental impact on ways of conducting commerce.

Part 3 covers brands and consumers:

  • The role of the big brands in fashion and sustainability
  • Brands are getting better at communicating sustainability. M&S good at functional discussion around sustainability. The challenge is the cultural and emotional discussion.
  • Shwopping is the beginning of this different discussion in M&S and leading change rather than reacting to it.
  • But it is still framing people as individual consumers – rather than drawing people together in a connected effort.
  • More clothes are bought than discarded every year… wardrobe obesity

Part 4 includes discussion of recycling and related issues:

  • The relationship between Shwopping and other clothing and textile recycling schemes – how can we gain access to unwanted fibre and facilitate the process of recycling?
  • Has the current model of recycling clothing reached a natural plateau? Is the inertia in recycling functional or emotions? Linked to our psyche?
  • Competition for resources means that materials have a greater value.
  • What is the role of design in take back schemes? What are the design for recycling criteria?
  • Design for recycling criteria. In order to extract maximum value build in a way of thinking that allows to plan for multiple future uses.
  • Does recycling justify the existing business model? Also have to promote intensive, joyful, ongoing use.