Upcycling, eco-design, customization and garment repair ... in this second part of her interview, the environment sociologist Madjouline Sbai looks at alternatives to fast fashion and, more specifically, the solutions provided by Makers, these 2.0 DIYers, in terms of circular fashion.
By Ludmilla Intravaia
Le Boudoir Numérique: In the first part of your interview, you spoke about the misdeeds of fast fashion (read here) and the need to "go back to more reasoned and responsible business models", through circular fashion. What is circular fashion ?
Madjouline Sbai, environment sociologist : It's an ethical fashion that ensures that our activities today, the way companies produce and sell now, do not make living impossible tomorrow. Fast fashion follows a logic that consume natural resources without giving them time to regenerate, which emits more pollutants in an environment already degraded, in short, which mortgages our collective future each day, a little more. Selling more, faster and always cheaper, in an endless race to increase profit margins, is the principle of linear economy. Circular fashion, on the contrary, aims to preserve the environment and humans, by seeking other competitive advantages than pulling the prices down, to have the largest amounts of items in stores. Circular fashion, it is working for the common good by our purchasing actions.
Your talk, given at Maker Faire Paris, last November, focused on the role of Makers in circular fashion. How do these 2.0 DIYers seize fashion to make it more responsible ?
Makers, do it yourself enthusiasts, reclaim the products, by repairing, customizing or recycling clothing, fashion accessories or interior decoration objects. They promote better management of the planet's resources. They invent new services, based on advice, and sharing or new craft tools, simple and accessible to all. Their role is strategic, from a collaborative point of view, because they do not innovate alone, in their garage, they transmit their knowledge to others, in order to be useful to the community. Makers collaborate in open source. For example, a group of textile engineers designed a machine to transform hemp raw material in ready-to-weave fiber. This machine, neither too expensive, nor too big, could allow to reclaim the production of fibers, at a local level, by privileging short circuits. With less need for water and pesticides, hemp is an excellent alternative to cotton, which is highly polluting. Just like nettle, hemp can be used to make jeans, shirts, coats and many other things. In this case, these Makers have met a real need, in terms of eco-design.
What is eco-design ?
There are three main areas in the circular economy. The first is eco-design. It is a question of conceiving a product which, in its production phase, will not emit pollutants into the environment, will use natural resources in a reasoned way and will evolve durably over time. The second is the customer relationship. In a saturated market, where it becomes impossible to increase sales volumes indefinitely, companies are wondering what different added value to offer consumers, for them to continue to buy. To revisit their business model, they are turning more and more to new services, such as repair, customization, rental, support or clothing advice. All eco-responsible solutions that tomorrow will become a commercial proposal quite common in stores.
Do initiatives of this sort already exist ?
Yes, I'm thinking of Make My Lemonade, which accompanies the members of its community in the creation of clothes by oneself, with sewing patterns (The brand has just opened, this autumn, in Paris, a space dedicated to do it yourself , with a haberdashery where to get fabrics and patterns, as well as DIY workshops, AN). H&M took advantage of the reopening of its Paris Haussmann district flagship, last June, to offer customers a space for customization, repair and embroidery of clothing (realization of the Take Care concept of the Swedish clothing brand, inaugurated by a pilot project in Germany, last April, to better preserve clothes and extend their life cycle, AN). The Damart fablab concept store, in Lille, provides advice from personal shoppers. Cyrillus offers a second hand resale service (called Seconde Histoire, it is available on the brand's website, AN). Similarly, Leroy Merlin has opened collaborative workshops in Paris and Lille (the Techshops which provide access to machines, advice and training to carry out home improvement projects, AN).
What is the 3rd area of circular economy ?
It's recycling. The ideal way to take as few natural resources as possible from the environment and to discharge the least amount of pollutants is to reuse used materials. Recycling makes it possible to transform them into raw materials in order to manufacture new products. The type of recycling with the greatest added value is upcycling, which starts with second-hand clothing, of little or no value, to make it a designer piece (This is the case, for example, of the designer Marine Serre, winner of the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers 2017, who revisits second hand in her collections, highly prized by fashion commentators, AN). Here again, initiatives abound. The brand Marli makes bags with fabric and leather scraps. Les Récupérables cut clothes in furniture fabrics (curtains, linens and other tapestries purchased from partners such as Emmaüs, AN). Finally, material libraries are being put in place, in order to make available to creators and brands fabric roll ends and fabric scrap to do upcycling.
We know Makers fond of all technological tools, including 3D printing machines. Is 3D printing beneficial for ethical fashion, in the sense that one produces only what one needs or only another opportunity to pour more plastic into the environment ?
In 3D printing, we still talk about home-made manufacturing, focused on specific needs, without production of large standard volumes. From an eco-design point of view, it's always better to print an object totally adapted to my needs that I can keep for a long time, than to buy fast fashion. In terms of product life cycle analysis, it's more positive.
Especially since, in all likelihood, we will soon be able to print compostable fast fashion in bioplastics (read le Boudoir Numérique article "Biodegradable 3D printing fashion accessories will multiply")…
Yes, this is part of the cradle to cradle approach (concept of an eco-designed product, conceived to be completely reusable, once recycled, without emission of pollution, AN). C&A has created a compostable T-shirt, while Freitag is working on 100% naturally biodegradable jeans. Indeed, as long as people have not changed their fast fashion ways of buying, it is better that the little T-shirt worn only twice in the summer is made of compostable material to put in the garden, rather than mixed fiber fabric, hard to recycle, which will end up in the trash. But I still have the intuition that tomorrow, changing looks all the time will have less attractiveness for people. This inconstancy will soon be out of fashion. There is already a powerful return of immaterial values. Influencers speak more and more of a quest for interiority than objects to acquire. The new generation, born with smartphones, lives in the digital world. I am convinced that from now on, it will be the notions of moderation, heritage, culture and sharing that will be most valued to express identity through clothing.
So are you positive for the future ?
Yes. Because the market saturation and the fact that consumers have had enought make things move in the right direction, especially since the new generation no longer responds to the same consumerist codes. For example, second hand clothing will explode in the coming years. By 2027, it will be more important than fast fashion. So, yes, many indicators push me to be optimistic, not to mention that I do not see how we could go further in the fast fashion, in western countries. The shift is already underway by many consumers or actors in fashion and the movement is growing. But will this turn be fast enough? We must wake up. The planetary issues are such that we must act very quickly, now, by anticipating the change in a precise way, by giving ourselves concrete objectives, so that the transition is not felt as a passive experienced but as actively planned. Today's players, with their know-how, must be those of tomorrow's change, even if they participated in the fast fashion movement. The paradigm that drives the companies economic success, and hence the success of a country, in sales volume is deeply ingrained in mentalities, it is learned in school and everyone believed in it. It's not about lecturing anyone. Now, we all have to unite and work together. It's very stimulating.
* Read the first part of Madjouline Sbai's interview on the social and environmental impacts of fast fashion, in this Boudoir Numérique article : "Makers and fashion (1/2): fast fashion".
* Deepen your knowledge on the current situation in fast fashion and ethical fashion, with some films documentaries, suggested by Le Boudoir Numérique.
* To learn more about the Maker movement, read this interview of Christophe Raillon, director of Maker Faire France, on Le Boudoir Numérique.
* Madjouline Sbai is collaborating with Oxfam on the Epicycle project, a circular fashion shop, opened in Lille on November 13th. More info on the Oxfam France site, here.
* Madjouline Sbai is the author of the book "Une mode éthique est-elle possible ?" («Is ethical fashion possible ?»), published by Editions Rue de l’échiquier, in April 2018 (160 pages, 13 euros).