The RTFS (Real Time Fashion System) Saga, Episode 1

Can fashion be ever sustainable?

First thing to understand for the fashion industry, is that it is no longer that much about “what” (in the meaning of styles of clothes), but more about “how”. How does the brand create an accurate process of production, distribution and supply chain for the product. The role of the creative director should move its focus from concept of form to concept of FORMING this form.

The Real Time Fashion System (RTFS) is a VISION FOR a new INNOVATIVE system for the FUTURE of FASHION.

Transparent, well-designed production process can be surprisingly profitable for brands. Nowadays brands don’t spend that much time on DESIGNING PRODUCTION. The product managers are struggling with sourcing the right suppliers with right prices without planning the right way of doing things, because 1) a lack of time 2) it’s really hard to source. It’s really hard to find sustainable factories, fabrics, trims. Everything.

But the question is: Can fashion ever be sustainable? It’s a highly debated and increasingly covered topic in media all over the world. Sustainable fashion is defined as an approach to fashion that maximises benefits to people, and minimises impact on the environment. Social and environmental aspects of sustainability are inherently linked; one does not come without the other.

Let’s start with the environment. Every garment has an environmental footprint at every stage in its production. That is why there is an inherent contradiction between the fast fashion business model – a model driven by selling lots of stuff fast – and the concept of environmental sustainability.

But the appetite for fast fashion is like the addiction to cheap sugar in our diet. The sentiment of sustainable fashion is wonderful and improvements can and must be made – but if we continue as a society to be so wasteful where does that effort take us? Whilst brands are now looking to make their processes sustainable, make sure their work practice and manufacture are fair and staff well treated, looking to use renewable energy and use more environmentally friendly dyes and fabrics – if one on four garments ends up in the bin – what’s the point?

Ideally, brands should combine these aspects for every new garment produced:

  • each garment should be manufactured on demand or custom-made
  • in high quality and timeless design
  • in an environmentally friendly manner
  • with consideration to various ethical aspects
  • it should be used long and well through good care, repair and perhaps redesign

That’s the first aspect the Real-Time-Fashion-System (#RTFS) is about!

And now, more and more clothing companies are transforming their business models and improving their supply chains to reduce overall environmental impacts, improve social conditions in factories, etc. We also see a growing awareness among consumers, especially younger generations.

There’s as much passion and dedication from individuals working within fast fashion retailers, championing more sustainable practices, as among smaller business pioneers. The difference being that the fast fashion insiders have, in many ways, a tougher challenge because the commercial drivers of the businesses they work within are in conflict with reducing environmental impact.

This conflict represents the heart of the problem that ELSE Corp, a Virtual Retail company, tries to address. It cannot be resolved by any business working alone, and it will not be resolved through stand-off.

When it comes to benefits to people, the case for fast fashion is easier to defend. Take Bangladesh as an example – a primary production hub for fast fashion retailers globally. In the last 30 years we have seen huge gains, especially for women in Bangladesh, who have been able to exit a cycle of poverty for themselves and their families, largely through the mass manufacture of clothing.

Despite this, from the observer standpoint, we see more column inches and campaign focus from large retailers on the environmental message, even though there is an inherent contradiction in it. There is great value in more promotional space being given by large retailers to the benefits to people through more sustainable and conscious fashion.

To know more about the REAL TIME FASHION SYSTEM: