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Reinstalling Sustainable Fashion

The past 25 years of environmental problems and accelerating consumerism have proven the need for sustainability to become an integral part of the mindset in fashion and lifestyle. It has been an uphill journey, one that can be compared to the Myth of Sisyphus, the absurd hero, who was condemned by the Gods to ceaselessly roll a giant rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back down, repeating this action for eternity.

Today the sustainable movement in fashion and lifestyle is at an impasse. For more than two decades familiar strategies and arguments have been raised to mobilise the public, businesses and governments in the hope of changing production methods and the overall approach in the fashion world. What is missing to fulfil this ambition?

In the 1990’s the word ’sustainability’ had to be defined, every time it was being used. It was very rare for anybody to understand the actual concept and meaning of sustainability especially in the fashion industry. Prior to our current use of the word ’sustainable’ was referring to a term that mainly focused on something understood as ’organic or ecological’.

Today it has become a buzz-word used in all contexts. It is a word in disguise and a noun used to modify and excuse growth and development. The notion of sustainability has gone from focusing on the procurement of goods and the wise use of resources to sustainable development with multitude concerns. The word seems vague and it can be frustratingly difficult to pinpoint its exact meaning,

”If we learn to make a product or service more sustainable, all we’ve probably done is figured out how to make the wrong thing last for a longer time. What we need to learn is to make not just anything, but the right thing and make it last as long as possible.” John R.Ehrenfeld

Introducing these doctrines to fashion and textile businesses selling products to a growing population seemed utterly ridiculous to most people working within this field. Through the last decade ’sustainable’ has become a widely accepted term and encumbered with subjects as CSR, cradle to cradle, recycling, redesigning, and zero waste among others that makes the subject more comprehensible and tangible.

In the context of understanding sustainability something still seems to be missing. Every attempt made to describe or work around sustainability in fashion and lifestyle centered on making the world better – for human. But what about ’non-human animals’? Non-human animals are creatures with characteristics similar to humans, but not enough to actually be considered as such. The term has been used in a variety of contexts, especially in ethics and philosophy.

Having reflected on growing up in a western country, society and culture I found that what is considered the most beautiful is natural materials, very often made from other living non-human creatures.

In Denmark, the Queen wears fur just like the royalties before her, and as a country, we are one of the world’s biggest producers of mink fur. Some of the most recognised and acknowledged Danish furniture architects use hides from animals in their designs and combine them with other natural materials like wood or metals. This is not only considered normal and acceptable but also fashionable, trendy and as a way to exhibit a higher social position or ranking.

As a fashion designer, an activist, a social entrepreneur and an ethicist, I fell like I need to question what we take for granted in our everyday life, both as a maker but also as a consumer.When designing I aim to inspire people to ask the questions: What are these products made from, where are they made and by whom? Often products within the fashion and lifestyle domain are not made in Denmark and therefore it is easy to lose track of how they are made. This makes it easier to turn a blind eye to whatever problems may be inflicted in the production process. But what if the products were made locally and the process could be witnessed more easily? Would we then allow the same kind of production or would the process prove so critical we need to legislate against it?

Many fast fashion companies operate to oppose the good prospects of future generations it seems. However, more and more companies have taken their share of the responsibility and recognise that the challenges within this industry must be taken seriously and committed changes must be made. With that being said, there is certainly room for improvements. On the one hand, it could seem the development in finding solutions is stalling On the other, an interest and willingness to solve this huge challenge appear to be growing as information and knowledge is being shared between designers, students, businesses, shareholders and consumers. Research is being done at many levels ranging from grassroots experiments to large corporations researching and investing in more sustainable productions methods.


Our worldview is mainly human-centered. We discuss pollution, natural products versus synthetic manmade and conventional products, recycling and labour rights. Human beings, earth, water, sky and heaven are mentioned and noticed, described and fought for. These are subjects we can accept, comprehend and understand. The world is ours, and everything in it is for us to use as a personal resource. But one subject is still missing from this equation. The welfare and position of the millions of animals used in this industry are not being addressed. Who within our own field, textiles and fashion, has been doing research about the non-human animals?

Every five days approximately 619 million, 55 billion a year, animals are being slaughtered. These numbers stem from the food industry. The animals killed in favour of the textile and clothing industry, like rabbits, mink, crocodiles and silk larvae, are not part of these digits. It will most likely be hard to find those but the amount seems inevitably high.

I believe the next step in the fashion, textile and lifestyle industry is facing up to this challenging and uncomfortable subject. It is a very delicate subject, with just as many opinions as people and cultures in the world. Nevertheless, it should be a subject placed at the very top of today’s agenda in regard to sustainability. We all need to take a stand when it comes to what production methods we choose to support, and that can be done through deciding what we consume.

Historically, the use of non-human products stemmed from a point of necessity. Now, the use of these animal products, like fur has shifted and has become something we wear in the name of luxury, pleasure and status. At the same time, we find a counter movement in the food industry where more and more consumers are raising awareness of the overconsumption of meat. It is based on those facts about animal cruelty within the production industry, but environmental related factors such as water consumption, co2 pollution and deforestation.

”These global trends are truly catastrophic, dwarfing the modest victories achieved through animal welfare reforms, and there is no sign that these trends will change.

For the foreseeable future, we can expect more and more animals every year to be bred, confined, tortured, exploited, and killed to satisfy human desires.” (ZooPolis 2011)

Within fashion and lifestyle products made from non-human animals can basically divide people into three groups: Those against, referred to as ’the extreme activists’ by governments and medias. Those who might be willing to pay a little more for ’humane’ products, but who are often not entirely willing to give up animal-based foods or clothes. Finally, there are those who have chosen to turn a blind eye to the problems. They often use tradition, culture or market forces as an argument to not about information about the realities.

This subject can come across as challenging because we are forced to challenge our own history, culture and traditions and take a personal stand. Without proper instructions or guidelines on how to make sense and justify behaviour, this can seem too daunting to even begin.

This is why I wrote: ”Animal Ethics and Welfare in the Fashion and Lifestyle Industries”(Green Fashion 2016). This article deals specifically with the ethics of the animals we use in the fashion and lifestyle industry and how to make this more intelligible to those who work within the field of fashion and lifestyle.

Change and development seem to be key elements in the never ending progress of sustainability and animal rights might, therefore, be important to add to this understanding. We cannot distinguish ourselves from nature, the planet we live on, nor the animals that live we surround ourselves with. Our world view needs to change from an anthroposophical point of view where man is superior, to ’reinstalling’ ourselves in a circular context where everything is linked together in a more holistic environment for major transformations to flourish in the future.

“The problem is that humans have victimized animals to such a degree that they are not even considered victims. They are not even considered at all. They are nothing. They don’t count, they don’t matter, they’re commodities like T.V sets and cell phones. We have actually turned animals into inanimate objects – sandwiches and shoes.”

Gary Yourofsky


Hourdequin M., 2015, Environmental Ethics, Bloomsbury Publishing

Muthu S og Gardetti M. (2016): Green Fashion, Springer Science and Business Media, Animal Ethics and Welfare in the Fashion and Lifestyle Industries, side 49.



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About the author
Drude-Katrine Plannthin