So what the heck is sustainability anyway? We hear the word all the time, but does anyone know what it actually means?
In my first class on sustainable fashion design at FIT, we were each asked to read several different definitions of sustainability and to come up with one of our own. The most common definition, from the 1987 United Nations Brundtland Commission, is this: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Other definitions include:
“Sustainability is an awareness of the connectivity of the world and the implications of our actions. It is finding solutions through innovative approaches, expanding future options by practicing environmental stewardship, building governance institutions that continually learn, and instilling values that promote justice,” Charles L. Redman, Founding Director and Professor, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University
“[Sustainability is] the underlying pattern of health, resilience, and adaptability that maintain this planet in a condition where life as a whole can flourish.” Daniel Christian Wahl, author of Designing Regenerative Cultures
From these definitions, we can see that sustainability emphasizes healthy self-sufficiency in all aspects of human and ecological life. As the concept of sustainability has advanced, most people believe that true sustainability comprises three concepts: economic sustainability, environmental sustainability, and social sustainability. Within the business community, this concept is known as the triple bottom line: sustainable companies must advance people, profits, and planet. Small organizations can’t always commit to all three sectors equally or all at once—really, most small businesses have to focus first and foremost on survival—so the trick is to bake all three into the business’s formula from the very beginning.
At Pochoir.NYC, we believe that sustainability means combining the best practices of environmental protection movements, social justice movements, and technological advances in manufacturing and business to create products for a more just and equitable future. We aim to make all of our products in an inclusive, ethical, and eco-friendly way and want to engage in a dialogue with our community to work towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
Right now, Pochoir.NYC is just an Etsy shop, but as we grow our product offering and maybe even grow big enough to hire employees (!!!), I will be committed to inclusive, ethical, and transparent hiring practices. For now, I am working as best as I can to make textile art from environmentally friendly materials and shipping practices.
I admit, sometimes sustainability scares me because it ultimately will mean reshaping our entire material culture, encouraging all of us to buy less but also make more. How many fashion designers like myself can the industry possibly sustain if people are buying and owning fewer clothes?
Frankly, many clothing brands are redundant: most clothing companies in New York City’s Garment District are private label companies, making clothes for a store under the store’s own label. Pretty much everything you can find at a TJMaxx or Ross is made by a private label company and manufactured under one of the store’s own trademarks. Other companies, such as Macy’s or Forever 21, have in-house design teams but farm out a lot of the work to private labels in order to expand product assortment beyond the capacity of what one in-house team can design in a season. For the past five or six years, I’ve mostly worked at those types of companies, knocking off the exact same high fashion clothes as our direct competitors, distinguishing ourselves only by price and delivery speed. We were all pitching the same stuff to the exact same clients, ensuring that every store looks exactly the same. What’s the point?
As a designer, I have a moral imperative to create something that is actually new and unique rather than shoveling the same old thing dressed up in a new package to customers over and over again. Together we can take a leap into the unknown: buying less clothing, buying more meaningful clothing, and recreating the fashion industry one garment at a time.