Rethinking the fashion cycle
As awareness of the environmental impact of fashion grows, a small revolution is under way in Kiryu, a charming town near Tokyo, that’s famous for its traditional kimono-weaving industry. Nestled in the mountainside, Ripple Yohinten is a small label started by Kumiko and Haruhito Iwano, a couple, 15 years ago. Here, everything is handmade by skilful sewers within a 3km distance from their home-cum-atelier. Kumiko designs the clothes while Haruhito hand-dyes them, mostly with plants and flowers. Every piece is a one-of-a-kind product in shape and colour. They open their shop for only the first seven days of every month, selling what they managed to make in the previous month.
Word of mouth has won them a nationwide audience and they have shown in New York and Paris – but the duo sticks to their ethos. “We never throw away leftover fabrics,” says Kumiko. “Instead, we piece them together into new clothes. We have been doing what is now called ‘sustainable’ since the concept didn’t quite exist.”
Hiroshi Kijima is also making fashion gentler on the planet through his on-demand clothing line for women. “I’m from a family that runs a sewing factory; I get really upset to see clothes being thrown away,” says Kijima. After working for Comme des Garçons and Aeon, the 44-year-old designer started his company Fukule in 2015. Working to order, Kijima manufactures clothes that he designs to suit customers’ sizes and choice of fabrics, collaborating with a network of more than 60 small domestic factories. “We only make what’s necessary when necessary,” he says. “This small set-up is more sustainable, environmentally and economically. We produce less waste and low carbon emissions.” He believes there is an underlying Japanese value in true sustainability. “Japan has a culture of mottainai [not being wasteful] and spirit of treasuring things for a long time.”
The real sustainability lies in creating things that can be used for many years to come. Japan is ahead of this game, powered by highly skilled craftsmen in the manufacturing scene. Kiryu is a great example of a place where the scale might be small but the quality is guaranteed.
According to the UN, fashion is the second-most polluting industry, behind oil. Every year the sector consumes 93 billion cubic metres of water – enough to meet the needs of five million people – and around half a million tonnes of microfibre is being dumped into oceans. Between 2000 and 2014, global garment production doubled. Today the average consumer purchases 60 per cent more pieces of clothing compared to 15 years ago – and discards them twice as quickly. Here are some initiatives helping both consumers and manufacturers to make a fundamental shift.
Some brands are encouraging customers to bring old clothes to their shops; wearable clothes are donated while the rest are recycled into paper and plastic fuel. Others are using recycled materials such as PET bottles and leather fibres.
Consumption is a series of small yet conscious decisions people make every day. As consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the provenance of clothes, some labels have started revealing the origin, journey and impact of the garment to better inform shoppers.
Sustainable Apparel Coalition is a global collective effort for the garment, footwear and textile industries, including major Japanese companies such as Asics. Collaborating with academia, governments and NGOs, it provides indices and knowledge for its member brands, retailers and manufacturers to follow to achieve more environmentally friendly production and social impact surrounding the supply chain.