On Earth Day, Eco-Age’s head of sustainable fashion and textiles Charlotte Turner speaks to Professors Kate Fletcher and Mathilda Tham about their timely and radical plan to change the fashion industry to put the planet before profit.
As communities come together (albeit digitally) in the midst of a pandemic that is keeping many of us indoors and industries shut down, it’s become increasingly apparent that we have a choice in what we want our future and the future of our planet to look like. As such, world-renowned researchers and professors Kate Fletcher and Mathilda Tham’s Earth Logic Fashion Action Research Plan is not only a timely resource, but an essential lens through which to view, assess and ultimately change the fashion industry.
For years there has been endless discussion about the need to ‘fix’ the fashion system with little systemic action sturdy enough to really change or even move towards reimagining the industry. The Earth Logic Plan provides a radical framework designed to put Earth and nature before profit, and to fundamentally transform the business of fashion as we know it. Fletcher says that at its core, the Plan is “about caring so much about saving this planet that we commit to changing fashion. If we are serious about saving our beautiful planet and future generations, we need to be brave and commit to changing fashion. Every action counts; there is no time to waste.”
The premise of the Earth Logic Plan is founded on an essential and urgent planetary need. If we are to stand any hope of meeting the ambitious IPCC environmental targets set for 2030, then we must move away from ‘growth logic’ (which focuses on economic growth and profits), to a logic that puts nature and biodiversity first: ‘Earth logic’. This calls for significant and widespread changes to halt the damage we are causing to the planet – specifically a reduction in resource-use of between 75-95% compared with today’s levels.
Illustration: The Eight Values of Earth Logic, Katelyn Toth-Fejel & Anna Fitzpatrick for Earth Logic
Why have we not achieved this already? For most of history, societies did not consume as we do today, instead living in communities where the value of skill and materials was truly recognised, and where self-sufficiency was expected. But in some places, we’re already seeing a return to localised supply chains and regenerative farming systems that are in harmony with nature, with the Fibershed movement providing a good example.
And now, with much of daily life on lockdown, we find ourselves less able to consume products in the way we usually do. If we could take this behavior shift forward with us and open our minds to radically changing the fashion system we have created, why couldn’t we change it? Now is the time. Reducing our resource consumption is ultimately likely to reveal other opportunities that have so far been clouded over by a culture of incessant production, consumption and disposal, as the Fashion Action Plan makes apparent.
The Plan isn’t just about the fashion industry, however. Last September, Tham and Fletcher accepted the Green Carpet Fashion Awards GCFA North Star award for the work of The Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion, ahead of the publication of the Earth Logic Plan. Fletcher observes that “people understood that this [topic] was bigger than industry.”
Image: Kate Fletcher and Matilda Tham recieve the GCFA North Star award
Tham continues: “We live in a tangled environment and social, cultural, and financial system. For many years we’ve been dressing like we are somehow separate from the Earth. But our fate is tied to the health of the planet and this means we need to change. We have reached a hugely important moment in history. We can choose a path of development based on Earth Logic or sink using old methods of economic growth logic.”
As such, the Earth Logic Plan is not just concerned with creating change at an industry-level; Tham stresses that it’s for individuals and communities too: “If we say, ‘I mended something today,’ and share some of the positive things we’re doing – that grows, and that’s something that we can all contribute to, whatever role we have, to steer attention to the opportunities that are already in place. So, let’s focus on them and then we will crowd out growth logic – we will decrease the space for it… and the more we talk about the good things, the more other people talk about them. That’s really important. We have a responsibility for how we talk, as much as what we do.”
Reflecting this focus on both the individual and community, the Earth Logic Plan was launched at an immersive workshop in London in early March. The event was carefully designed to get people to let go of pre-existing mindsets and instead consider a completely new approach to fashion. “We feel that what we’re trying to do is offer an inner journey and for that to match the outer message, and this coming together, to get people thinking – this was an attempt to get people to do that,” says Fletcher.
Illustration: A reduction in scale can lead to an increase in quality of fashion experiences, Katelyn Toth-Fejel & Anna Fitzpatrick for Earth Logic
Earth Logic is not the first research proposal to reassess priorities for business, although it may be the most urgent today. For years, Professor Michael Porter talked about creating a shared value system for businesses to contribute to society and communities, rather than depending on a purely economic model. “It’s the same within Earth Logic,” says Fletcher, “there’s absolutely a role for profit and business, but it’s actually making sure that we get the ordering right – it’s about health, and the stability of planet Earth first, and then there’s space for business practices and opportunities. At the moment, it’s the wrong way around. For a long time, people have been acting as if the economic system is the supra system, and ecology and the planet is below that. The other way up is how it should be – the economic system is a sub-section of the big system which is the planet.”
So, why have we not been able to adapt business priorities and practices yet? A key barrier to change, beyond businesses’ ability (or desire) to change, seems to be time. In an industry where speed is everything, research aimed at supporting real change is all too often accepted and implemented too late.
“What we need to do is to move”, Fletcher explains, “to simultaneously be trying things out and then also to be more reflective in a live, ongoing way. We have seen people acting in this more light, nimble way, and it is interesting to see when these moments happen, people are saying ‘okay, we just need to sort of go with it, let’s not obsess about perfection.’” The timely development and release of the Earth Logic Plan shows just how that can be done. “We did it so quickly, admittedly it’s built on many years of work,” (over 50 combined years in fact), “but we just ran with it because we felt we need to get this out now!” Tham explains.
Fletcher has observed examples of ‘speed when needed’ in response to the current pandemic. “People actually can mobilise quickly. We’ve seen people doing U-turns and reversals in policy, and they’re explaining it based on evidence.” In this rapidly evolving situation, it becomes clear that there are some emergencies that can spur on quick and decisive governmental action – and the climate emergency (and fashion’s role within it) should not be an exception to this. “I would also say that perhaps there’s been this pressure for people to seem all knowing” Fletcher added, “but this full recognition that we’re both finite and fallible can be part of our plan going forward, working with others in consort, getting away from this idea of a lone genius, somebody who’s going to direct our way out of this.”
“That isn’t how this is going to happen. Sustainability questions – like Covid-19 – don’t know borders and boundaries, it doesn’t work like that. So, we really need to embolden and empower people across different groups to push forward. But until we begin to acknowledge what’s been limiting us, I think it’s very difficult to move forward at pace. It’s actually such a relief when you think ‘okay, I know that this growth thing that we’ve been trying to incrementally make better isn’t ever going to be fixed, so let’s just jump, and then within that we can find where we can be.’”
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