Setting Up The Framework For Sustainability

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

Photograph by WIX

As a design educator, I have often been asked to define sustainability and sustainable brands and I have always found it beyond easy to try and sum that up in a few lines. Sustainability by definition simply means ‘the ability to be sustained and avoidance of depletion’ but in the context of fashion, it has been an overtly and carelessly used term without any boundary set by a clear definition.

"The concept that people think we are doomed—we are not. We are fortunate as a species to be able to see what we are doing. We, as a species, can look at the planet as a whole. We can see how this global system works. We haven’t done that yet because we haven’t gotten awareness of the problem." 

- Robin E. Bell, professor, Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

I often suggest brands and students browse through different categories and interest areas to figure out where their natural inclination lies. For instance, you might be interested in exploring techniques like zero-waste pattern cutting and feel strongly about ocean cleanup. In that case, your design direction, material selection, and organizations that you closely work with will be dictated through these filters. For someone like me, the joy of making one-of-a-kind unique designs automatically translates into making limited edition upcycled products that help in absorbing smaller rolls of fabrics which are ultimately not of any use to bigger production houses. This exercise is good for establishing your interest areas that lie within the scope of your design process and supply chain activities.

On a more holistic scale, I suggest looking at global bodies and their sustainability agendas in order to get a grip on the kinds of goals that companies can set for themselves. One of the best examples is how Ganni (1) mentions their support for all the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (2) but focuses on {5} Gender Equality, {12} Responsible Production and Consumption, and {13} Climate Action, embedding it in their company culture and actions.

The European Union Circular Economy Action Plan lays out detailed pointers for business across various domains including plastic, packaging, electronics, and more, and also touches upon the economics in part 6.2. (3)

Another significant attribute of sustainability is collaboration. Collaborations between synergistic companies and brands can lead to the set-up of common goals and aligned purposes while borrowing each other’s strengths and best practices.

Moving away from a cliched perspective towards collaboration like that of a garment and shoe brand to put together an integrated wardrobe or a brand and an artist for aesthetics and storytelling I often nudge people to think about unusual collaborations like that of a responsible designer with a resourceful chemist. Dan Widmaier, the CEO of Bolt Threads, has worked on the principle that nature produces extraordinary protein-based fibers, which if made synthetically, would consume far less planetary resources. Bolt Threads has been producing their textiles in small batches to test via designer collaborations. (4)

"The fashion industry is powerful because everyone sees fashion, it is a way to communicate." 

Robin E. Bell, professor, Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

I’d like to present my design label Door Of Maai approach to sustainability and responsible business. I personally feel called and committed to encouraging the design of limited editions and one-of-a-kind products using every bit of fabric that is available to designers from post-production waste or over-production or even rejections based on trivial irregularities. The practice of dispatching those scraps which we are unable to use, to businesses that make textile handicrafts supports the above goal.

Along with this, the second but the most important goal for me has been the creation of a flexible working environment to support the employee’s mental and emotional wellbeing implementing practices like work from home and flexible timings since we set up our studio in 2018. I have also encouraged the holistic development of employees, one such case being, our manager who signed up for dance classes twice a week, which would in an otherwise rigid structure be considered work hours.

So as you must have noticed my goals have been crisp and clear to make sure that we are able to deliver what we set out to.

I’ll be back on this topic sharing my experience of teaching Ethics and Sustainability in Design at ESEDS School Of Design. (5)

Read More :

The Earth Logic Workshop

The Curious Case Of Finding Self Expression Through Design


1. Ganni

2. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

3. The European Union Circular Economy Action Plan

4. Bolt Threads - Forbes Story

5. ESEDS School Of Design

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