Looking back to go forward
2021 in review.
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Hello, stranger. I hope you had a suitably festive end to your year, and entered 2022 feeling well rested and nourished.
I’m past the fashionably late stage at this point, so I’ll just put my hands up and apologise for not sending out a December edition of NWIS. As the final weeks of 2021 rapidly disappeared, so did my brain cells and, with them, my ability to think and write.
I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t take my own advice, and close my laptop the minute I felt burnt out. Nearing the two-year anniversary of the pandemic, I’m not alone in feeling emotionally and physically exhausted. We all deserve a break and to give ourselves a break for taking said unspecified-amount-of-time break.
“Consistency is key” is the number one piece of advice any newsletter author will offer you. Which is sadly true, sad because my life and writing schedule haven’t been all that consistent. If reliable content is what you’re after, you should subscribe elsewhere (I recommend Megan Doyle’s The Titan Thread newsletter). What I can offer you is well-researched, digestible essays on a vastly complex subject, just not always on time and sometimes not at all.
The posting schedule and content should be back to normal in February. For now, keeping with the reflective tone of this month, I wanted to share some articles which look back on the fashion industry’s wins and setbacks in 2021.
Thank you for sticking with me and making Not What It Seams what it is today. Here’s to hoping 2022 is a better year than the last.
What fashion got right: For a notoriously sinful industry, it’s important to recognise progress, no matter how small or infrequent. 2021 saw a number of significant legislative wins, including the renewal of the international Bangladesh Accord and the passing of the Garment Worker Protection Act in California. Also of note is the new Green Claims Code which will be enforced from January onwards. Whether this will effectively regulate greenwashing is yet to be seen. For a more in-depth overview, Sophie Benson’s article sums up the celebratory fashion moments of 2021.
Where fashion went wrong: But for all of its sustainability efforts, arguably little headway was made (shock!) Fashionpolis author Dana Thomas reminded The Independent that “we have definitely not moved away from fast fashion in 2021.” Rather, “Zara and H&M were back up to their pre-pandemic sales levels by the autumn, and are forecasted to keep increasing.”. And if the latest Good on You data is anything to go by, the fashion industry is plagued with inaction. Analysis of 2,500 brands’ environmental track records found that 69% of large brands do not state whether they are on track to meet their greenhouse gas emissions targets, while none of the 40 most profitable brands achieved a rating of “Great” for the environment (if you’re interested, here is a list of the best and worst ranked brands of 2021). Good on You single out Shein, a brand that encompasses everything that is wrong with fashion: a staggering lack of transparency, the mass-production of temporarily trendy clothes, devastating environmental output, poor working conditions and the use of child labour. What Shein is most known for, however, is stealing the designs of small independents. Here’s how Shein got away with daylight robbery in 2021.
Looking back to go forward: Vogue’s sustainability editor, Rachel Cernansky, isn’t hugely optimistic about where fashion is heading in 2022. The lack of progress she describes in the areas of carbon emissions, circularity, regenerative textiles and labour rights are by design: “fashion’s sustainability progress has been slow because it is designed to be, by tweaking only around the edges”. A different prediction was offered by the chief marketing officer at Edited, Juliana Prather, who commended the promise of recycled materials and the secondhand economy. The article was admittedly self-promotional, emphasising the importance of market data, meeting consumer demand and the profitability of sustainability. Here lies the pitfalls of the current sustainability trajectory, which champions capitalism over degrowth. Terry F. Josy believes that sustainability needs a new narrative if it is to move beyond this limitation and bring more people on board.
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