This week, we're in the company of Rob Webbon, a man who has combined his passion for cycling and sustainability to kickstart a sportswear revolution with Grn Sportswear.
Over the last 50 years, the way companies produce fashion – and the way in which we consume it – has changed dramatically.
The so-called fast fashion retailers argue that their model has democratised, and made ultimately accessible, fashion. No longer is it the reserve of the rich or elite to be able to afford the latest trends. Now, everyone, everywhere can experience that short-lived thrill of buying new fashion items and have the pleasure of wearing something new on a regular basis.
And it is this model that has driven large fashion retailers for so long, certainly in the UK and the US, and increasingly elsewhere.
To start, fast fashion was all about increasing the speed of production and cutting the time it takes to bring designs to the shop shelves. And rather than having just two collections a year, this speedier production process made it possible for companies to continuously rotate their product lines all year long.
And, of course, the ultimate is to then sell many more products and decrease the trend cycle – to have something new for consumers all the time.
The other big success for fast fashion has been reduced prices.
In fact, fast fashion is now less about the speed of production and more about sales – shifting more and more products as quickly as possible.
And that means producing a lot of stuff at as low a price as possible, which puts pressure on suppliers to make huge volumes at a low price to tight deadlines.
It’s clearly a model with a big problem. And in the last five years, a real and growing movement has gathered pace against fast fashion as the status quo.
And this has coincided with a number of the established high street retailers making public commitments to reduce their environmental impacts, as well as get their social and community story straight too, particularly along the supply chain.
The question is whether fast fashion can ever become sustainable – something the Ethical Fashion Forum defines as "fashion that maximises benefits to people, and minimises impact on the environment". If the high street brands are able to use their weight and influence – and put as much effort into dealing with things like water use in agriculture, human rights abuse, poor factory conditions and pollution as they have into developing fast and efficient production process – then there is hope.
But the industry must first address the big elephant in the room - that fast fashion as has grown up during the last decade is inherently unsustainable. The commercial drivers of the businesses that work within the current system are in conflict with reducing environmental impact, and looking after workers and farmers further down the supply chain. Something’s got to give.
A wealth of great new businesses have sprung up in the last decade, to hold a mirror up to fast fashion, to make it realise what a mess the model is creating.
And we meet one of those businesses this week.
Grn Sportswear, operates in a rather niche market, producing cycling gear for corporate and team events and clubs. But it is a great example of a company keen to rip up the rulebook when it comes to fashion and apparel.
And there’s loads of great takeaways from the founder of CEO of the business, Rob Webbon –from the materials used in the products, to the local manufacturing, to the ethics behind Rob’s model – that sportswear is to be loved, kept and cared for, rather than thrown away – something the sector he is operating in has been notoriously bad it.
Enjoy the show.
You can find out more about Grn Sportswear here.