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Embracing Less: How Degrowth Principles are Influencing Fashion

Embracing Less: How Degrowth Principles are Influencing Fashion's Future

Author: Ed Warman-Johnston, Marketing Manager @ 3RD ROCK

At the heart of degrowth lies a rather bold and, let's be honest, somewhat cheeky proposition: that to save our planet, we need to consciously scale back.

Yes, you heard that right. Degrowth isn't about slight adjustments or minor tweaks to our shopping habits. It's about a full reimagining of our relationship with consumption and production.

We created this article to show you what Degrowth is all about, what it has to do with the fashion and outdoor industry, and what we, at 3RD ROCK, are doing about it.

our current trajectory is simply unsustainable. The relentless pursuit of economic growth has led to overconsumption and excessive waste, putting an unbearable strain on our planet. We need to choose a different path

Understanding Degrowth: A Radical Shift in Perspective

The basics of degrowth challenge the traditional mantra of "more is better." It's about reducing our collective footprint and finding joy in simplicity rather than in the next big purchase. The principle is simple yet profound: by decreasing production and consumption, we can significantly reduce the strain on our planet's resources, giving Mother Earth a bit of breathing room.

Degrowth is not just about cutting back for the sake of it, though. It champions local economies, sustainable agriculture, and a reduction in energy and resource use.

In the context of sustainable fashion, degrowth encourages us to rethink our wardrobe choices. Do we need that tenth pair of shoes or the fifth yoga top? Or could we instead invest in high-quality, sustainable pieces that not only last longer but also tell a story of ethical craftsmanship and environmental stewardship?

Hotter, drier summers are taking their toll on wildlife. Two of the most shocking recent heatwaves and wildfire disasters are the Australian wildfires which killed an estimated one billion animals, and the heat dome that baked western Canada in 2021 which killed another billion Photo: Matt Palmer

Why Degrowth Matters Now

In today's world, the urgency for adopting degrowth principles cannot be overstated. As we face escalating climate change, depleting natural resources, and widespread ecological degradation, the call for degrowth is not just timely—it's imperative.

The relentless pursuit of economic growth has led to overconsumption and excessive waste, putting an unbearable strain on our planet. From the melting ice caps to the loss of biodiversity, the signs are clear: we need to change course.

By embracing degrowth, we can start building a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient future—one where we live in harmony with our environment, rather than at its expense.

Sign saying

to save our planet, we need to consciously scale back

The Philosophy of Sustainable Fashion

Sustainable fashion isn't just a trend; it's a movement rooted in the philosophy that our clothes should be made and consumed in ways that respect both people and the planet. It aligns perfectly with degrowth principles by challenging the status quo of the fashion industry, advocating for a system that values quality over quantity, longevity over disposability, and ethical practices over exploitation.

Redefining Fashion Consumption

Transitioning to sustainable fashion also means redefining how we consume fashion. It's a move away from the fast fashion cycle of "buy, use, discard" to a more conscious approach where each purchase is thoughtful and intentional.

This shift not only reduces waste and environmental impact but also fosters a deeper connection between us and our clothes. We start to see our garments as long-term companions on our life's journey, rather than disposable items that quickly go out of style.

Conscious consumption in fashion involves embracing practices like buying second-hand, choosing versatile pieces that can be mixed and matched, and caring for our clothes to extend their lifespan.

Sign saying

Degrowth isn't just about cutting back, it's about making considered purchases.On the right: not an empty wardrobe...

Sustainable fashion isn't about restricting choices

For some, fashion and clothing is a way to express oneself, our mood and how we want the world to view us, so asking to limit our garment and the size of our wardrobe may cause some concern. But hear us out: Think of your wardrobe as a canvas, where each piece is carefully chosen to offer a spectrum of styles and combinations.

So it's not about restricting, but about making more mindful purchasing decision. It invites you to explore the rich world of vintage and second-hand clothing as well as sustainably made garments.

Degrowth isn't just about cutting back, it's about making considered purchases

"If Degrowth And Sustainable Fashion Is So Important, Why Didn’t I Ever Hear About This Until Now?"

3RD ROCK's co-founder, Guy Mor, has some thoughts on this:

“Many people aren't clued up on Degrowth 'cause it's a bit of a shift from the usual "more is better" mantra we're spoon-fed and it’s not really in anyone’s commercial interest to push this agenda of valuing quality over quantity, and even if it was, in a world where success is often measured by how much you've got, that's a tough sell.

Plus, Degrowth isn't just about buying less; it's a whole lifestyle change, focusing on sustainability, community, and well-being over endless growth. It takes a bit to wrap your head around, especially when we're bombarded with ads telling us the next big purchase will make us happier. It's all about spreading the word and showing how fulfilling a Degrowth lifestyle can be, not just for our planet, but for our own peace of mind too. The problem is, it’s pretty hard to implement…”

Case Studies of Sustainable Fashion Initiatives

Sustainable Repair and Maintenance
Repairing clothes is a cornerstone of sustainable fashion, with a global network of sewing hubs where hundreds of thousands of items are mended each year. Data suggests that extending the life of clothing by an extra nine months can lead to a 20-30% reduction in its carbon, water, and waste footprints.

Innovative Reuse and Recycling
The reuse and recycling initiatives are gaining ground, with urban centers reporting tons of textiles saved from landfills each year. The shift is vital, considering the apparel industry contributes to over 10% of global pollution. By repurposing textiles, the industry could significantly lower the 92 million tons of waste it generates annually.

The Rise of Clothing Rental
The fashion rental market is disrupting the industry, offering an antidote to the buy-and-discard cycle. Studies show renting can cut down a garment's carbon and water footprint by up to 40% compared to traditional ownership, especially if clothes are worn more and produced less.

Adoption of Sustainable Raw Materials
The transition to sustainable raw materials like organic cotton and recycled polyester is reshaping production. Organic cotton uses up to 91% less water than traditional cotton, while recycled polyester can halve the carbon footprint. Industry surveys indicate that around 35% of new clothing now incorporates sustainable materials, a significant increase from just a few years ago.

Leggings made from Regenerated nylon: nylon waste like fishing nets and carpets are repurposed into sustainable clothing items

Challenges and Opportunities in Embracing Degrowth

Embracing degrowth undoubtedly offers a pathway to sustainability, yet it's not without its fair share of complexities and unresolved challenges. We asked Guy to name a few of those challenges:

One of the significant flaws in degrowth is its potential impact on the economy, particularly employment. As businesses scale back production in line with degrowth principles, there's a real risk of job losses in sectors heavily reliant on high production and consumption rates. Finding a balance between reducing environmental impact and maintaining employment levels is a challenge that doesn't have an easy fix. Initiatives like retraining programs and transitioning workers to sustainable industries are potential mitigations, but these solutions require time, investment, and societal buy-in to be effective.

Another challenge lies in the global inequality degrowth could exacerbate. Wealthier nations and individuals might more easily adapt to a degrowth model, having the resources to invest in higher-quality, sustainable products. In contrast, lower-income populations could find themselves further marginalized, unable to access or afford sustainable options, leading to a widening gap between the socio-economic classes.

Consumer behavior also presents a significant hurdle. The societal shift required to move away from consumerism to a model where less is more is profound. This change challenges deeply ingrained habits and cultural norms around consumption, success, and happiness. While awareness and education can foster a shift in attitudes, the deep-seated nature of these values makes rapid change difficult.

Finally, the political and economic structures currently in place are largely incompatible with degrowth principles. The prevailing focus on GDP and economic growth as indicators of national success is at odds with the degrowth ethos. Transitioning to a system that values well-being and ecological health over economic expansion is a monumental task that involves restructuring societal goals at a fundamental level, a challenge with no straightforward roadmap.”

In essence, while degrowth presents a visionary approach to sustainability, its implementation is fraught with complex, interlinked challenges that defy simple solutions. It requires a collective reimagining of values, systems, and lifestyles, a journey that is as necessary as it is challenging.

The Road Ahead for Degrowth

In the context of sustainable fashion, degrowth encourages a radical reimagining of how we design, produce, and consume clothing. This ideology inspires the exploration of alternative materials and methods that reduce environmental impact, such as adopting zero-waste design principles or harnessing advanced recycling technologies.

The degrowth movement also champions the circular economy model, which is poised for significant growth. This approach ensures that garments are designed for longevity, reuse, and eventual recycling, minimizing waste and encouraging a more thoughtful consumption pattern.

The challenges posed by degrowth also prompt the fashion industry to reevaluate its business strategies. Innovative business models, such as subscription services for high-quality, sustainable clothing or the implementation of garment leasing programs, could redefine consumer relationships with fashion brands.

In essence, the road ahead for degrowth in sustainable fashion is one of transformative potential. While the challenges are significant, they serve as catalysts for innovation, steering us towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

3RD ROCK's Journey Towards Degrowth and Sustainability

Reconciling Degrowth with Profitability

At its core, degrowth challenges us to rethink the conventional metrics of success. For us, it's not about diminishing our aspirations but redefining what growth and success look like. Yes, we are a 'for-profit' company, but we believe profit doesn't have to come at the expense of the planet or our principles.

Here's how we navigate this delicate balance:

  • Value Over Volume: We've shifted our focus from producing a high volume of items to creating high-value pieces that embody sustainability and durability. This approach may not align with traditional fast-fashion turnover rates, but it fosters long-term relationships with our customers, who value quality and ethical practices over disposable trends

  • Investing in Sustainability: Any profits we make are often reinvested into sustainable practices and innovations. This could mean exploring new eco-friendly materials, improving our production processes to reduce waste, or supporting initiatives that align with our environmental and social ethos. In this way, profitability fuels our mission rather than detracts from it

  • Educating and Engaging: Part of embracing degrowth involves changing the conversation around consumption. We see ourselves not just as a brand but as educators and advocates for sustainable living. By engaging our community in discussions about the value of sustainable fashion and the impact of consumer choices, we're helping to foster a cultural shift that prioritizes long-term well-being over short-term gains

The Bigger Picture

We recognize the inherent tension in trying to marry degrowth principles with a 'for-profit' model. It's not always a smooth journey, and there are no perfect solutions. However, we believe that by challenging the status quo and continuously striving to align our operations with our values, we can pave the way for a new kind of business model—one that proves it's possible to be profitable while positively impacting the planet and its people.

At 3RD ROCK, we're committed to this journey, knowing full well the complexities and contradictions it entails. It's about taking one step at a time, making conscious choices, and always striving to do better. In the end, it's not just about the clothes we make but the legacy we leave behind.

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