Fashion is a Verb (2015)

FOREWORD: Sustainable Fashion: What’s Next, 2nd Edition

by Janet Hethorn and Connie Ulasewicz (Bloomsbury Publishing Inc, 2015)



by William McDonough


Sustainable Fashion

Fashion, to most people, is an ephemeral expression of culture, art and technology manifesting itself in form. But fashion is also a verb: to fashion is to make. We fashion things—we make and remake—and the world is physically affected by our choices of materials and how we use energy and water and how we treat each other, too. As an architect, I fashion buildings. When we design clothing, we fashion garments. Together, we all fashion a world we want to live in.

Today, we are the Earth’s dominant species in the Age of the Anthropocene and design, therefore, is the first signal of human intention. While fashion is generally considered an expression of our current culture and what we find beautiful right now, it can also be seen as signifying our intention for the many generations to follow ours. With the wealth of transparent and detailed information we now have about the world around us, why not utilize our intelligence to fashion a more beautiful future? What does it mean to be beautiful if the rivers of China run black while we and our grandchildren are clothed in hazardous substances? Is this our plan, our intention, our design—our fashion?

This is not an exaggeration; it’s happening around the world. In China’s Hunan province, toxins in the water and soil are making it impossible to grow food safely. Do cheap clothing and consumer products have to cause contaminated soil, water and air? The common “sustainability” call today is for reduced energy, water use and even avoiding a relative few of the many hazardous substances involved in textiles but, as laudable as this call might be, it is insufficient to solve for our bad problems because just being less bad is still being bad—by definition. We have a huge design problem. It’s time to fashion deep, abiding and principled solutions and we have examples of how they can be done and we know they can be cost effective. So while we valiantly attempt to vigorously reduce our badness let us also delightfully refashion our way of making things toward more goodness with positively defined beneficial systems. It’s time to be fierce, intergenerational, intentional and beautiful. It’s time to wage peace with the world and each other by fashioning an endless total beauty in the abundance of materials to use and reuse and reuse and reuse …

This book, in its second edition, is a call to action for the fashion industry and all citizens who engage it—all of us who design, make, buy, wear and dispose of garments. Janet Hethorn and Connie Ulasewicz began this conversation and continue it today. They see the value of connecting how people live with issues of sustainability, global economics, and the realities of the fashion industry. Their compendium highlights key advances as well as barriers. It renders visible an “essay of clues” that we can all hope leads to a collective, realistic optimism for a positive future. It is an important, inspiring guidepost for fashion in practice.

In the Cradle to Cradle® design framework developed with chemist Michael Braungart, we articulated three key design principles: eliminate the concept of waste, use clean energy flows, and celebrate diversity. Everything we make can be upcycled endlessly—biological nutrients can be returned to the soil and technical nutrients can be repurposed. The framework holistically addresses five attributes: materials as nutrients, material reutilization, renewable energy, water stewardship, and social fairness. When I was a child growing up in Asia it appeared to me that U.S. society started planned obsolescence for products to “churn” the economy and its people began to live as though there might be no tomorrow—because, thanks to the atom bomb, there actually might not be. Now is the time to put the fear aside, plan for delightful obsolescence and design for the tomorrow we know is possible. That’s why our first textile design with DesignTex, made in the in the mid-nineties, was beautiful, durable, and cost-effective, but it had other values and qualities too: It saved money, was safe enough to eat, had trimmings that nourish gardens and converted its mill from one that was polluting water to one that was purifying it.

So. What’s next for fashion is, in fact, exactly that: what’s next—and not just one season. We can creatively define what is next for that garment and its materials, use after use, in beautiful patterns of safe and endless resourcefulness. The fashion industry is both the demand side and the supply side of its business—and it is in the nature of the business to be creating the unusual. So it can certainly apply its charms to refashioning itself to business as unusual. As we practice our commerce, let’s remember to ask and answer simple questions: How can something be beautiful if it destroys children’s health or the environment? How beautiful can we fashion it as we humbly provide healthy, safe and beautiful abundance as love for all the children of all species for all time?



FASHION IS A VERB ©2015 William McDonough

William McDonough, FAIA, Int. FRIBA, is a widely recognized designer, sustainable growth pioneer, and business strategist. For more than four decades, he has defined the principles of the sustainability movement (through his companies: McDonough Innovation, William McDonough + Partners, and MBDC), creating its seminal buildings, products, and writings. He is currently Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Meta-Council on the Circular Economy. McDonough is co-creator of the Cradle to Cradle® design framework. William McDonough is author of The Hannover Principles: Design for Sustainability (1992) and co-author of the influential Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (2002) and The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability—Designing for Abundance (2013). McDonough has received the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development and the U.S. EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. In 2009, he led the founding of the nonprofit Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute to donate the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Products Program to the public realm. In 2012, he began a collaboration with Stanford University Libraries on a “living archive” of his work and communications. Cradle to Cradle® and C2C® are registered trademarks of MBDC, LLC.