Deeper conversation with the esteemed author of Circular Fashion
Peggy Blum is a fashion and sustainability educator with 30 years of experience who enjoys teaching students on more responsible ways of consuming fashion products. She offers guidance and actively engages in sustainable fashion education initiatives globally, having provided consulting services for fashion designers, magazines, and trend agencies in major fashion hubs such as New York, Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, and London. She is also the esteemed author of "Circular Fashion: Making the Fashion Industry Sustainable."
ConsiderBeyond: Can you share some of the significant changes you've witnessed in the fashion industry since you began your career in the 80s/90s trend forecasting?
Peggy Blum: The pace of the industry has changed enormously! In my days as a trend forecaster in the industry, we followed a more organized seasonal calendar for forecasting, creating, selling, and promoting fashion. There was a lovely rhythm to the specific timeline that everyone worked on together. Without the internet, trends had to be discovered on the catwalks, on the street, and in shops by real people who translated trends for brands. From catwalk to consumer, trends would be available in about six months, which, in contrast to today's standards, feels like an eternity!
Additionally, accountability by brands for their environmental and social impacts was not addressed as it is in today’s fashion industry. There was little discussion around these topics. Today, the topic of sustainability is very prevalent in our conversations, which is undoubtedly a good thing!
ConsiderBeyond: Sustainability often involves a lifestyle shift. This is difficult. What are the core problems that make this shift difficult for consumers in the current market?
Peggy Blum: Changing any behavior is challenging. Fashion consumption is based on an irrational model, driven by pleasure, desire, boredom, and excitement. These emotions often overshadow more rational considerations regarding sustainability, ethics, and environmental impacts when making purchasing decisions. For example, a fashion consumer will never ask a shop clerk, “May I see your supply chain?”
Transparency and traceability in supply chains can be a broad, overwhelming topic swept under the rug. I do believe we all want to purchase “the right thing” but we purchase fashion goods for so many irrational reasons. How can we pause? And where do we begin?
At the moment, I am working on an assignment for my students about coming face-to-face with their clothing. After watching the Swedish documentary "Sweatshop Deadly Fashion," where three fashion bloggers experience life as garment workers, many emotions come to the surface. With this assignment, we attempt to answer the question: Is your clothing being honest with you? The point is to assess the garment's supply chain based only on the information the brand provided.
Lastly, here's some good news: data-driven software companies that allow producers to learn about the impacts of their clothing are springing up! Knowledge is power, and achieving sustainability through factual information can really be a game-changer here. Bcome in Barcelona is a company I had the pleasure to work with, and highly recommend to anyone lost at sea regarding sustainability.
ConsiderBeyond: Tell us about your books. What are the key messages you wish to convey to the readers?
Peggy Blum: I wrote "Circular Fashion" for two reasons. The first reason was that I needed a new pair of sneakers back in 2016. My Nike trainers were dissolving right before my eyes. I began researching the brand and discovered numerous issues in their supply chain, so I decided to research sustainable sneaker brands and learn about the sneaker manufacturing process. This sparked a change in the way I consumed fashion products, leading me to invest in a pair of Stella McCartney sneakers.
The second reason stems from attending many sustainable fashion conferences in Copenhagen, particularly the Global Fashion Summit, over the years. While there are countless inspiring and well-researched sustainability books available, I aspired to write a book that comprehensively addressed sustainability across the entire fashion supply chain. As a professor teaching sustainable fashion to college students in different fields, I wanted to provide them with a resource that addressed this topic from a holistic perspective.
Furthermore, accessibility is important as it allows readers of all ages, whether they are fashion professionals, consumers, or simply curious individuals, to explore the book and make new discoveries.
ConsiderBeyond: How can the fashion industry strike a balance between promoting sustainable fashion without alienating those who may not have the means to invest in expensive sustainable brands?
Peggy Blum: This is a challenge for our industry at the moment. Consumers want sustainable and ethical fashion products, but many are hesitant to pay the associated extra costs. Veja, a sustainable sneaker brand, eschews traditional marketing and advertising and eliminates brand and celebrity ambassadors or billboards. This approach allows Veja to price its sneakers competitively in the marketplace. In contrast, many fashion brands rely on marketing and advertising to build their image as consumers are sold on the bells and whistles of fashion. But if you have an excellent product, it should sell itself!
ConsiderBeyond: Shifting consumer behavior towards sustainability remains a challenge driven by how the fashion industry has been working. Could you share some strategies or insights on how we can empower and educate consumers to prioritize sustainable choices?
Peggy Blum: Indeed, another challenge worth discussing! One strategy that comes to mind is the "2 Euro T-shirt" social experiment conducted by Fashion Revolution. In 2015, they placed a T-shirt vending machine in the middle of a bustling shopping square in Berlin, selling T-shirts for only 2 euros. Instead of simply receiving the shirt after inserting your coins into the machine, you were shown a video of the production process. Afterward, you had the option to either purchase the T-shirt or donate the money to the garment workers. This public service initiative, which was interactive and linked to a cause, encouraged consumers to think about their choices when purchasing clothing bargains.
Following the Global Fashion Summit in Boston, brands were discussing relatable and compelling narratives that showcase real efforts to educate consumers about sustainability. My belief is that we should also incorporate a playful approach when communicating sustainability–without detracting from the seriousness of the message–in order to shift consumer mindsets.
ConsiderBeyond: What are some of your favorite brands or initiatives that you believe embody the spirit of conscious consumption and creativity?
Peggy Blum: One of my favorite brands is Zurich-based Freitag. Freitag creates unique bags and accessories using recycled truck tarps and fully compostable textiles. They always amaze me with their clever initiatives that change how we approach fashion consumption! In addition to closing their shops on Black Friday, Freitag is transforming their stores into lending outlets. Here, consumers can pick out a bag of their choice and take it home free of charge for two weeks. Borrowing instead of buying and using instead of owning is an integral part of conscious consumption.
ConsiderBeyond: The fashion industry faces a multitude of sustainability issues, which can be overwhelming. Can you elaborate on how using terms like "sustainability" and "circularity" as broad umbrellas can help address this complexity?
Peggy Blum: When it comes down to it, actions always speak louder than words. However, as an educator, it is my mission to ensure that we comprehend the differences. Sustainability, when used as a noun, means that we extend our present needs without endangering the needs of the future. As a verb, sustainability means to sustain or keep up with.
On the other hand, circularity, when used as a noun, refers to constantly returning to the same point. As a verb, circularity causes something to move continuously, and eventually return to the same point. I like to think of circularity as a means to achieve sustainability. It gives us a goal to work on!
ConsiderBeyond: How do you see technology and innovation playing a role in advancing circularity within the fashion industry, and are there any specific developments that have caught your attention?
Peggy Blum: Historically, modern fashion has been inextricably linked to technological advancements. New ideas and innovations have shaped how we dress, changing the way clothing is designed, created, manufactured, shipped, sold, and worn. Now, we are contemplating the idea of disposable clothing.
In "Circular Fashion," I featured a Belgian company called Resortecs and their dissolvable thread, which always excites me! There is a photo in the book of a device (resembling a hair dryer) dissolving the threads on a bomber jacket for garment disassembly and recycling. Since then, Resortecs has skyrocketed, garnering numerous awards and financial investments. They also now offer low-emission thermal disassembly systems for fashion brands to achieve full circularity on an industrial scale.
ConsiderBeyond: Can you share a personal anecdote or story that illustrates the positive impact sustainable fashion choices can have, either on individuals or communities?
Peggy Blum: When we spend money on products and services, we not only fulfill our needs and desires but also convey our social values, political beliefs, and environmental consciousness. Given this context, I assign my sustainable fashion students a 30-day purchasing journal with the objective of prompting them to give more careful consideration to their purchases.
After tracking their purchases, students write a self-reflection paper and formulate a unique consumer manifesto based on a commitment to change. Based on the feedback, this process has been eye-opening enough for them to shift their purchasing habits towards more sustainable choices. And here's the best part - they also share this process with their friends, roommates, and even their parents!
ConsiderBeyond: Looking ahead, what are your hopes and expectations for the future of the fashion industry in terms of sustainability and circularity?
Peggy Blum: My hope is that both my book, "Circular Fashion," and my work as an educator inspire people with possibilities. My favorite film is "The Sound of Music," so I always believe that if you have hope and willpower, you can achieve remarkable things! (Climb Every Mountain)
ConsiderBeyond: Can you describe how embracing sustainability in fashion has influenced other aspects of your daily life and personal values?
Peggy Blum: It's a promising idea to practice your version of due diligence, an internal process that helps me go through a few steps before purchasing any clothing—new or used. In "Circular Fashion," there is more information, but here are the three things I do to make informed purchases: Check labels. Examine materials. Research brands. Simple but effective every time!
Food and fashion go hand-in-hand. Eating whole, organic foods has been a non-negotiable part of my lifestyle since the mid-80s, before it was fashionable. While living in Greenwich Village, NYC, I shopped at small health food stores, embraced raw, vegan, and vegetarian diets, and even took a year of macrobiotic cooking lessons! Today, it's much easier to prioritize sustainable and healthy choices.
ConsiderBeyond: What is your advice to fashion brands?
Peggy Blum: The future of fashion is in your hands! While there are complexities, there are also countless possibilities for "end of use" in our global supply chain, including collecting garments, sorting, cleaning, repairing, remaking, and recycling. Have the courage to close the loop.