Can trends and sustainability coexist?

During a video conference call on September 9th, several big names in fashion gathered to discuss the fashion industry's future. In attendance was head of communications for LVMH, Antoine Arnault, founder of Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow, founder of Tory Burch LLC, Tory Burch, and artistic director of Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh, moderated by chief fashion critic for The New York Times, Venessa Friedman. The conversation started as a cordial discussion about the future of Fashion Week. Arnault and Abloh defended traditional, in-person runway shows, which makes sense since LVMH brands are moving forward with fall shows in an attempt to get back to normal as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, Paltrow and Burch both embraced a future with no shows or different presentation methods such as store events. Eventually, the topic turned to trends and sustainability. The tone of the conversation became a bit tenser, and some statements that seemingly counteracted each other were made. This led to an interesting question: If a brand is still selling based on trends and seasons, how can that brand claim to be sustainable?

Antoine Arnault made the video discussion's first controversial statement, saying, "We cannot mix everyone in the same dish." He was referring to comparing the environmental impact of luxury or high fashion to the impact of fast fashion. Arnault's point is that fast fashion brands are much more damaging to the environment than brands under the LVMH umbrella. That's true, high fashion is not as bad for the environment as fast fashion is, but the statement still gave the impression that LVMH was trying to pass the blame along to another sector of the industry. It is possibly because, just prior to the conversation around sustainability, Venessa Friedman asked the guests to give their opinion on whether trends and seasons still exist and are still necessary. Burch and Paltrow believe that consumers want long-lasting, timeless clothes, not cheap trendy items that they only wear once. Arnault and Abloh, on the other hand, said that trends are still prevalent in fashion, and producing new seasons every year is necessary. However, Abloh did mention Louis Vuitton's desire to combine seasons and make them more timeless. Arnault took an approach that only someone on the fashion industry's business side could take and said that seasons and trends could not disappear because "there is a market reality." Selling new items and convincing consumers to upgrade their wardrobe is how a brand makes money. When Arnault and Abloh defended the continuation of trends and were immediately forced to confront the dire need for the fashion industry to be more environmentally-friendly, it made both LVMH employees look hypocritical.

Trends cannot coexist with sustainability. Overconsumption is one of the leading causes of the fashion industry’s detrimental environmental impact. Arnault acknowledged this when he said that fast fashion is a more significant concern than high fashion. Fast fashion is responsible for making clothes cheap and disposable, causing consumers to buy more and over-consume. But trends are at the root of fast fashion’s success, and the original creator of these trends is high fashion brands like Louis Vuitton and others under the LVMH label. Fast fashion has never been able to succeed independently without the ability to knockoff more expensive or exclusive designs. Arnault is right; LVMH needs trends to keep selling, but the fast fashion model he criticizes also needs trends to keep polluting the earth. Most people can agree that sustainability is an important issue, and none of the video conference guests disputed that. But addressing how trends play into sustainability seems to be a forgotten, or conveniently ignored, issue.

The good news is that Tory Burch, Gwyneth Paltrow, and for a moment, Virgil Abloh, all addressed the movement towards timeless clothes. This suggests that the creative minds at brands are focused on a sustainable future that includes curbing overconsumption. And with creative directors gaining more control in brand operations, they may be able to conceive a future where money-making trends and sustainability can coexist.