In Conversation With | Anika Kozlowski, Sustainability Expert (Part 2)
In this series we have an honest conversation with sustainability expert Anika Kozlowski. Given the recent proposed bans of single-used plastics and the growing concern and awareness from the public, we wanted to know more about sustainability and it’s practices.
If you missed part 1, you can read it here.
Anika is the assistant professor of Sustainable Fashion Design at Ryerson University. Her role is to introduce sustainability into the Fashion Design program, to make sure sustainability is filtered through all design classes, and that designers are taught about it.
For her PHD, she looked at small brands operating in this space, and how they integrate sustainability into their business and design practices.
Our industry is seeing a rise in requests for reusable and sustainable products. What should consumers look for? How do we decipher between things that are actually eco friendly and greenwashing?
So, you could ask, is this company actually offering me ways to consume better, or are they just offering more organic T-shirts to consume? Can I bring their product back to be recycled or repaired so that I don't have to buy a new one? Or, is it easy to deal with the parts that are breaking down?
And when you ask questions, understand the answers that you get. This is where your gut can kind of tell you what is right. When you see a t-shirt selling for $5.99, you have to consider who's paying the rest of that cost, in terms of actual wages and environmental impact.
What are some solutions or innovations tackling our single-use plastic problem?
I think longevity is the key right now. Finding items that can be reused. The more we can just keep something in use, the better it is. And if you can’t reuse it, can it biodegrade or is it compostable?
It also starts with having companies on board who are willing to truly invest. Realistically, if you're not going to invest in sustainability, then you're probably not going to have a business in 10 years. To keep on thinking that these resources are always going to be available is crazy. It’s not hard to see now how climate change is causing disruptions on all our industrial systems. All of those years that we took advantage of resources are all going to come back on us ten fold.
It's also about creative problem-solving. Seeking out those design innovations and investing in them, being clever and knowing what it is as a company you want to achieve, then letting the creativity flourish. Designers do well with limitations.
As we talk about consumers becoming more aware, even in our industry, they’re still shopping for value. Is there a way to bridge the gap between low cost and sustainable products?
That's definitely something that any small brand, new technology or sustainable products face when they come to market. It’s difficult to compete at the value price. It's a pretty hard gap to bridge unless you're working with huge quantities, because that's how we get our value. That's what I meant when I said we need to get sustainable system structures in place, because current manufacturing makes it difficult for sustainability to make that leap.
So, until then it's a matter of educating people about cost, because ultimately sustainability should cost more, but the consumer should understand why.
The reason products don't cost more is because we've externalized a lot of costs. Companies don't pay for the pollution they cause, for example. So it's a combination of scale and externalized costs. Sustainable products are never going to be as cheap as a regular product, and it shouldn't be because regular products are cheap for very negative reasons.
That's not to say that sustainable products have to be wildly expensive. It could just be a dollar or two more. And I think eventually we'll get there. It’ll be interesting to see the products that exist in the next 20 years and what kind of systems are in place to support them in a sustainable way.
What are some small daily changes that we can make to live more sustainably?
I think just reducing your consumption in general. Go for quality over quantity. With clothes, use the 30 to 40 wears rule. Will you actually wear this item 30 or 40 times? Then sure go ahead and buy it, but if not then maybe find another option.
Repair and mend what you have. Learn how to take care of your clothes so that they last longer. When are you finished with an item - find a way for it to be reused (swap, give it to someone who will use it - try to find alternative paths for your used clothes) anything to stop it from going to a landfill. While donation can be great - it is tricky as most of our clothes end up being shipped to Africa only to end up their landfills.
Reduce plastics as much as possible by bringing reusable containers with you instead of accepting takeout food containers. Examine where you can eliminate waste from your life. Shop at zero waste stores that don't have all of that excess packaging.
And packaging really needs to be addressed. Everything is packaged. You know when you buy something that’s wrapped in plastic and then it's in another plastic package and then you get a plastic bag, or it's in a box wrapped in plastic? It's like five layers of packaging when it just really doesn’t need to be there.
Also, you need a reusable bag! How many people out there still opt for a plastic bag?