Green is Grey

Green Biz


Green is the new black, or so they say in the fashion industry. But I’m not convinced that green can ever be regarded as earnestly as black. Black is classic, all-purpose and safe. Black is flattering and tasteful.

Green is unseasoned and simple. It is natural and commonplace. But there is nothing natural about the fashion industry. And while the green revolution may be trendy, is it stylish? Style, I believe, is the true mark by which we must gauge sustainability in fashion with reference to image and character. Merging aesthetics and ethics is a stylistic choice.

It seems to me, that a precipitate green revolution in design and fashion is taking place.

Last year, I attended Copenhagen Fashion Week shortly after the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP15. By the second day, I’d only managed to find my way into one show, so I decided on a particularly bitter afternoon, disoriented to boot, that I would treat myself to a corner table at La Glace (a historic Danish confectionary) and enjoy a plate of dainty coconut macaroons designed by Rikke Mai.

Eighty minutes passed until I was brave enough to face the frigid air and walk the “Green Walk”- underdressed, still famished and feeling defeated by the brutal weather conditions (and the exclusivity of the fashion industry). As my heels clacked against the cobblestone, I sensed the thickness in the air. The sudden influx of thousands of economists and environmentalists discussing our carbon footprint followed by an invasion of frantic fur-clad fashionistas scurrying in pursuit of even the briefest sighting of the upper echelons of la mode. While I had spent the last year advocating for a more sustainable fashion industry, I hadn’t genuinely considered how I would tackle the very apparent discrepancies that exist between the “-ists” and the “-istas.”

Gucci, Stella McCartney, and YSL are going green

A couple of days ago, eco fashionistas were delighted to read that PPR Group is working to bridge this gap. The luxury parent of Gucci, Stella McCartney and YSL is going green. According to, PPR is ready “to jump on board the sustainable fashion bandwagon.” But how do we define responsibility? Is sustainability organic? Is it recyclable? Is it both? Is it charity or is it business? Apparently, it’s 100% recycled Gucci shopping bags. It’s pretty much whatever anyone important enough decides that they want it to be.  While we hastily equate sustainable design with green design, might this be detrimental to all parties involved- producers, consumers, the biophysical environment and businesses? Essentially detrimental to people, planet and profit: the triple bottom line (3BL). Gucci can say that they are green because they are black. Ironically, advocates both -ists and -istas of the global sustainable fashion and design movements will be jumping onto Gucci’s bandwagon if we are not cautious and persistent in eliminating this grey area between green and black. So what image and character must forego fashion and simultaneously embody ethics and aesthetics? How do we draft a common code that will leave fashionistas and design geeks scurrying behind responsible business?

Yesterday, I read in Co.Design that Bruce Nussbaum, named one of the 40 most powerful people in design by I.D. Magazine in 2005, is abandoning design thinking for something called “Creative Quotient” or CQ. My heart skipped a beat. As I struggled to come to terms with the complexities of sustainable design, I was asked to rethink design itself.

Amateurs can simulate luxury fashion, but a true fashionista knows a fake when they see one. In a society in which design is constantly evolving, is it possible that the knockoffs are strategically marketed by the designers themselves?

As I embark on my journey to Italy this June to reside at Cittadellarte as the UNIDEE Zegna grant artist-in-residence, I ask myself: How can the collision of seemingly rival cultures, customs, crafts, economies, value systems- reconcile their differences to promote an environmentally and socially sound industry and what does this sustainable business model look like? Can a hybrid, “version 2.0” industry exist that integrates the 3BL, and what compromises must be made in order for us to adapt to the rapid changes that people, planet and profit are suffering?

I am excited to be a sustainable design student at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design because I hope to learn alongside a group of aspiring creative social changemakers who share the belief that human ingenuity must satisfy human needs in order to be truly sustainable- environmentally, socially and economically. I have chosen to use design as my vehicle because I believe that design thinking (or perhaps even CQ) is unique in its ability to drive innovation and that it will take more than good business, charity or aid to improve human well being for future generations.

While it is easy to leave design for creatives, environmental stewardship for activists, poverty reduction for economists, education for professors and the formation of global partnerships for diplomats, I have found in the streets of Copenhagen and in between the lines of Vogue, that it is more effective to combine our efforts using an interdisciplinary approach.

Ibada Wadud (article author) is has taken online sustainable design course at MCAD. Catwalk image courtesy of Flickr CC @Jerine. Final 4 images courtesy of @EthicalFashionMissionary.