„Ignore cheapness – save your money“ Interview with Ed van Hinte

The fashion industry is speeding up. Leading fashion retailers are producing up to 12 collections per year. Fast fashion is flooding the market. The cheaper the better. Ed van Hinte is a Dutch industrial designer and self confessed „consumption critic“. I talked to him about the problems of the fashion system, sustainable fashion concepts, and how to extend the lifespan of our clothes.

What do you think is the most urgent problem with our clothing regarding sustainability?
The whole fashion system is destructive, because of what it does to the environment, the enormous material flow, pricing pressure and low payment for those who do the work.
The most urgent problem is probably the speed of fashion. Fast fashion is cheap, so it maybe should be something even immaterial. An idea is, you go to a shop and dress up and take pictures of yourself and pay for that and then leave.

Without actually buying something?
You would pay because it would change your image. The clothes themselves would be much more expensive because you don’t have to buy them anymore.
The more obvious idea is that fast fashion is no longer made of textiles. We are all wearing clothes made out of fabric, but that could be different. We should make those kinds of clothes out of materials you can throw away with your newspaper, out of easy recyclable materials, that don’t take energy. The fashion industry has to focus on innovation and development. Yesterday, I mentioned the elastic paper material for instance. The paper is developed in the atmosphere of packaging. Clothing is also packaging.

Are there already clothes made out of paper or is that just an idea?
As far as I know there is a machine now, developed this year by GruppoX in Italy for the packaging industry. There are experiments with paper clothes and in 1967 Scotch produced paper dresses that you could buy for one dollar plus two soap coupons. The principle could be translated into fashion, but not as a one-time gimmick. It is good for industries to learn from each other and mix things up.

What do you think about recycling regarding our clothing?
Fast fashion items should be made out of material that can be recycled easily. Also, you can extend the lifespan of your clothes by wearing them longer. Maybe you can wear them for 15 to 20 years. I have clothes like this. These socks I am wearing are 15 or 20 years old. For this purpose, the clothes have to be such good quality that you can recycle them in a responsible way.

You say that we should extend the lifespan of our clothes by wearing them for up to 20 years. How is this compatible with the new trends that are coming up every season and what would the job of a fashion designer would be like?
As a fashion designer, you could design just slow clothes, very comfortable long-lasting winter clothes for instance. You could also decide to get involved in fast recyclable fashion and design new collections every second day.

How does this work for High-end Fashion Brands like Gucci or Chanel?
They are exceptional. These brands are not mass clothing producers and they are quite expensive. So, what happens to those clothes is that they are collected by people who like them very much and keep them for a long time. That is a different story than with the cheap fast fashion clothing. There is no material flow. What these brands should do is put some of their money into the well-being of the people producing their clothes. There is an economic model which is not based on growth. It is called the doughnut economy developed by Kate Raworth. It says basically that the economy is shaped like a doughnut. The ring itself is the optimum quality for people to survive. Inside the doughnut is where the social circumstances are very bad, so you have to reduce that and get the people from there into the doughnut by spending money. Outside the doughnut you find excess and too much waste. So, you also have to spend money to reduce waste, you should rather get an economy of quality than an economy of quantity. As a fashion designer, you can keep an eye on that.

Companies that produce sustainable fashion are mostly not the leading companies in the fashion industry. How can we make big companies like H&M and Zara produce their clothes more sustainably?
They have to be forced. As long as their business is booming they don’t really care. People are not very considerate. They do not think about sustainability or who produced their clothes. You have to find a way to get under their skin. And this is true for consumers as well as for producers. But for producers it is way more difficult. They are focused on sales revenue. But making more money is not always necessarily good for the environment. What they do with the profits should also be a part of their business plan. They have to invest their profits so that they can produce their clothes in a more sustainable way as well as pay fair wages to their workers.

What is your concrete suggestion that is practicable for everybody to make clothes more sustainable?
Ignore Black Friday, ignore special offers, ignore cheap clothes. For instance, I bought these pants I am wearing yesterday. They are from „Brax“ and when I bought them I got a radio with them. I did not expect it, I don’t need it. This is a good example on how they try to speed up fashion. Somehow, we have to stop that, because that’s what people always fall for. Sales and special offers. People sometimes buy just for the sake of buying. They buy it because it’s cheap even if they don’t need it. They don’t think about it and that is the problem. The first step would be ignoring cheapness. Save your money.