Your Organic Cotton T-Shirt Won’t Save the Earth

Photo: Rebecca Greenfield

Fabric production, livestock and leather tanning, manufacturing, and exporting make the fashion industry one of the world’s worst polluters. To speak to this issue, Parsons hosted a panel last night with Kering CEO (and husband of Salma Hayek Pinault) Francois-Henri Pinault for an audience of students as well as fashion insiders like Julie Gilhart and Elle editor-in-chief Robbie Myers. Pinault, whose company operates labels like Saint Laurent and Gucci, was joined by Linda Greer, senior scientist at NRDC’s Clean by Design; Timo Rissanen, program director of AAS Fashion at Parsons; and moderator Simon Collins. Here, some key lessons from the hour-long discussion on why sustainable fashion is smart business.

1. Stop with the organic-cotton T-shirts already: You have enough.

“One thing that drives me crazy is when I get an email that starts with, ‘We are a start-up and here is our organic cotton T-shirt.’ The fact that it’s organic doesn’t make it OK. Really, the world doesn’t need another organic cotton T-shirt. We have enough to take us through the next 20 years,” says Timo Rissanen, program director of AAS Fashion at Parsons.

2. Just labeling clothing as “sustainable” won’t drive sales.   

“We have one of the most sustainable brands in the world, Stella McCartney — it’s intrinsic to the way she is and it works very well. No, don’t do it to sell one more bag. Do it because you are convinced that’s how things should be done,” says Pinault.

3. Quality, not quantity.

“What’s best? Buying a $20 T-shirt five times because it’s organic but not that high quality, or just buying less? It’s a matter of changing the way we behave,” says Pinault.

4. We can’t treat this as some vague voyage of self-discovery.

 “I really hate the idea that we are on a sustainable ‘journey,’ because it means we don’t have a destination. This is not a journey, this is a mission, and there is too much clutter in the conversation about what the important things are to do,” says Greer.

 5. Consumers have power.

“It really is your fault. If there is too much stuff out there, it’s because you bought too much. They can’t make it if we aren’t going to buy it. We all have phones, we can find out this info out very easily,” says Collins.

Your Organic Cotton T-Shirt Won’t Save the Earth