20221129 MT Fashion Article Image


In our new series we speak to mavericks in the fashion space about the future of the industry | Dec 5 2022

At Made Thought, we believe that every meaningful solution begins with asking the right questions.

Fashion has always been the beating heart of creativity and culture. It’s an industry worth an estimated $1.84 billion dollars in 2022. If fashion was a country, it would be the world's tenth-largest economy.

But with this great power comes even greater challenges and responsibilities—issues which will continue to shape not just the way we look, but the very health of our planet and the people who live on it.

So what does the future of fashion hold?

We’ve found inspiration in a number of innovative companies—from a sustainable technology brand that produces washing machine filters to capture microplastics, to a collective creating new materials that return to earth as nutrients, not toxins. We are excited to see that the wheels of significant change are in motion.

In our new series we're seeking to broaden our knowledge further by asking global experts from across the industry for their thoughts on the burning issues of fashion today, tomorrow and far into the future. From diversity, to sustainability, to the metaverse, to future tech–their answers shine a light on where our thinking should be heading.

First up, we spoke to Shaway Yeh–Founder of YehYehYeh and Group Style Editorial Director at Modern Media.

20221129 MT Fashion Article Image 3

Shaway Yeh, Founder of YehYehYeh; Group Style Editorial Director at Modern Media

Shaway Yeh began her career working with independent magazines in New York in the 1990s before becoming one of China’s most powerful editorial voices at Modern Media. Today she works as an advocate for sustainable fashion with institutions including the International Woolmark Prize, Copenhagen Fashion Summit and the Green Carpet Fashion award. Her consultancy yehyehyeh partners with brands who want to transition towards more sustainable practices.

What excites you about the future of the sector and why?

To be frank, I'm not so excited about it. Because I think the urgency of the whole global crisis – whether environmental, political or economic – has become so much more prominent. The more prominent it becomes, the more I feel the fashion industry is not really helping. Of course it’s a huge industry, a lot of people are working there, and they are trying to contribute with their own responsibilities as citizens, or as people in this industry. But the systemic issues are major. Maybe the exciting thing is the fact that there is a possibility for change?

What worries you about the future of the sector and why?

The worrying thing is that we’re not doing enough right now. I think the biggest problem right now is still the business model. People are still producing a lot, which is creating a lot of waste. We talk about the circular economy, and it's good to have this awareness. But then, first of all, the technology is still very nascent, so it's hard to be applied at a larger scale.

Second of all, I don't know how many brands or companies really sincerely care about this, because I think they still care about their profit, the gross margins. Right now not I don't think anyone is saying ‘I want to produce less and make less money’. So they're looking for alternative models. But the alternative model, whether it’s sharing or re-commerce or whatever, it seems like that it’s just designed to generate extra revenue.

Thankfully there’s a younger generation of designers who want to do things differently. But the overall picture of the system is that I don't really see changes. In a nutshell – the fashion industry currently produces a lot of things which people don't need.

"I think the biggest problem right now is still the business model. People are still producing a lot, which is creating a lot of waste."

How do you envision the fashion industry in 5 years from today?

More and more people are talking about virtual wardrobes, especially with the consumer becoming younger. But is that going to help not buying any physical clothes? I'm not quite sure. Do you just end up owning a lot of physical clothes and a lot of virtual clothes? So I think that might be one of the alternatives, if not a solution. And we don't need to wait 50 years for this, this will be more like 5 years. I do think that we'll have changes in the next few years from governments and organisations that will require companies to become much more responsible.

And also pressures from the consumer side, because they're increasingly aware about the whole crisis. So I'm sure the industry will have to change. But my point is, can it change enough? By 2030, a lot of companies are saying they're going to be using 50% or 80% recycled material, and so forth. Well, I think it's great, it's better than wasting virgin materials. But if a thing has no value at all to begin with, why even spend more energy and time to recycle it?

How do you envision the fashion industry in 50 years from today?

I think we might not need to wear ‘clothes’ as we think of them today. Because a lot of functions can probably be implanted within the body. So you might have something which you can adjust at will to different temperatures or protective levels or colours or patterns or images. So maybe we won't need this material or this kind of shell called ‘clothes’.

"The consumer will probably be more and more participatory. We need to find people from across different backgrounds who can collaborate and provide the solutions to create change."

Change is inevitable but will the fashion sector be able to achieve it alone or will external influences play a part?

I think it will become more and more collaborative, because we need to solve a lot of problems like the waste problem, or new material problems, or even biodiversity problems. So you need to work together with scientists, farmers, artisans, chemists etc. And then government bodies and NGOs will be influencing decisions. And the consumer will probably be more and more participatory. We need to find people from across different backgrounds who can collaborate and provide the solutions to create change.

Is there a person or brand in the space you find inspiring at the moment?

Well, I think that's kind of hard to answer! I’m currently in the process of judging the Woolmark prize, and there are a lot of young people there who I think are really inspiring. More widely, most people in my field respect brands like Patagonia, especially as the founder Yvon Chouinard recently announced he is going to focus all the profits on environmental protection. And I like what Pangaia is doing – they act more like a material science company than a fashion brand. It's an interesting model because they’re sharing their learning and partnering with others to bring new technology to the market.