The recent VW scandal has spread a general disillusion in the market towards sustainability and brand trust. Nevertheless the fashion industry has some aces in its sleeve to survive all this. Information, networking activities and – indispensable – committed and serious work can help winning the market’s trust back. Comment by Maria Cristina Pavarini

“Nothing will be the same again” is what everyone is thinking after at least eleven million cars are being affected by the Volkswagen scandal and the atmosphere might have been damaged by more than the polluting smokes.

If the world’s biggest car manufacturing group that praised their environmental practices turns out to have sold diesel cars equipped with software designed to defeat the emission testing process, the world can easily fall into complete distrust.
A properly functioning diesel engine might have been prohibitively expensive to produce.
Also in our industry, many fashion companies are putting big efforts into upgrading their production techniques, design and material research steps with the aim to increase the sustainability of their products and improve their reputation from low cost manufacturers that produce hazardous clothes and most often release poisonous substances into the environment.

Who can be trusted?
Having seen how a surely powerful and technically advanced car leader has cheated the whole world – while damaging the environment -, can you trust anyone producing clothes according to some so-called "environmentally friendly" standards? Will consumers trust a label carrying eco-standards? Which certifications and certifiers can we believe now? Plus, considering the fact that 20% of the Volkswagen group is owned by Olaf Lies, minister of the German state Lower Saxony, also the integrity of authorities and politicians can be put under discussion.

Sustainability pervades fashion
A few days ago, right after the scandal of the Volkswagen Group was discovered, RGT Italia, a Padua-based subsidiary of the German garment manufacturing group Bock & Partner, hosted the workshop “Sustainability and product development”. The workshop presented various players involved in the clothing value chain production process – from fashion schools to sewing yarn makers. Each of the speakers presented their most recent achievements in this field. Though, almost each of them added a reference to the Volkswagen scandal for showing the insinuating doubt about how easily one could manipulate data and results. In fact sustainability is hard to perceive and show.
Despite this, sustainability is an aspect we all care about for a long time. This term was firstly used in the early 1700s when Carl von Carlowitz, German tax accountant, wrote the first treatise about forestry and pointed out the importance of avoiding deforestation. A lot has already been done in the fashion industry and we already spoke about some key players who put an emphasis on sustainability (also see our report on the appeal of ecofriendly apparel and the new wellness fashion) that can start from the design process down to manufacturing and finishing.

Fashion can shape the future
More can still be achieved in order to involve consumers in buying less harmful clothes. During the RGT workshop, Professor Martina Glomb, lecturer at the Faculty of Fashion Design at Hannover University, the only school promoting a project in ecologic fashion, explained: “80% of sustainability are based on design because a consumer can be highly influenced by design. Fashion can be more than simply clothing because it is reflecting the present moment and it can shape the future. And cooperating with the industry is key,” she continues referring to examples of new fashion and textiles produced by recycling pre- and post-consumer waste.

Responsibility and integrity – the real musts
Infusing new trust in the market is an absolute must these days. The fashion industry can hit the right chords by talking directly with their consumers and explain how consciously made products are achieved. Fashion brands can share information, charts, videos and photo material via websites, social networks and multichannel activities. Also microchips and RFID tags attached to products can let the consumer know how, where and when each product was born and processed. Surely, more severe laws can protect the consumer and stricter controls audited by external certifying companies can guarantee more independent and trustworthy results.
Fashion can lead the way in reassuring consumers that sustainability exists while setting the example for other industries. Fashion can show that integrity, responsibility and care for the environment and customer are possible and for real.