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Will climate change affect fashion?

A reader writes in with an unusual question: is there any connection between oil prices and the fashion industry?

Previous energy efficiency drives clearly show a link between energy and fashion, at least from political leaders. Take two classic images: President Jimmy Carter donning a cardigan during his national address on energy policy, and more recently Japanese prime minister Koizumi’s Cool Biz campaign, which encouraged beating the heat with informal shirts in formal Japan (no jacket or tie, gasp!).

Although inspirational in message, neither of these leaders transformed the runways. But fashion does have an important environmental role to play, particularly in the choice of fabrics used for our clothes. A focus on how we make our clothes is much more important than exactly how they look.

Take for example, Patagonia’s stylish hemp denim pants that I recently picked up. Compared to cotton, hemp requires about half the petroleum inputs (remember that farming even organic cotton requires the use of heavy machinery). The pants are a very subtle but effective way to fight climate change, super comfy and stylish enough that I wore them to a board meeting last week. No one noticed the pants, which is exactly what you want to happen at a board meeting.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Patagonia uses TerraPass to balance out the emissions of their sales force. Cool pants become even cooler when you know the company making them is dedicated to fighting climate change.

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