Global Fashion Conference 2014 - Guest Lecturer

As a fashion scholar, Cayla presented her Masters Thesis entitled: [In]Vestment : a Proposal for Sustainable Fashion Practice, at the GFC in Ghent, Belgium, November 2014. The research statement and abstract curriculum are detailed below.

[In]Vestment: a Proposal for Sustainable Fashion Practice

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.


These words have resonated with me since I first heard them in August of 2012; appropriately when I began graduate research in the field of Fashion Studies at Parsons The New School for Design. They speak to the exponential possibility of knowledge, and its dissemination. My motivations as a student of fashion, and as a critical thinker in general, stem from the appreciation of education and its platform for progressive practice. With the unique opportunity to both examine and critique social systems, comes the intellectual faculty to rethink their operatives. Fashion, a paradigm that exists on a paradoxical plane, has the power to both inform, and be informed by cultures.  Because of the intimate relationship we as participators have to this complex structure—whether it be on a macro or micro level, we possess the power the re-configure it.  

We may just not know it.

My hope, is that through a heightened transparency and awareness of the fashion mechanism, consumers may be familiarized with its processes and understand their individual agency within its hierarchy. Through the exposure of its methods and the circulation of information, people may be intimated to the systemic function of the one consumptive apparatus we cannot escape. Ultimately, this is a call to engage. This research initiative and its educational objectives aim to impact the industry itself; to instill a responsibility in the fashion producer, and to create a more culpable consumer. Through participatory engagement with fashion as it exists today, I hope to change its existence for tomorrow.



This research project investigates the emergence of sustainability practices in the fashion industry as a direct result of environmental concerns and issues surrounding waste in the late modern era.  Specifically examining both industry and consumer response to the coalescence of an environmentally conscious market, this thesis analyzes the initiatives of mass-market fashion producers and various grassroots consumer practices that participate in sustainability efforts worldwide.  In doing so, the exposition explores and problematizes such organized efforts to question their effectiveness and indicate their failings in the current globalized capitalist economy.  Despite discourse surrounding sustainability and alternative methods of production within the field of fashion studies, there remains a void in the sector of participatory engagement with ‘fast-fashion’ and its relevance in the current capitalist society.  

    Upon hypothesizing the inadequacy of existent sustainable fashion practices, this thesis offers the ideological framework of cradle-to-cradle thinking developed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in 2002 as a new perspective on the fashion industry’s negotiation of waste.  Upon questioning the traditional initiatives enacted within the environmental discourse, the argument calls upon Jane Jacobs’ economic theories of commercial development to illuminate the fundamental problems of the fashion paradigm and society’s inadequate response to its negative impact.  Her perspective on social systems, namely the enactment of both governmental and grassroots-level regulations, inculcates the discussion surrounding the industry’s overarching dysfunction in the face of systemic problems.  Academics continually engage with theories held by Herman A. Daly to explore the possibilities of closed loop production systems within the fashion industry, though the majority of conclusions have favored idyllic zero-waste policies and encouraged anti-growth models.  An examination of Daly’s theories as interpreted by economic theorist and physicist, Robert U. Ayres, offers an alternate summation of the steady-state system, which allows for the accumulation of waste, but simultaneously calls for its optimization.  It is this key intimation of the steady-state system that informs the theoretical conclusion of this thesis, and the advocation of cradle-to-cradle thinking.  In viewing sustainable practice on both micro and macro levels, cradle-to-cradle thinking provides a fundamental and actionable solution toward the amelioration of garment waste. 

Through the critical engagement with environmental, economic, and fashion studies theory, this thesis ultimately seeks to propose a practical and enactable model for systemic change within the fashion industry, and ameliorate its deleterious effects on both the environment and consumer culture alike.  Considering the potential alignment between humans and their complex systems, cradle-to-cradle thinking presents a unique opportunity for sustainable practice in the fashion industry, whereby the production of a single garment, serves as both a vestment for the individual — and an investment for the world.

Keywords: Sustainability, Fashion Industry, Cradle to Cradle, Design Thinking