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The role of environmental sustainability in a design-driven fashion industry : a South African case study
This thesis is an investigation into environmental sustainability in the South African fashion industry, with a particular focus on the role of design therein. The fashion and textile industry is a significant contributor to the South African economy and a major user of human and natural resources. It is through the use of resources – natural, constructed and human – that the industry is also supposedly damaging to the natural environment and the people working within it. Notable authors on environmentally sustainable design and, in particular, environmentally sustainable fashion design, seem to suggest that a holistic approach to environmental sustainability is fundamental to the implementation thereof. Design has the ability to direct change, and thus design and designers have the potential to drive holistic sustainable practices in the fashion system.The question this research therefore poses is what the role of environmental sustainability should be in a design-driven approach in the South African fashion industry; interrogated through an exploratory and descriptive case study. The case study consists of three purposively selected sub-units that operate within an environmentally sustainable focus in their fashion businesses, and that design, produce, and retail fashion products. The aim of the research was to explore, through a snapshot of the South African fashion system, the implementation of environmental sustainability in the fashion industry in South Africa, in order to determine what role fashion design practice can have in developing environmental sustainability in the fashion system.The most notable finding of the research highlights the immense difficulty of operating as a fashion business from an environmentally sustainable focus in South Africa due to the lack (and unsuitability) of resources that can be considered environmentally sustainable. The declining textile industry of South Africa makes it either almost impossible, or very costly, to work within an environmentally sustainable framework, and is a major impediment in the implementation of environmental sustainability in praxis. Therefore, those businesses that decide to operate within an environmentally sustainable framework do so because of inherent personal values and ethics.The second aspect identified in the survey of scholarship and underpinned by the findings, is a need for a transformative approach with regard to design praxis and how design praxis can influence consumer eco-consciousness. The research concludes with a recommended framework that suggests a holistic and integrated approach to design-driven environmental sustainability in the South African fashion industry, and elaborates on the role of the fashion designer in the implementation of environmental sustainability in the fashion system. The holistic and integrated approach should extend into fashion design education, requiring a fundamental shift in current fashion design education in South Africa.