Cross-sector collaboration in the fashion industry: Challenge and Opportunity

My name is Luisa Ossmann, I studied Communication- and Information Science at the Radboud University Nijmegen. My research covers the managerial and communicative challenges of cross-sector collaboration. Communication Science and fashion may at first glance not have that much in common. But if you look closer, there is a connection. When I started my research in 2012, the fashion sector was evolving rapidly and a fusion between design and technology became trend, so called wearable technology almost became a buzzword. However, what struck me was that cross-sector collaboration was perceived as the optimal solution to a socially complex problem: sustainability. Collaboration is the work of people. When people from different sectors collaborate, they might be used do different organizational cultures, different jargon and different ways of approaching problems. In my research I therefore focused on the aspects I felt deserved more attention from literature and practice: Cross-sector communication as a mean to achieve sustainability in the fashion industry.

From the beginning on I very much liked the idea to use the complementary power of two very different industries to achieve one and the same goal: the creative fashion industry and the function-oriented technology sector. Still I was wondering how that would work out. Were my assumptions about the differences barely clichés or were they true in practice? My background in communication science helped me to figure out the most important features that enable successful collaboration.

Travelling through the Netherlands, I interviewed all kinds of people from all kinds of professions. They had three things in common: the desire to bring sustainability to the fashion industry, the need to collaborate with different industries but also the uncertainty of how exactly to achieve this. During my research I found that many sectors have different knowledge levels of sustainability. I was happy to find that the general awareness about the importance of sustainability was present in all industries. However, awareness about cross-cultural differences was missing. Therefore, during my workshop I want to discuss this question and try to find out what your experiences with cross-sector collaboration and sustainability solutions are.

The fashion industry is a rapidly changing sector. Thus, keeping up with all the developments both made conducting my research challenging but most of all highly interesting. I hope to publish my findings soon to make them accessible to a wider public. I am looking forward to have the possibility to share and discuss my findings with you during my workshop “Do cross-overs work? Chances and challenges of sustainable cross-sector partnerships”!


Difficulties and possibilities of sustainable fashion design

When I first joined the sustainable fashion project, I didn’t actually know much about sustainable fashion. Or about sustainability. Or even about fashion. I study Dutch language and literature, so what made me decide to join this project? Well, multiple things actually. When I first heard about this project, the thing I was particularly intrigued by was why the lack of sustainable products was still an issue within the fashion industry. We live in the 21st century, everybody knows we are running out of fossil fuels for example and that we have to take care of our planet. We probably already have all the knowledge and techniques available to make sustainable products, and it doesn´t seem to be a problem any more in other industries like the glass and paper industry. So why does the fashion industry lag so far behind? When I tried to find an explanation, I soon concluded that people often have other concerns than sustainability alone.

As taking sustainability into account may be natural for some people, businesses or industries, it isn´t hard to imagine that the fashion industry is a bit sceptical about sustainability. I became especially curious about the role fashion designers play in the process. Maybe consumers want sustainable fashion, and maybe they don’t really care. But I figured consumers probably don’t think: ‘I hate sustainable products. I will never ever buy them, even if they are really pretty’. So what keeps fashion designers from designing sustainable clothing? One of the main findings of my research is that still a lot of prejudices exist. For example, some people thought natural textiles are always a safe choice, and synthetic materials are always a bad one. Some designers complained that the availability of sustainable textile was very poor, and others that the costs of sustainable design were too high.

It seemed as though sustainability is a hot topic, still some contradictory ideas exist that make it hard for fashion designers to make the right choices, even if they really want to. We can thus identify a gap between the behavioural intensions of designers, and the actual behaviour: they are open to a more sustainable method of designing fashion, but they sometimes simply do not know where to begin. In the last two years I have tried to see if it was possible to stimulate sustainable behaviour in this local market, the Modekwartier. I currently am writing a handbook on sustainable fashion, in which I try to show which materials, techniques and strategies designers can apply to work on more sustainable products. The goal of this book is to show designers that creating sustainable products does not mean they have to sacrifice all kinds of aspects of their designs, just to make a more sustainable product. Moreover, they can make better products and create more with the tools they already use, by implementing simple design strategies.

I’d like to invite you on the 5th of November to discuss these design strategies, their pros and cons, and their applicability in fashion design based upon your own experiences and ideas.




Lasting Aesthetics – between theoretical and artistic research

By Lianne Mol

How is a sustainable aesthetic possible in fashion, and what does it look like? This question has been, and still is, at the core of my research. Departing from the idea that fashion is essentially not sustainable, I have been trying to find ways to really integrate sustainability in fashion design. I am not saying fashion can’t be sustainable; it is just in contradiction with its nature. As many theorists have shown, one of fashion’s main characteristics is change. The fashion industry creates and maintains a continuous desire for new garments, different styles, and fresh trends. And, as many other people have rightly argued, this needs to change in order to make the fashion industry more sustainable.

In my opinion, sustainability needs to become an added value to the aesthetic of a fashion design. It should be visible from the garment that it is sustainable, not just because it has been made out of organic cotton or recycled fibres; it has to have a sustainable aesthetic. In the workshop Lasting Aesthetics I will present my ideas about this sustainable aesthetic. I can, however, never fully answer my own research question. I can merely theorize this idea; I cannot design it.

This is something I have come to realize during the past two years. Sustainable fashion is not something you do on your own. The fashion industry needs interdisciplinary collaboration in order to become more sustainable. New ideas, techniques and designs have to be invented. To create a new, essentially sustainable aesthetic for fashion, we need to work together. So, in my research I have come to realize my limitations as a cultural theorist, which was highly frustrating. However, this has led to a new way of looking at my research possibilities as both theoretical and artistic.

To fully answer my question, I want to invite others to think with me. To fill the gaps in my knowledge and skills. And to work with me on developing a sustainable aesthetic in fashion. Interested? Join my expert meeting.


How “How to get lasting consumers: a communicative approach” came about.

My name is Liza van Lent and for the last two years I’ve researched consumer attitudes towards sustainable clothing (lasting wear). When I came to the Radboud University in 2011 to study “Nederlandse taal en cultuur” (Dutch language and culture), I wasn’t sure whether or not I made the right decision. But relatively soon during the first year, I already found out that I was really enjoying myself, especially in the subjects on proficiency. The right use of language can make or break your message, and I was really intrigued by that idea. When I found out about the Radboud Honours Academy, I really wanted to do something with that concept, although I wasn’t yet sure what exactly.

I followed several information meetings about the Honours Academy, and that’s when I met dr. Martijn Stevens. He was really enthusiastic about this project called “Duurzaam Design” (Sustainable Design) and we were both quite interested to know how we could combine both sustainability and consumer attitudes. Since I’ve always been interested in sustainability and I try to behave in an environmentally aware way, the choice was easy to make: I was going to participate in the Honours Academy and I wanted to make consumers in generally more aware of the importance of sustainability in their clothing behaviour.

The next two years I spent reading lots (and lots, and lots) of articles on sustainability and consumer behaviour. Besides just ‘reading articles’ we also went to the Centraal Museum of Utrecht, to the event “Designing Jeans for Recycling” by ArtEZ in Arnhem, to the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. In short: we did all kinds of things I never thought to see myself doing. During that investigating phase, I had to reshape my research question a couple of times, since ‘making consumers more aware’ was yet a bit too challenging as subject. Nevertheless, I really wanted to do something concrete to raise awareness, so I decided to make a folder on the possibilities for consumers. Therefore I had to investigate what consumers do and don’t know about sustainable alternatives for clothing. A couple of setbacks (for personal reasons) later, I finally finished my research this summer, and then the fun could really begin.

Based on my findings, I wrote an advisory in the form of a scientific article about where the opportunities lie for companies and producers to raise awareness with the consumer. That in mind, I could finally make my long-wanted folder, which will hopefully be available for you during our Seminar on the 5th of November. Of course I would really like to see you all then, so we can deeper into the consumer attitudes on lasting wear together!


Programme available

The programme for Lasting WearSustainable Fashion Seminar is available!

Please note that the original time slot has changed!

18.30-19.00           doors open, coffee and tea available

19.00-19.20           plenary introduction by dr. Martijn Stevens in Souterrain

19.20-19.50           lecture – key note speaker to be announced!

19.50-20.35           first interactive workshop session on the first floor

20.35-20.50           break with coffee and tea in Het Gerecht

20.50-21.35           second interactive workshop session on the first floor

21.35-21.45           plenary conclusion

21.45-22.30           drinks in Het Gerecht

For admission, please send an e-mail stating your name, institution, and the number of participants to before October 28th.

logo honours This seminar is hosted by the Radboud Honours Academy

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