From Words to Action: How Storytelling Can Change Our Planet

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How does creativity fit into our fight against climate change?

Last week, the Neol community gathered for our 6th Creative Sparks event to talk about fashion through the lens of sustainability and systemic change. Our series, Creative Sparks, brings together creative leaders that are shaping the world, igniting discussions on how creativity and design can lead to positive change. In our most recent gathering, we pondered on the disparities between what companies say they will do for sustainability and what is actually done. Through conversation, guidance from experts, and curious minds, Neol sought ways to align the words and the actions of companies through creativity.

We love Fanny Eliaers’s guiding principle—"ALL WE HAVE IS NOW." And for over 15 years, she’s been working with prominent brands and organizations on sustainability platforms and the adoption of circular design—she also recently attained a Chief Sustainability Officer certification at MIT. 

Fanny Eliaers

Christine Goulay has been working diligently as a seasoned corporate sustainability and innovation expert, specializing in sustainable fashion across the value chain. From Next Gen materials to textile-to-textile recycling, she has a deep understanding of the challenges and potential of this field. 

Christine Goulay

Alongside their guest experts, who are also making noticeable changes in the fashion industry, we discussed the problem of global overconsumption, our need to move from linear production towards circular production, and a lack of education for consumers about the story of the products they are purchasing. 


When we look into the face of the fashion industry, we are met with staggering statistics. Between 100-150 billion articles of clothing are produced each year. This production swiftly translates into 92 million tons of wasted materials that end up in landfills. We are rapidly producing but with nowhere for our creations to end up but the trash.

During our gathering, Rachel Arthur, an advocacy lead in sustainable fashion for the UNEP (the UN environmental program), shared that “eradicating messages of overconsumption…is controversial, [yet] we can’t get to where we need to be with sustainability targets if we don’t talk about overconsumption.”

Rachel Arthur

Naturally, the fashion industry itself is perpetuating consumers’ need to continue buying higher quantities and new designs. Embedded within the marketing narratives of the past decades is the promise of fulfillment through new purchases, valuing a higher quantity of product sales over a higher quality industry. 

Though we say that we are working towards a net-positive environmental impact, the ways that we continue to produce and communicate are misaligned with this desire for sustainable production and regenerative practices. As Christine noted, “brands are talking about making commitments [towards sustainability], but not necessarily understanding how to follow through with them.” The industry claims to recognize the need for circular fashion, yet remains entrenched in practices that don’t contribute.

What is Circular Fashion?

Circular fashion is the practice of emphasizing regenerative practices throughout each step of our creative processes: designing better products, maintaining our current resources, tracing products throughout their entire lifetime, and striving to use creativity in our designs to mitigate waste. Our end goal is to maximize economic growth while minimizing environmental impact. 

As Tara St. James, Head of Sustainability at Moosknuckles, shared with us, the current fashion industry is “very dependent on a linear production model and a fast paced economy.” A linear system mindset (i.e. make product, sell product, make profit, repeat), emphasizes quick, high-quantity sales with no question about where the products go once they are sold. Though economically efficient, this approach is detrimental for our connection to authenticity, quality, as well as regenerative practices. 

Tara St. James

In our conversation, Nadia Bunyan, a senior designer at Silk Laundry, posed the poignant question, “how do we act sustainably in a model that’s not sustainable?” The reality is that we can’t. In order to enact sustainable practices, we have to build a circular system that is regenerative; and the building of this system begins with our concept of value.

Nadia Bunyan

Redefining Value for a Regenerative World 

Our current production and consumption values are directly opposing sustainability. The fashion industry prioritizes sales and speed. However, If we aim to prioritize sustainability rather than sales, then we have to redefine our value system. 

Building a new value system requires slowing down and seeking to understand our products; how they are made, where they are sourced, who they go to, and where they end up. This requires a slow and intentional approach that does not fit well alongside the rush of the linear system. 

As Tara shared, “the idea of sustainable growth is an oxymoron….If every brand decided to transition to certified organic materials tomorrow, there wouldn’t be enough [resources].” We simply do not possess the resources on our earth to sustainably produce at the rate we are trying to. By following the concept of degrowth (intentionally limiting production for the sake of the environment), we may be able to slow down enough to develop a circular system that has space for each facet of the process. 

Essentially, that means that we need to produce less if we truly want to strive for sustainability. But as Fanny noted during our gathering, the idea of degrowth is “controversial” and “crazy” to the world of business.

“We all have a role to play in a regenerative system.” Fanny observed. The responsibility for mitigating overconsumption belongs both to producers and consumers, and eventually boils down to individuals. As producers, we can help produce a systemic change by decoupling economic growth from material growth/environmental impact, separating profit from volume and finding another way to measure value. Consequently, towards consumers, we change the ways we communicate about products, educating them about the products’ new value and informing them about its cycle of life. Lastly, as consumers, we must develop our awareness of our purchases, educating ourselves about their impact.

In our Creative Sparks conversation, we proposed that a successful transition from linear to circular system thinking might be found in stories and creative experiences. This is where creatives matter.

How Creatives Can Help

In order to help purchasers change their mindset on consumption, we need to give a real understanding of the product’s importance and be able to outline its impact, from start to finish and into its future uses. “There’s a disconnect between what it is to make, and what it is to consume, ” Nadia contributed. “It’s very hard to ask someone to purchase differently when they don’t understand the work, the product chain, and the story behind garments.”

We can observe the value of the product materials, its design history, as well as the process of making, weaving together the story behind their creation and educating consumers about their meaning. As Tara shared, “we need to get back to that place of education,” where we are able to clearly demonstrate what makes our pieces worthwhile.

Because of the disconnect between product creation and the consumer, the concept of time, effort, and resources that go into a single article of clothing feels intangible. If we are able to compile and meaningfully share these details, consumers are much more likely to understand the value that each product carries.

Rachel mentioned that “sustainability has a creativity gap.” One of the most clear ways that creatives can fill-in this gap is by telling stories about the production journey, influencing our global consumption habits. 

Through our conversation, the insights of our guests, and the contributions of our community, we started to uncover the ways we can move past the linear system and into a circular system. Thanks to everyone involved, we left asking the right questions, one step closer towards a sustainable fashion industry that prioritizes quality over quantity and strives towards transparency in its environmental impact. 

To keep asking the right questions, use your creativity to impact the world, and belong in a community of like-minded creatives who are passionate about inciting active change in our world, join Neol today! 

Further Resources:

UNEP Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook (by Rachel Arthur):

Fashion Transparency Index (By Fashion Revolution):

The Jean Redesign (By Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation):

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