Sustainability v. Populism – is Trump Missing the Point?

Updated: Dec 22, 2018

Trump’s attempt to withdraw the US from the Paris climate change agreement is, he believes, because it is at odds with what’s best for America. But surely, what’s best for America is what’s best for Americans? And here Trump seems to be missing a fundamental point.


While Trump attempts to play to the populist crowd, the irony is that the more so-called “American” Trump tries to make his policies, the more he underestimates industry as a mirror of what populist America actually wants.


As those in the fashion industry know, ethics and sustainability have been apparently winning over ‘fast fashion’ and its environmentally damaging effects for a while.   


So, what can we learn from this industry shift from throw away consumerism to quality, sustainability and the environment? 


Affordable clothing is a noble objective but hugely damaging to the environment. According to Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development (TRAID), consumers in the UK purchase a mind blowing 2.15 million tonnes of new clothing a year. They also throw away over 900,000 garments each year, sometimes with the sales tags still on them. In the US, the picture is even worse, with consumers dumping an estimated 10 million tonnes of clothing annually.


But the conversation has moved on since ‘fast fashion’ first came into being. The popularist consumer now increasingly wants something different.


With the rise of the Experience and Transformation economies the tone has shifted. We are more connected to the clothes we wear and objects we chose to bring into our homes. There is a focus on buying less and buying better which is a win for the environment and a win for the consumer.

And compared to the rest of the world, Americans are actually feeling pretty good about their finances, remaining loyal to their favourite brands and rejecting cheaper alternatives.

Let’s not be too simplistic however. It would be unfair not to acknowledge that the luxury industry has made concessions to fast fashion to accommodate the demand for lower prices and immediacy.  


However, in summary, this material reimagining (in the fashion industry at least) has now redefined what is popularist, uniting the ideals of fashion with environmental sustainability and identity.  

So what now for fashion? As Michael Bloomberg stated, “Americans will honour and fulfil the Paris Agreement by leading from the bottom up — and there isn't anything Washington can do to stop us.”


What do you think? Can fashion trump Trump?


Email us your thoughts.



Photo by Gage Skidmore.