The power of design to transcend contexts lends itself to a perennial state of innovation and education to both designer and end-stage user.

The notion of sustainability in regards to its correlation with the fashion industry is one such example. With over ‘70 different definitions’ (Holmberg and Sandbrook, 1992), sustainability as an area of design is becoming an increasingly saturated social concept, with differences in the application and immediate reasoning for sustainable design highly dependent on direct environmental and social contexts, with congruence existing however between such differences through the all-embracing global intention for a cleaner, greener world.   From sustainability extends the concept of Slow Fashion, an abstraction that encompasses a ‘philosophy of attentiveness mindful of its various stakeholders’ needs’ (Pookulangara, 2013), further to being a means ‘of incorporating social responsibility and improving business practices’ (Fletcher, 2010).

And keeping this in mind, a mini case study presents itself, that of a brief comparison outlining sustainable practices in Indonesia, a developing nation, and Italy, by contrast developed, and how sustainable design is divergently accounted for in the respective fashion environments.

Batik is derived from an ancient textile tradition in Java and is an increasingly important player in the contemporary Indonesian (and global) fashion industry.  The many processes involved in manufacturing such garments with this resist wax technique present a multitude of environment considerations, with the foremost concern associated with water usage, including residual dyes, toxicity, colour waste, and heavy metal contamination (Azlin, Rahman and Shaari, 2011).  The use of paraffin wax and fume emissions are also of concern due to the discharge and release of harmful chemicals.  Much is being done to work with local batik SMEs to improve the environmental outputs of the practice, with the Clean Batik Initiative established in 2010 (Booth, 2010) being one such component.

batik_designTraditional batik. (Rohman, 2015)

A heavy polluter of CO2 emissions, keeping one of Indonesia’s most developed art forms in synergy and balance with the environment is important in ensuing the longevity of the tradition, with programs under the Clean Batik Initiative assisting batik SMEs ‘in implementing cleaner, safer and more efficient production…[through] reducing water and electrical consumption…as well as excessive toxic chemicals’ (Booth, 2010).

In linking back to the concept of sustainable design, an expanded definition of it sees the notion as pertaining to ‘the relationship with ourselves, our communities, our environments’ (Seidman, 2007), an apposite connection to the batik industry in it being a wholly traditional process, a practice intertwined in Indonesian lifestyle, economics and modern culture.

By contrast in Italy, a large component associated with sustainable design is the management of the fast fashion industry.  Here we can immediately see moreover, the differences in the contextualisation of sustainable design, with batik a reflection of traditional, Javanese culture, as yet largely uninfluenced by loss of tradition and skills, and Italy, struggling with the impact of globalisation and the cheap commercialisation of the fashion industry.   The fast fashion industry, with chains such as Zara and H&M, presents with it many ethical and environmental issues all falling under the umbrella concept of sustainability.  From worker conditions, to materiality, to the increasing ‘throw-away culture’ (Birtwhistle & Moore, 2007), there is much to expand on when considering sustainable design and management in this developed nation, and the various changes, procedures and campaigns being implemented to target such areas.

factoryClothes being made in Bangladesh for nations as varied as Italy, London and Australia. (Smith, H. 2013)

Sustainable design is ‘paired with social responsibility’ (Aguilera et al, 2007), and it is becoming increasingly clearer to comprehend how these two exceedingly different cultures use the core understandings and principals of sustainable design, a valid design branch, to improve and work towards a cleaner, healthier and for lack of a better word, sustainable world.


Aguilera, R. V., D. E. Rupp, C. A. Williams and J. Ganapathi. 2007. Putting the S Back in Corporate Social Responsibility: A Multi-level Theory of Social Change in Organizations in Joy, A., Sherry, J., Venkatesh, A., Wang, J., & Chan, R. 2012. Fast fashion, sustainability, and the ethical appeal of luxury brands, Fashion Theory, Vol. 16, Issue 3, pp. 273-296

Azlin K, Rahman A and Shaari N. 2011. Batik : Design for a Sustainable Environment. Working Paper. Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, (UNIMAS)

Birtwistle, G., Moore, C. M. 2007. Fashion clothing–where does it all end up? in Farrer, J and Fraser, K. 2011. Sustainable ‘v’ Unsustainable: Articulating division in the fashion textiles industry. Antipodes Design Journal, November 4 2011

Booth, A. 2011. ‘Aiming for clean, green, batik’.  The Jakarta Post. Accessed 30/03/2016. Available at:

Fletcher, K. 2010. Slow Fashion: An Invitation for Systems Change. Fashion Practice: The Journal of Design, Creative Process & the Fashion, 1 November 2010, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 259-266

Holmberg, J., & Sandbrook, R. 1992 ‘Sustainable Development: What is to be Done?’, Holmberg, J. Ed. 1992 Policies for a Small Planet, Earthscan, London

Pookulangara, S. Shepard, A. 2013. Slow Fashion Movement: Understanding consumer perceptions – an exploratory study. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 20 January, 2013, vol.20, pp. 200-206

Rohman, K. 2015. Batik for my world. Change Makers. Accessed 30/03/2016. Available at:

Seidman, D. 2007. How We Do Anything Means Everything in Joy, A., Sherry, J., Venkatesh, A., Wang, J., & Chan, R. 2012. Fast fashion, sustainability, and the ethical appeal of luxury brands, Fashion Theory, Vol. 16, Issue 3, pp. 273-296

Smith, H. 2013. Work, garment work and safety: clothes to die for? Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit. Accessed 30/03/2016.  Available at:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s