The Emperor's New Clothes

2016 theme: Leverage Points

Pursuing sustainability in relation to the multidimensional and globalised fashion system is an incredibly complex challenge, with stakeholders from diverse backgrounds exploring diverse approaches. If we want to have an open debate about the scale and pace of change in the industry, we need to find ways to consider and compare the effectiveness of these initiatives.

In 1999, systems thinker Donella Meadows produced a 12-point list of places to intervene within a system to bring about positive change, which she describes as leverage points. Meadows’ work demonstrates that the ease and effectiveness of intervening within a system can vary, with action at some leverage points having a greater impact on the overall system than others. The concept of leverage points can be applied to the fashion and textile industry in order to discuss different approaches to sustainability.

This diagram represents a simplified view of the leverage points concept in terms of fashion and textiles. The examples included are just four of the many interventions that could be made:

Leverage Points v5 copy

Changes to the treatment of wastewater from a dye house, for example, is a relatively simple and realisable intervention. Creating new legislation which has a positive impact on society and the environment would have more impact, but is difficult to achieve. Similarly, encouraging wearers to think differently about the way in which they use their clothes could offer great benefits, yet shifting people’s mindsets is far from straightforward. The most transformational change would involve a complete rethink of the fashion system.

The leverage points concept also helps us to think about the relationship between different initiatives. Can they be conducted in parallel? Can incremental changes provide a foothold to pursue more effective strategies, or do they distract us from the scale of the challenge?

We invite our speakers to consider and share with us the leverage points that they are working at to drive positive change within the fashion and textile industry. How does their work contribute to a more sustainable future? What more can be done, and by whom?


Meadows, D. 1999. Leverage Points. Places to Intervene in a System. Hartland, VT: The Sustainability Institute. Available at http://donellameadows.org/archives/leverage-points-places-to-intervene-in-a-system/

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