Even before COVID-19, fashion insiders were claiming that the fashion system was broken and had been for some time. The sheer speed of the fashion circle, heavy discounting, ethical problems and environmental issues had bought it to its knees. The fashion industry, causes more pollution than international flights and maritime combined. According to WRAP (waste and resources action programme) every year 350,00 tonnes of used clothing ends up in landfill. High-street fashion, is coming under more and more scrutiny. Shoppers are becoming more considered in their approach, now they know about the far greater costs of cheap labour, poor working conditions and the damage to the environment. More and more consumers want to become sustainable. However, the clothing industry is now the most unsustainable that it has ever been. For the health of the planet does this have to change once and for all?
Sustainable fashion is the movement and process of fostering change to the fashion industry and towards greater ecological integrity and social justice. Concerning more than just addressing fashion textiles or garments. It comprises of addressing the whole infrastructure of fashion. While fast fashion describes clothing that is cheaply made and intended for short-term use, sustainable or ethical fashion is the pole opposite and is sometimes referred to as slow fashion. This takes into account the full life-cycle of the product from the design, sourcing and production processes. looking at everyone and everything it affects such as; the environment, the workers, their communities and even the consumer.
The textiles industry is wreaking havoc on the environment between the processes to make clothing and the waste when it gets thrown away. Both brands and consumers have been taking a much-needed interest in improving these issues. And while there’s no such thing as Eco-friendly clothing as all garments have at least some negative impact on the environment, there are brands, some very well- known, working diligently to help make a difference. It’s a complex issue and there isn’t one brand on the market that’s currently capable of tackling everything on its own. I will write about some of these in my next blog.
There are five main issues being addressed in the fashion industry:
Water usage: The demands for fresh water for drinking and agriculture is far surpassing what’s available. As a result, some brands are now looking at their supply chains to see how they can cut back on how much water they’re using.
Hazardous chemicals: Dyes and finishes from the production processes are dangerous for the workers, and can pollute community water sources. These chemicals may not affect the consumers, but they can be a problem for the workers and the people who live in the same areas as the factories. Fashion brands are now tasked with coming up with new ways to address the damage caused by dyes and finishes.
Short lifecycle: Stores are constantly launching new designs and consumers are regularly updating their wardrobes. The biggest goal in sustainable fashion is to buy less, use things for longer and to make clothes last. Second-hand, used clothing is been promoted. Buying something used is more sustainable than anything new, so it’s automatically going to cost you less. The fashion industry calls it recommence and its totally on-trend.
Waste: On top of having a short lifecycle, there needs to be a way to create less rubbish by re-using and re-making products. One opportunity is using recycled materials in new clothing.
Agriculture: Natural fibres like cotton are often grown using pesticides and treatments that are harmful to the farmers, workers and wildlife in the area. There are now more options available for organic cotton, linen and other fibres which use less water than the conventional growing methods. Brands are looking at being organic throughout the production process not just by using organic fabric.
It requires, both a shift in what you buy and where you buy it from, when you want to be ethical and sustainable. Fast fashion is easy for consumers because it’s inexpensive, lasting for only a season and in some cases clothes that only last a few wears. With ethical fashion, the price tags for quality pieces can be daunting. A survey by the UK magazine Cosmopolitan on Instagram found 70% of their followers asked didn’t buy from sustainable fashion brands because they were too expensive. There is an argument for all or nothing calling for companies to become 100% sustainable. In truth, the only piece of clothing which is a 100% sustainable is the one already in your wardrobe. High street brands that are at least trying to go down a more ethical route have been accused of Green-washing and just trying to be seen as doing the right thing to sell more clothes. Its certainly hard to come up with the best solution and it is too easy to just say companies should do more.
The most sustainable fabric is one that’s been used previously, anything new regardless of the material, has a negative impact on the environment. More companies are looking at fabrics made with recycled material, most commonly you’ll find polyester made from recycled water bottles. The labels should show details like 100% recycled polyester or made with partially recycled materials.
There has been a return to the pre-loved and second-hand market, with many great re-sale apps and websites. Charity shops are a gold-mine for interesting bits and pieces and better still, you may find something that no-one else has and you are helping the charity to raise money. Well-known celebrities, like Professor Green have been in TV advertisements talking about looking after clothes and having the same jacket for 15 years. Going back to my minimalist blogpost having clothing that you love, look after and wear all the time is a practical, affordable way to follow fashion in your own personal style in 2020.
Is sustainable fashion and ethical clothing the latest fashion trend? Or is the fashion industry talking steps towards doing the right thing or has it been forced into a corner by consumers who are no longer accepting throwaway fashion? When I grew up in the 1970s, I saved up for months, from my weekend job, to buy some jeans, admittedly from a designer brand, then I wore and wore them for ages and I really treasured them. This doesn’t happen much now, perhaps it should!