Fashion is maintained and run by consumer desire with the speed and accessibility of new trends being constantly accelerated every season. Each new style renders the older one obsolete, ultimately ending up in the landfill site.
The Sustainable Clothing Action Plan was launched in 2009 by the UK Government Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. (Defra.) It aims to encourage shareholders to invest in sustainable fashion where there is no adverse impact on people or the environment at any stage of the fashion cycle, from production to end of life management.
Tribulations of fashion.
Anthony Griffiths, representative of Defra said, ‘In the UK, two million tonnes of textiles are consumed per annum with the fast/discount fashion sector making up one-fifth of the UK market. Yet about 50 per cent of this is destined for landfill, leaving just half a million tonnes of textiles a year collected for reuse or recycling.’
Unbeknown to the consumer, by buying readily and cheaply they are contributing to resource depletion. Last year the price of cotton was forced to increase as consumption worldwide is exceeding the production of the cotton. This will have a direct consequence on the fashion industry, as no longer will it be common practice to have cheap, disposable clothes, such as one pound t-shirts from Primark.
In 2005 the Co-operative Bank ‘Ethical Consumerism Report,’ showed that the market for ethical fashion had grown by 30% between 2003-04. However, now in 2011 sustainable fashion is still not common practice by the mass market. Bronwyn Lowenthal, design director for Lowie a handmade ethical clothing brand explained that sustainable fashion,’ should be encouraged but there is still a huge amount of education to be done before designers and manufacturers realize how important it is.’
Plant the seeds of thought.
Sustainable fashion is a way of thinking, the formula for environmentally friendly fashion should be people plus planet then profit in equal measures. The London College of Fashion, Centre for Sustainable Fashion, is a fore runner in the development of a sustainable approach to fashion design. They offer advice and work with small to medium sized businesses to inform them with knowledge on how to become a sustainable brand, by questioning corporate social responsibility.
Ruth Ferguson representative of sustainable swimwear designer Olga Olsson, who only uses organic cotton and wool in her designs, also works in correlation with the London College of Fashion said, ‘The business support program has assisted me by giving advice about how to improve sales, marketing, and reduce my business carbon footprint.’
New approaches to fabric development are being developed to equate to an ethical approach to fashion design, this is required to reduce the volume of hazardous waste produced from the production stage especially by dyeing and distressing treatments on the fabric.
Nadja Solovieva, designer behind the brand Vassilisa, who has trained at Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen is currently in the development of new innovative fabrics. ‘I have always been rather minimal in terms of how I do things, I naturally use maximum efficiency pattern cutting, it is all fairtrade manufactured, to date only natural materials. I also have a philosophy of liberty, multi cultural acceptance and challenge of perceptions,’ Nadja explained.
The British Fashion Council founded ‘Ethestica’ in 2005 to promote sustainable fashion development. The designers who are part of Ethestica all have to adhere to at least one of the core principles of sustainable fashion development such as fair trade, ethical practices and the use of organic or recycled materials.
Ethestica Autumn/Winter 2011 collection showcased at London Fashion Week, with twenty designers being involved who all have ethical credentials and design excellence.
Designer Michelle Lowe-Holder who has designed for Topshop explains her involvement with Esthetica,’ I have shown my last 2 collections here, the season before that I showed under London College of Sustainable Fashion. It is a great way to show your collection to buyers and press. There are many ways to ensure that you are ethical and sustainable when you are small, the challenge comes when you are a larger company, at present I control all my sourcing sampling and production. As the label grows the real challenge will come.’
Questioning the fashion status quo.
More emphasis on investment in good quality items is needed, as the majority of the public view the high street as the destination for cheap, disposable clothing that fuels consumer spending habits. The amount of choice available coupled with consumer desire for the latest fashion trend at affordable prices equates to an overall increase in damage on the environment. Such as, ‘energy use, resource depletion and GHG emissions from processing fossil fuels into synthetic fibres,’ explained Anthony Griffiths, representative of Defra.
However some stores, such as New Look and Next now have an organic cotton and fair trade range which promotes the encouragement of sustainable fashion. Topshop currently stocks ‘People’s Tree’ range which uses only organic cotton made from plants grown without chemicals or pesticides, and treated with natural dyes.
Katherine Hamnett is an ethical clothing innovator, it is by her work in the 80s of protest slogan t-shirts that bought a sustainable approach to fashion in the public eye. Her slogans such as, ‘Clean up or die,’ placed emphasis on the ethical concern with regards to the fashion industry. She has now signed a deal with Tesco to create an ethical and environmental clothing range using organic cotton. Her condition was that Tesco had to agree to sign a contract with the cotton farmers for sustainable development.
Stella McCartney is the ultimate eco designer not only does she develop collections that are sustainable and ecologically friendly, such as organic cotton and the use of no leather or fur, she takes the sustainable approach to every aspect of the Stella McCartney organization. It has been acknowledged as a carbon neutral company as all the offices and studios in the UK are powered by Ecotricity, which invests all money spent on electricity into clean forms such as wind power encouraging a sustainable approach to the future. Also, all the shipping bags are made from corn which is 100% biodegradable instead of the commonly used plastic.
‘I can only hope sustainable fashion will be the future, it is a long way off but many things need to change, and fashion is a small part of a large cultural way of evolving,’ said designer Michelle Lowe-Holder.
The cultivation of an Eco future.
In the future, fashion will begin to blur the lines between fashion and science by the collaboration of designers and scientists to produce new innovative fabric development. Designer Suzanne Lee is the senior researcher at Central Saint Martin’s college where they are growing garments from the bacterial cellulose. It is a totally new alternative to fabric development as no resources will be affected, it aims to grow your own garments using natural resources in the formation of a utopia fashion garden.Donna Franklin, lecturer at the School of Communications and Contemporary Arts at Edith Cowan University explained the process of bacterial cellulose fabric as having, ‘a lot of potential, as the source is organic. However, the chemicals used to make the fabric viable are as yet not. As an arts/science practice it aims to speculate on the potential cross-over’s between clothing as living and clothing as an art project.’
Another approach to tackle resource depletion in the future is to combine technological developments with fashion to create wearable technology. Avant-Garde designer Hussein Chalayan is looking towards futuristic styling by combining clothing as a mechanism. He is making everyday objects transportable, tables and chair folding into dresses as seen in his Autumn/Winter 2000-01 collection ‘Afterwards.’ He is an innovator in finding new uses of materials as seen by his use of material from aircrafts to create a dress which changes shape via remote control. It is his innovation in fabric development that will be a necessity in the future due to resource depletion.
Gary Cass, Lecturer at the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of Western Australia said, ‘I do not think sustainable fashion is the future because it involves two main issues, money and vanity. When it comes to vanity humans are the vainest, this is perpetuated by the corporations and mass media. Economics and environmental sustainability are not compatible. Do not let the economist steer the ship as it will be directed down the cheapest path, with no consideration for the environment or ethical production.’
As we look to the future with the current rate of resource depletion, more innovative fabric development will have to be considered to cope with the growing demand of new fashions. Coupled alongside with consumer knowledge more emphasis needs to be placed on investment in good quality pieces, instead of short term trends.
Ultimately customers drive fashion by their demands, so by stressing the importance on consumers of ethical and environmental purchasing, it should encourage a sustainable fashion system that doesn’t adversly damage the environment in any part of the fashion cycle.