Fashion & the new sustainability frontier
I was scrolling through my newsfeed last week when I came across something unbelievable. A t-shirt that can clean the air of pollutants? Surely not…
Lo and behold it’s true. Startup Kloters are introducing a t-shirt that represents a new frontier in fashion and sustainability. One RepAir t-shirt can offset the pollution emissions of two cars. Amazing.
Sadly, the whole industry isn’t like RepAir. In fact, fashion is one of the most unsustainable industries around. It’s built on desire, consumption and waste. Not exactly what I would consider good, would you?
When the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed in 2013, over a thousand garment factory workers were killed. We’ve rightly seen a backlash against fast fashion ever since. Last month not-for-profit, Fashion Revolution, encouraged millions of people to ask brands #whomademyclothes and demand transparency in the fashion supply chain. Producers and consumers alike are increasingly recognising the need for awareness around sustainability.
I’m nervous about the sustainability credentials of the clothes I wear, so wherever possible try to seek out brands I can trust. I know I’m not alone in this, shoppers are increasingly doing their research and using apps like good on you to help find brands that match their values.
Even with the help of apps, finding the right brand can sometimes seem like an impossible task. Often the easiest option is to choose smaller brands like Knots & Vibes who’s brand identity is defined by commitment to ethical consumerism (Canvas8, March 2018). I wouldn’t feel guilty wearing Knots & Vibes, in fact I’d feel good about it.
Thankfully, sustainability isn’t just possible for small brands, much bigger high street retailers such as asos are making their production process more transparent with their Made in Kenya range. Result.
Fashion houses, who want to keep their customers, are working through their supply chains to ensure sustainability.
High street fashion houses are caught in a paradox between being fast fashion brands and encouraging more considered, slow consumption. Yet despite being fast fashion, brands like H&M are working to create a greener future.
H&M run multiple initiatives, encourage shoppers to recycle and aim to sustainably source 100% of their cotton by 2020 (Canvas8, September 2015). Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say that H&M have got it nailed, but they’re making big steps towards sustainability which is applaudable.
On the other end of the fashion scale, luxury award-winning German footwear brand, nat-2, uses innovative manufacturing technology to address sustainability issues. Nat-2’s vegan trainer line is made from fungus and has undergone a lengthy development and production process to get there. Mushroom trainers! Who would have thought.
But, the supply chain isn’t the only sustainability issue facing the fashion industry. The role of advertising and PR in fashion consumption is encouraging negative behaviours. From the outset, fashion advertising has fuelled discrimination, objectification and mental health issues.
This is exactly why American Apparel has rebranded. To move away from the sexualisation of its models to encourage body positivity (Canvas8, March 2018). They were pushed out of the UK market, because in fashion, sex no longer sells.
In a similar breath, modest-wear is starting to crop up amongst fashion brands. And it’s about time. For too long, Muslim women have been neglected from cutting-edge fashion, because the clothing isn’t in keeping with their values. So, luxury brands like Dolce & Gabbana have introduced abayas and beautiful, high-fashion floral appliques into their range (Canvas8, February 2018).
Genders are blending and fashion outlets are trying to keep up. Genderless clothes are on the rise and it is no longer sustainable to have separate ‘boys’’ and ‘girls’’ or ‘men’s’ and women’s’ departments. It doesn’t work when only 2% of 18-24 year old males in the UK consider themselves to be totally masculine (YouGov, 2016). Not to mention, I don’t want to buy ‘boyfriend-fit jeans’, I just want jeans.
Models shouldn’t have to adhere to gender binaries, or be tall, skinny and white. It’s not sustainable. My best friend, grandma, mother, and everyone else want to see themselves reflected in the people modelling their future purchases.
To ignore segments of the population because of their skin colour, religious views, body shape, gender or anything else is unsustainable. Gen Y and Gen X are woke. We’re turning our backs on fashion brands and consumerism. We are seeking meaning from their lives and this includes our clothing choices.
So, the new frontier is creative – for brands to address the whole spectrum of sustainability issues using their advertising, PR and catwalk shows, not just their looms and factories.