The world’s second most polluting industry after oil, the very nature of fast fashion’s quick trend turnover renders it so damaging that it has become one of the most environmentally crippling industries on the planet.
And, according to a recent report, it’s only getting worse, with the textile industry emitting more greenhouse gas emissions than international shipping and aviation combined.
The concept of ‘sustainability’ is inherently at odds with the world of fashion.
An industry that makes a living by providing its fans with the very newest trends that haven’t been seen or used before is surely one of the most unsustainable imaginable. And that’s exactly what it is.
So while ‘sustainable fashion’ may have a reputation of being a serious snore-fest term that brands throw around in order to be seen to be fulfilling corporate social responsibility, it’s an important answer to a very real problem.
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What is ‘sustainable fashion’?
Many people confuse ‘sustainable fashion’ with ‘ethical fashion’, and while the two are unquestionably linked, the concept of sustainability in the industry refers to the effects of the production of clothing on the environment (ethical fashion concerns the way clothing is made – encompassing everything from how the cotton was grown to whether and how animals are used, and how the garment workers are treated).
The very basic aim of fashion sustainability is to ensure that clothing is manufactured in such a way that the product’s life cycle minimises any undesirable environmental effect.
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Which brands are championing sustainability?
While the on-going detrimental effects of the fashion industry are drilled into us, there are a number of brands acknowledging the issues and adapting their businesses to create change. Not because they need to look “good” but because it makes long-term economic sense.
Every year, thousands of tonnes of clothes are thrown away with household waste and as much as 95% of those clothes could be recycled. Buying new materials doesn’t make business sense when a brand could reuse what they have already. Waste doesn’t make business sense.
Leading the charge is Stella McCartney, whose label has proved since its launch in 2001 that its possible to create sustainable, ethical, trend-led collections without damaging our planet. “We challenge and push boundaries to make luxurious products in a way that is fit for the world we live in today and the future”, McCartney’s website reads, “No compromises.”
In 2013, H&M were the first fashion brand in the world to launch a global garment collection initiative, allowing customers to hand in any unwanted clothes or materials to any H&M store regardless of the brand or the condition of them in return for a £5 voucher to spend in-store. Additionally, each year H&M launch the Conscious Exclusive collection. The collection comprises of “high-end environmentally friendly pieces, aiming to move H&M’s fashion and sustainability development towards a more sustainable fashion future.”
Zara’s parent company, Inditex, is following suit, and also now encourages shoppers to drop off their used garments in order for the brand to recycle and reuse. In 2016, Zara also launched its answer to H&M’s Conscious Collection via its ‘Join Life’ initiative – a collection of sustainably created pieces. By 2020, the high street stalwart aims to no longer send anything to landfills from their own headquarters, logistics centres, stores and factories.
Other great examples of sustainable initiatives include COS’s repurposed cotton project, which sees them use their own excess fabric to create new garments, and Levi’s’ Waste<Less Collection – a collection of pieces that are made of 20 per cent post-consumer waste – specifically, recycled plastic bottles (that works out to an average of three to eight plastic bottles per pair).
Teaming up with non-profit organisation Parley, Adidas last year sold more than 1 million pairs of shoes from recycled ocean plastic, with each preventing about 11 plastic bottles from the possibility of entering our oceans. Launching last week, they created a material trademarked ‘Ocean Plastic’, which is made entirely from plastic intercepted on beaches and in coastal communities. A sustainable version of the popular Deerupt trainer made from partially upcycled ocean plastic intercepted on Maldivian beaches is a particular highlight.
There are also a whole host of fashion boutiques dedicated to the cause. Antibad – a website launched in 2017 that does exactly what it says on the tin – strives to “change the perception of sustainable fashion. Antibad is about having fun with fashion without damaging anything else.” The result? A curated collection of conscious pieces from the designer likes of Mara Hoffman through to beautiful vintage dresses and long-lasting basics.
How can I champion sustainability?
For such an important question, the answer is very simple – shop from labels and collections that support sustainability. That way you can fuel your love for new trends without supporting the production of damaging, unrecyclable materials.
Other ways would be to adopt a charity shop habit and buy pre-loved clothing (a great way to snap up ‘vintage’ pieces without the price tag of London’s edgiest vintage stores).