Sustainable Fashion: Sense & Sustainability

Making Fashion Sustainable: Investors, Makers and Brands
10/Feb 2020 at Landsec HQ.

Sitting in my high street floral dress, I’m now painfully aware it’s starting to look rather tatty. Just a couple of washes (with the machine set to cold) seem to have been a little too much for this garment, so it protested by falling apart at the seams. It’s a shame, I quite liked this dress. I look around the room at the sustainable fashion forum and wonder where everyone got their clothes from and if they’ve picked more sustainable outfits for this evening’s talk.

We have to make sustainability profitable or it won’t take off.

The panel is made up of industry experts, each bringing a different approach to making the fashion industry more sustainable. Chair – Sophia Matveeva kicks off the discussion with a controversial statement along the lines of “We have to make sustainability profitable or it won’t take off. Greta Thunberg will become just another hacked off teenager.”

Sustainable Fashion
The Panel Photograph: Melissa Woollard

It’s true. Fashion is one of the most profitable and fast-moving industries of them all, it’s also one of the most fickle. As they say in Project Runway – “one day you’re in, the next day you’re out.” But how can we work together to fix this series of problems which is becoming increasingly destructive to the planet?

Perhaps the best thing to do is to be naked, consumption on any scale is not sustainable. So do we just all give up? The good news is, there are solutions, but they will require effort on all sides, the manufacturers, the retailers and even the consumer.

To make this work, people have to be willing to purchase clothes at a higher price point, organic material is on average 30% more expensive. Hugo Adams, CEO of the Frugi Group, believes that this isn’t too much of an increase in cost to ask for a quality item, which will last much longer than cheap clothing. There needs to be a change in mindset, garments should be treated as an investment.

What if people can’t afford to shop more ethically? Or just don’t care?

If we, as consumers know why this more expensive t-shirt is better for the planet, perhaps that will help. I feel it’s asking a lot of consumers but better education on the true nature of the industry and how it works will help alter the collective mindset. Although what if people can’t afford to shop more ethically? Or just don’t care? And how can you be sure of the truth when the marketplace is flooded with false claims, such as ‘made of 100% ocean plastic’? Ocean plastic is virtually impossible to trace, and there’s also the chance that it’s the supplier, not the brand who are creating these claims, so they can win more business. It’s a minefield that I had never even considered. Like many, I automatically accepted these claims as facts.

Change must then start with the brands themselves, by understanding where their materials come from and who is making their garments, so they can share this story with their customers. Understanding and authenticity is key says Smruti Sriram, CEO of manufacturer Supreme Creations / Bags of Ethics, who knows her factories and staff on a personal and human level. Brands must start to really, deeply care and when they post photos of smiling factory workers in India and China, these should be genuine and not just made up. Making the effort to go to their factories in person and speak to the staff, will help humanise the fashion industry and make us all aware of how much we have in common. Some consumers are starting to wake up and demand transparency. Retailers must take responsibility to understand their own supply chain. They must invest time, energy and money, because saying ‘this was outsourced’ is now a form of commercial suicide.

Can celebs like Joaquin Phoenix help?

Fact-checking is all well and good, but during the endless scrolling of social media, we’re also accosted with adverts from online stores showing us the latest jeans for just £10, or we see a reality TV star wearing a stunning £12 playsuit in their Insta-story. This can be ours now if we just swipe up to buy. The temptation is everywhere. We never learn. The playsuit never fits as it does on the model. So we send it back, free of charge. No harm is done, right? Wrong. May Al-Karooni, the founder of Globechain, sheds the alarming light on where our returns really go. To incineration. 60% of all online clothes returned are literally being burned. Shocking. She explains that It’s often cheaper for companies to burn the stock than resell or repurpose. Her company endeavours to close the gap and find homes for stock that is unwanted, often goods find homes with charities or clothing can be re-branded and used elsewhere. It’s a step closer to sustainable fashion.

The Dress Photograph: Instagram/hot4thespot
The Dress Photograph: Instagram/hot4thespot

We have a huge problem with consumerism. The range of choice in the market for cheap clothes is overwhelming. I come across hundreds of different people every day and only occasionally spot the same outfit twice, with the exception of ‘that dress’ from last summer, you know the Zara one that everybody had…well every body except my body, which appeared too short and curvy for the dress to handle. I often stand on the tube and marvel at the array of different outfits, mind blown by the range of textures, patterns, fabrics and styles, smiling like an idiot at people wearing band t-shirts that I love, then realising they probably picked that Metallica shirt up at TopShop and can’t name a tune beyond Enter Sandman. Our clothes say so much about us, so why not ‘I chose an ethical brand’?

Smoking used to be fashionable but now it’s taboo. Maybe fast fashion will go that same way.

As well as wanting to fit in, we also have the desire to stand out. Is bespoke garment making the next step? Perhaps we can work with tech to create more expensive, but better quality outfits tailored perfectly to individuals. True investment pieces. Hollywood stars such as Joaquin Phoenix have already started the trend of wearing the same thing multiple times, having just one tux for the whole award season. Hopefully, this will break the 90’s taboo of being an outfit repeater (Kate’s voice from Lizzie Maguire echoes in my head as I type this).

Or perhaps we’ll go the other way and wear basic grey clothing in the style of school children or prison inmates and use technology to showcase our unique sense of style. Apparently, there is an app that allows you to buy dresses virtually, dress in them from a photo and post them to Instagram so it appears you physically own the items. It feels very Sims!

Whatever the next step is for fashion, it has to be sustainable, or we’ll be dead. Oksana Stowe from True thinks that sustainability will take off with consumers in a big way and become cool. Trends change. Smoking used to be considered very fashionable and now it is seen as the opposite. Hopefully, this will be the case for fast fashion too.

Article by Melissa Woollard.

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