Sustainable Fashion A Trend To Stay?

Sustainable fashion has been a vast growing trend in the fashion industry and is becoming a well-established practice amongst major fashion designers and retail chains alike.

An Autumn/Winter clothing display at an H&M store. Photograph: Sabrina Shafi

Sustainable fashion, ten years ago, for instance, would have most likely been defined or associated as eco-fashion that is predominately hemp-based or would have been considered to be a somewhat ‘hippyish’ trend. But times have of course changed and at present sustainable fashion has been a driving force in the fashion industry in raising awareness of the environmental impacts of producing clothing garments, in a much more fashion-forward approach. The trend in sustainable fashion continues to flourish in the fashion industry.

London Fashion Week SS15 was a prime example of how the trend in sustainable fashion played a significant role in the fashion industry. London Fashion Week had showcased a range of sustainable fashion collections whereby designers such as Ekaterina Kukhareva, Felder Felder, Ed Marler, Julia Korol as well as many others had exhibited examples of recycling and repurposing and using locally sourced materials throughout their collections. Sustainability in fashion has since been rapidly increasing in popularity for many years now with many designers adhering to ethical principles some of whom include the likes of Stella McCartney, Veja, Blue Q, People Tree and ASOS Green Room to name a few.

The arrival of H&M’s sustainable fashion range in 2012, phrased the “Conscious Range” had also played a huge role in raising awareness of sustainability in fashion particularly amongst consumers in the retail market. Karl-Johan Persson, CEO of H&M explains the aims of the sustainable fashion initiative at H&M on the H&M website, stating that: “At H&M, we have set ourselves the challenge of ultimately making fashion sustainable and sustainability fashionable. We want to help people express their personality and feel proud of what they wear. I’m very excited to see the progress we’ve made so far and how this will help us to make you an even better offer – and create a more sustainable fashion future”. The year that followed the release of the first collection saw the launch of their Conscious Party Wear collection in spring and in October 2014 H&M had launched their Conscious Denim collection. The company continues to expand their conscious range with new designs every year.

Since 2010 the sustainable fashion movement has been on the rise. The pioneering brands that were amongst the first to lead the way in sustainable fashion were Stella McCartney and Noir by Danish designer Peter Ingwersen. In August 2014 fashion brands Stella McCartney, H&M, Zara as well as Quicksilver pledged to end sourcing fibres from endangered forests. The pledge was taken into effect after discussions emerged from Canopy, a not-for-profit organisation that had estimated millions of trees in endangered forests were being ‘cut, chipped and then treated with a chemical concoction to break them down into pulp slurry’ hence the added urgency in tackling the resource consumption.

At present, there is a huge array of fashion exhibitions, blogs as well as other platforms that are specifically focused on sustainable fashion. A number of well established sustainable organisations that have blogs showcasing sustainable fashion include the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, Not Just A Label, Ethical Fashion Forum, Ecouterre and Ecoluxe London. The rise of blogs and social networking sites have played a significant role in promoting ethical fashion to consumers and raising further awareness of the environmental and social impacts.

Not Just A Label is the world’s leading designer platform for showcasing and nurturing ‘today’s pioneers in contemporary fashion’. Robert Cavell-Clarke, Head of Scouting and Designer Relations at Not Just A Label explains ways in which the organisation encourages designers to produce fashion sustainably and the overall objective of the platform stating that: “Our main objective is to support young designers and help them flourish in their own countries and internationally but by embracing sustainable methods. Because it saves them money and helps them so it’s the core of what we do but it’s also trying to change it because in some cases ethical fashion is sometimes seen as a gimmick.”

Due to the great increase of awareness in sustainable fashion by well-known fashion brands, Clarke highlights and draws upon the business value behind sustainable fashion at NJAL, explaining that: “We always talk about sustainability but it’s not always on the side of its good for the environment it’s also good for business as well. And I think that’s good. There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘I am sustainable and I am ethical but the main reason why I do it is because it saves me money’ because it does. So I think it’s not just about the gimmick of being sustainable it actually helps your business. So that’s what we continue and teach to our designers.” Clarke also mentions the sustainable fashion market’s increasing market value, he states that: ”I think sustainability is a by-product of good business. A good business should be run in an ethical and sustainable way. And that’s just a positive by-product of your business.”

Within the ethical fashion market sustainability generally speaking has come to gradually be closely associated with luxury goods. An example of this is Ecoluxe London, which is a not-for-profit organisation of which ‘promotes and supports ecological and sustainable luxury fashion’. The organisation alongside promoting sustainable fashion also showcases the work of fashion brands based in or expanding to the UK and UK based manufacturers, bi-annually during London Fashion Week. Stamo who is the director of the organisation explains the luxury market and its relationship with sustainability: “There is huge potential because if you look at it from the business side the sustainable market in the luxury side is really small so there is a huge potential. And that’s the reason companies like Gucci are trying to make sustainable products. It’s a very good marketing effort and it’s a very good marketing exercise.”

So what can we expect to see for the future in sustainable fashion?

Well, there have been many discussions of ways to maintain sustainability in the fashion industry. According to Samata Angel who is a global campaign director at the Red Carpet Green Dress, in her article on sustainable fashion being design-led she discusses that sustainable initiatives should be predominately design led in order to be successful amongst consumers and states that ‘the simple truth is that image is all-important in the world of fashion.’ As we have discussed, this is already occurring and is on the rise with designers combining both design as well as sustainability to produce fashionable yet wearable garments for consumers. In terms of where the sustainable fashion market is heading and the growing trend in sustainability, Stamo outlines her views and concludes that: “I think it’s heading to become a bigger trend if it manages to hold. Being a big trend it might translate into being a way of life.”

Impact of Ethical Fashion on Communities

Ethical fashion refers to an approach to the design, sourcing, and manufacture of clothing production that keeps workers and communities in mind, alongside minimising the impact on the environment. So how do ethical fashion brands help communities?

Over the past decade, the practice of ethical fashion has been a growing part of the fashion industry and has helped raise awareness of issues in garment factories within less economically developed countries. The practice of ethical fashion aims to address problems associated with the way the fashion industry operates in relation to exploitative labour, environmental damage caused, animal cruelty and the use of hazardous chemicals. Recently, ethical fashion has been in the public eye and portrayed as its own industry, circulating online news media and being showcased in blogs. The term ethical fashion is a very broad term that deals with a range of issues including, exploitation, sustainable production, working conditions, fair trade, and the environment.

In the podcast below I spoke to Daisy Morrison, co-founder of the Ethical Box, who explained the practice of ethical fashion and influence of celebrity in raising awareness of ethically made garments.

Peter Conway director and printer of an eco-friendly screen printing company, I Dress Myself spoke of the companies approach to the eco practice, he states that: “We were the first screen printing company in the UK to exclusively use 100% solvent free water based inks for all of our printing. We specialise in screen-printing by hand using eco-friendly inks to produce high quality products with attention to detail. We print organic T-shirts, art prints and bespoke packaging for clients across Europe. The brand is not something we sat down and invented, it has been a process of evolution. We made the choice to start a screen printing company and we wanted to make it as ethically oriented as we could, as this was how we approached all other aspects in our life.”

In relation to the execution of ethics, Conway states: “Our brand shows that people can run successful businesses along ethical lines and that quality doesn’t have to be compromised for something to be printed using eco-friendly materials. But more importantly our working practice benefits farmers in India who don’t have to use harmful chemicals, manufacturers in Turkey who receive fair wages and our employees who work in a relatively clean and chemical free environment.”

The current level of awareness received in bringing garment manufacturers to the public eye has enabled ethical fashion companies to help factory workers on a one-on-one basis and find effective solutions to issues.

Once Upon a Doug is an organisation that works with female farmers to create cotton cloud shaped fashion accessories called Dougs. The organisation works in partnership with Chetna Vikas, a development organisation that focuses on farmers, women and children who are deprived of their developmental rights. Harry Edmonds, former director of UK operations at Once Upon a Doug spoke of the production of garments, he said: “Once Upon a Doug is a social enterprise that aims to support female farmers in a broad area of Maharashtra, India. They grow cotton amongst other crops. It’s a big struggle to make a living out of this with the different seasonal rain, there are sometimes pesticides that they are sometimes told to use and they take out loans to buy these, which can be very difficult to pay back. Once upon a Doug aims to try and provide supplementary financial income and upscale them in business skills so that they can help themselves and make their life better through learning skills from being able to and more for their families.”

Edmonds had also touched upon the financial impact of the production of Dougs and how it benefits workers, explaining that: “All of the women that we work with that produce the Doug symbol, they all get paid for each one they make. So there is a direct financial income for them and also the profits go to Chetena Vikas, which invests in tones of different projects to help the local communities.”

So what can we do as consumers to ensure that we shop more ethically aware? According to Peter Conway of I Dress Myself, “Consumers need to educate themselves regarding the impact that their shopping habits have on the world. My tip is if you are going to make one change, use organic cotton. The amount of people who die from pesticides each year is staggering.”