Is sustainability a dirty word?

9:00 PMJennie Barck

Sustainability with second hand clothing

The topic of sustainable fashion always comes off as a tedious subject that most people just want to brush under the carpet and ignore. After all there are so many more intriguing subjects in fashion, such as emerging talents, the secrets of traditional fashion houses and new techniques in production that people would rather talk about. But when pressing issues such as factories collapsing surface, we have to start making drastic changes about the perception of sustainability and soon.

Shocking information about high end designers arises every time a discussion about ethical fashion opens up. Some do not know where their clothes are made, and 48% of brands last year had not traced the factories where their clothes came from. Even more were not aware of where their raw materials came from.

But this is not what you want to hear. If you are going to read an article about fashion, you want it to fulfill your wildest dreams about a glamorized industry, not some ramblings for the recycling of old fabrics. However, sustainability is about so much more than this. It is a major and provocative theme to explore through a collection. It can evoke a strong emotional response and icons like Vivienne Westwood have been making it a worthy topic with provocative imagery and print tees.

What needs to be done is make sustainability go through a transformation from a trend to a timeless requirement: something as necessary as advertising for designers. A few UK based designers are already taking a stance, and Stella McCartney is amongst the most known advocates of ethical fashion and Katherine Hamnett who was a pioneer of fair trade principles. There is a looming feeling of the progress getting slower however.

There are initiatives like the Green Carpet Challenge that Erdem took a part in during LFW this fall, using lace leftovers from old collections and fabrics made from recycled fibers and plastic bottles. Faustine Steinmetz' reconstructed old denim jackets, Christopher Raeburn used naturally dyed silk and Katie Jones' knitwear showed how upcycling can be edgy. These are designers that are creating positive promotion for a serious issue, in a way in which more people will see it as an exciting opportunity.

However, usually the focus of younger, emerging designers is placed upon the creation of innovative garments with interesting technical details, and not much attention goes to the environmental consequences or the treatment of the workers. Fashion schools should be placing more emphasis on the teaching of ethical fashion as a chance to differentiate whilst taking a stance with an important issue. Students may not know the most cost effective way to be ethical, and therefore simply decide to ignore it.

It needs to be acknowledged that being sustainable isn't an unfortunate guideline you need to follow, but an opportunity to create unique fabrics that will make your designs stand out and create a positive reaction from the public. The advantages of ethical fashion is simply not discussed on the same level as its horrible consequences are.

The problem doesn't seem to be with consumers not wanting to buy ethical clothes, it is with designers not providing them with suitable products. There isn't enough range; if a garment is organic it's basic and old fashioned. As Senior Curator at the Museum of Modern Art Paola Antonelli says: “Few labels are as frayed and worn out as "green" is. In absence of any organised approach or regulation, manufacturers and users alike have flaunted and overstated ecological virtue to the point of devaluing it”. If ”green” became popularized in a way that made it look tasteful and important, we would be well on our way to a more environmentally friendly industry.”

As the bigger design houses set an example for younger designers to follow, we can hope more emphasis will be put on the consequences of poorly planned production so that we can make a real difference and change the way ethical fashion is seen. It's no longer old patchwork rags, but an intriguing way to contribute to a world wide issue.

Wearing a vintage jumpsuit

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  1. Great post ! Love your style



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