Let’s face it, I’ve never been one of those concerned about the environment. I sometimes take an Uber to travel the equivalent of three subway stations, I have the unfortunate habit of throwing my cigarette butts everywhere, and would not be able to spend the winter without Foxy, my faithful silver fox fur coat.
Howeover, it is impossible to deny the changes that are currently affecting the fashion industry. In one year, it alone emits as much CO2 as the entire world’s aviation, and produces as many greenhouse gases as the whole of Russia. Faced with such a grim situation, it was only a matter of time before the catwalks tried to make up for it.
Between green washing and real values, will the fashion of the future be sustainable?
What is ethics?
Ethics is a bit like the new “chic”: a word that is used in all kinds of ways, to designate notions that are often unclear — voluntarily or not. Are we talking about fabrics choices? Jobs? Respect for the eco-system? Unfortunately, brands’ awareness is not necessarily global. For example, vegan leather protects small animals, but particularly relies on oil.
It is therefore impossible to deal with such a subject by approaching its components independently. It is ultimately a system, where each variable influences the others. Consequently, responsible fashion can only be considered if there is a commitment to the environment as well as to society.
Playing it natural
Polyester, made from the same fibres as your dear VOSS bottle, is one of the most polluting and widespread fabrics. About one-fifth of the world’s water pollution comes from the dyeing and processing of synthetic textiles. Think about the planet, don’t wear plastic. Silk, linen, cotton, hemp, wool… Choose natural materials, no acrylic sweater is worthy of you.
Overall, luxury is less concerned by these matter, insofar as its craftsmanship and the quality of its materials impose a rather virtuous approach. However, Zara, H&M and others seem to be gradually changing their course. Once the undisputed kingdom of 0% cotton, the mastodons are now committing to reducing their footprint by installing recycling posts in their shops or by developing ranges from organic culture.
To love your neighbour
Fashion will not save Mother Nature without caring about those who live there: the implementation of eco-friendly practices implies a better working environment for workers.
The tragedy of the Rana Plaza (collapse of a building housing workshops in Bangladesh, editor’s note) and its thousand deaths left their mark on people’s minds. While it is difficult to establish precisely under which conditions our garments are made, the manufacture origin and price are often good indicators. I may be the first to do it, but let’s face it, it’s not normal to buy a T-shirt at the price of a pack of cigarettes.
Denim alone crystallize all the excesses of the industry: its manufacture requires literally a ton of water, produces at least as much waste, and can cause cancer to the small hands crafting it. In this case, technological innovation serves as a driving force for the progress of creators. Spinning mills spearhead recycling, develop pigments that reduce water use by half, and result in sumptuous washouts through the action of lasers.
Marithé and François Girbaud, star creators of the 1980s, are pioneers in this field. However, this awakening affects all ranges. On the luxury side, Stella McCartney opted for organic cotton, while Saint Laurent chose the century-old rigour of Japanese clothing. From Everlane to Nudie Jeans, and G-Star who chronicles the genesis of its canvases in video, there are many alternatives standing.
Taking it slow
While the number of collections is higher than ever — six becoming the norm in luxury, not to mention haute couture — slowing down the pace is a key challenge for brands. To develop fewer references, focus on a range of permanent items and stop production in all directions….
The see now, buy now trend (being able to buy the creations of a fashion show as soon as it ends, instead of waiting for them to arrive in store six months later, editor’s note) encourages an unbridled speed, and raises the question of a ready-to-throw rather than wear, anchoring the garment in an ephemeral dimension. Whether we are talking about fast fashion or luxury, instantaneity and obsolescence have become an integral part of our relationship to fashion. In a second, anything can become has been.
The first effort would therefore be to buy less. Choose quality clothing, which does not have to be renewed every year. Without going so far as to opt for absolute minimalism, put your wardrobe on a diet.
Long live vintage
“It’s not too big, it’s oversized! It’s not old, it’s vintage!”. Fashion has its way of giving pretty names to concepts that are usually not very attractive. Vintage, which is nothing more than recycling, is proving to be a solid solution. It creates almost no pollution, and has the advantage of being robust: 30 years ago, clothing was meant to last. The materials were carefully chosen, the finishes designed to resist. A vintage piece is a piece that will accompany you for a long time.
Combining political commitment and fashion system, some brands only create from fabrics and items older than us. RE/DONE transforms Levi’s jeans from our parents’ time into modern pieces, while Ronald van der Kemp designs his collections around 40-year-old fabrics. What if the future of fashion actually relied in its past?
Greenwashing and good conscience
The industry is becoming more structured, the list of inspection institutions and label agencies is growing. The Fair Fashion Center in New York, which brings together 35 CEOs representing 242 brands, works for decent manufacturing conditions, while OEKO-TEX increases its influence on sourcing materials.
Ecology is on the rise, pushing some to declare themselves concerned when the only thing green about them is the dollars they raise. However, whatever their motivations — and the money collected — they still have the merit of exposing these issues to targets that are usually not. In a way, they extend the message.
Then, if you love spending your Saturdays at Zara’s, there’s no point in flogging yourself. It is about being responsible than radicalization, understanding the content of the context. Moreover, sustainable fashion — despite all its goodwill — is unable to meet a need: being trendy. It focuses more on a timeless style, rather than on the latest magazines’ and their constant evolution. A kind of uniform, far from eccentricity and renewal. Therefore, no one asks you to become an ayatollah of normcore or vintage. Simply be aware of your purchases and their impact.
This article is part of the #20 — Blue planet and green fashion series.
(Cover picture credits: Marithé + François Girbaud)