I watched the film River Blue recently, and the chord that struck so deeply with me, is how much the problem has escalated since I last travelled to China and Indonesia sourcing fabrics for major contracts.
In my role as a designer of corporate business wear, I mostly have control of where and how my products are made. My clients’ care for their own employees, which extends to include how the staff wear which they provide for them, has been made. Image and feel good factor for staff is paramount in a customer facing role.
I realise that I am in a place of privilege, having the choice where and how my garments and fabrics are made, but this is not the case when we buy fashion. For over twenty years I have worked within ethical and environmentally good practices, so I know it can be achieved - at cost effective prices. The heart-breaking part is that fast fashion ignores this, and the film showed huge levels of deterioration of the rivers and waterways in these countries.
I’ve been on my soapbox about the need to raise awareness of the damage fashion is doing environmentally and socially around the world since I witnessed it firsthand over fifteen years ago, when it was far less than it is today. I used to get blank stares when I brought it up in conversation and certainly was never asked to talk about it at any events. I was asked to talk about my career, or image, or personal branding instead, even although I have it listed first, as a topic, on my speaker profile. I believe people’s perception previously, of a talk or workshop on sustainable fashion was that a hippy swathed in jute sacks was going to turn up and talk about how to repurpose clothes from your local charity shop!
Sustainable fashion is certainly not that. And it is something we can all adopt a little of, into our everyday lives, starting today with my easy ways for a more sustainable fashion approach.
1. Buy Less. Because the process of making clothes and shoes uses huge amounts of energy, predominantly in the form of fossil fuel-based power, as well as the toxic non-biodegradable heavy metal chemicals often used in the dying and manufacturing processes.
2. Buy Better Quality. Better quality fabric, better garment construction, because they will last longer, reducing the need to make such huge volumes of fabric and garments in the first instance.
3. Mend, Repair, Love and Care for the clothes you already own. Store them on good hangers that help each garment keep it's shape. Remove stains as soon as possible as they can become harder to shift once dried in. Clean and protect shoes and bags regularly to keep them looking new for longer.
4. If you need to replace an item or make a new purchase look for products that are made from cotton, wool, silk, viscose or linen to reduce the amount of synthetic fabrics in your wardrobe. Synthetics such as polyester, nylon, spandex are made from petrochemicals as a raw material, which is not sustainable. They are essentially plastic.
5. Look for labelling when shopping for new garments that indicate that they are made from a sustainable source for their raw materials such as Organic Cotton or Sustainable Viscose.
6. Buy locally made products. If you live in the UK buy British made goods. It will reduce your carbon footprint of clothing that travels over half way around the world from the Far East to the UK.
7. When shopping online, do not buy two of the same in different sizes and then send one back. The carbon footprint of that item going back to a warehouse is immediately wasteful, but even more concerning is that the actual cost in labour of that item being sorted by hand, repackaged and put back into stock, is in many cases actually more than the value of the item itself. Chances are it heads straight to a warehouse which is full of returned stock, never to see the light of day again as the market is already flooded with resale clothes. It is less damaging to the brands to simply take them out of circulation and ‘hide’ them in a warehouse.
8. Wash on a lower temperature. 30 degrees for all items that are not worn next to skin. 40 degrees for bedding, towels and undies is sufficient. It increases the lifespan of the fabrics as well as using less energy.
9. Alter existing garments to give them a new lease of life. To update them to be more current or to fit you better.
Little steps will add up and start to make a difference. The industry is riddled with problem areas across its very long and complex production chain for each and every garment we wear but adopting some new habits will start to make a difference.
The planet needs you to care about what you wear.
Do Good. Feel Good. Look Good. Without compromising on style!