Every vice always seems to have a sacrifice. Fashion is more than just the clothes that we wear, it’s a direct indication of who you are as a person. Taste and style are individual to every person and our freedom to decorate our bodies with any material, colour or shape is a blessing. Yet with that blessing comes the harsh truth that fashion and clothing can never be completely sustainable. Even when we wash our clothes microfibers enter the water, which do not dissolve, infecting the water everywhere. However, there are steps that we can take to alleviate the stress of fashion on our environment.
The term ‘fast fashion’ gets thrown around quite often nowadays, with BooHoo plc beginning in only 2008 but in 2019 pulling in over ninety-millions pounds in profit. They offer affordable and mainstream clothing that rotates almost 52 times a year. Traditionally, collections are released twice a year for Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summers, be that as it may trends move so quickly in the digital age. Companies such as BooHoo use methods of fabricating new lines in a quicker fashion, therefore their cheap prices and ability to constantly stay on trend has drawn in hundreds of thousands of consumers over the world. This method of creating products has it’s problems, tight budgets leave seamstresses working for near to nothing and small brands getting their designs stolen due to the quick turn over necessary to keep on top of trends.
Modern day slavery is out of hand across many of these corporations, manipulating human labour and exploiting hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. Seen most recently in Bangladesh, where garment workers have been protesting due to unpaid wages during Covid-19. It is the responsibility of the brands to take the precautions necessary to eradicate slavery, yet it is also our responsibility as consumers to place our vote with our money. Condé Nast released their 'Sustainable Fashion Glossary' which is a brilliant resource to really understand the social, cultural and ecological impacts of the fashion industry, whether it's affordable fast fashion or Haute Couture, fashion is rapidly becoming one of our earth's largest destructors.
(Image: Some Pie)
Eco- Friendly Laundry Detergents
As I mentioned before, you could only shop secondhand or make your own garments and still contribute to one of the most destructible symptoms of modern day fashion. When we wash our clothes, microfibers enter our water, which get washed away into local streams and rivers, furthermore laundry detergents often aren't eco-friendly either. The options of eco-friendly laundry detergents are limited, however don't let this stop you from experimenting with homemade soaps using sustainably foraged material. Natural soap with essential oils is an amazing, waste free option if you're looking to cut out unnecessary packaging as well as the toxic ingredient that hide behind the ease of washing pods. A lot of the time, hearing 'natural' is seen as gentle, or not strong enough for budging those tough stains from days spent foraging; when making your own detergent however you can balance the strength you like.
Homemade remedies not your thing? Not to worry! Though fashion may be miles away from being a sustainable industry, there are companies that are making steps to decrease the detrimental effects of fashion on the environment. An alternative to shop-brought detergents is Smol. They have created laundry detergents, as well as fabric conditioner, and dishwasher tablets that are designed to be plastic free. They designed their Smol technology with our ecosystem in mind, writing that;
“Using Smol technology we have found a way to use lower levels of added chemicals per wash when compared to the other capsule brands. What's more we have managed to achieve this with no loss to cleaning performance,”.
Small things like the type of laundry detergent we use seem unimportant in comparison to other natural disasters that are occurring because of climate change, however it is those little choices that make a large difference.
While fast fashion companies continue to add new seasons to the fashion year, many brands are beginning to move away from this type of fast turn over. Instead, four seasons is now more popular in sustainable fashion brands. This encourages minimalism, something that I should implement. The basics of a minimalist lifestyle revolve around owning only what you need, for example having a minimalist wardrobe would only consist of necessities. This opens up the opportunity to spend a higher price for better quality and locally made garments, rather than pieces that are only made to last until the next micro-season comes along.
Beginning a minimalist wardrobe isn’t difficult, it’s simply a choice to stop buying unnecessary items. It isn’t recommended that you throw away all of your clothes that you already own, use them until they’re well and truly worn!
(Image: Floral Deco)
In opposition to the fast fashion industry is the uprising of slow fashion. An industry that focuses its energy in mindful creation with natural materials that are built to last. Fashion must become conscious for us to continue expressing ourselves through our clothing, with new styles only being added a few times a year, slow fashion accepts the responsibility they have to create garments that are stylish as well as a high quality. The possibilities with a minimalist wardrobe are endless when you use your imagination, from colourful patches to cover small tears or re-dying those faded jeans. Eco-printing is another up and coming style choice that implements nature into fashion, by using leaves, petals or nuts to dye garments. India Flint, author of 'Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles', brought the method into the mainstream, I will provide a link to her blog below which includes many tips and tricks about natural dying. The outcome is astonishingly beautiful and each piece is unique. For a little inspiration, take a look at Lucy Lepchani's stylish designs using botanical dyes to upcycle her wardrobe.
(Image: Lucy Lepchani from lucylepchani.life)
Water or a weak alcohol can be used to shift the natural colour of leaves and botanicals onto our fabric, leaving a dream-like haze of natural and warm colours to brighten up old garments. Furthermore, yarn and thread can also be dyed this way! Adopting upcycling into a minimalist wardrobe adds endless amounts of options without having to buy new pieces for every changing season, instead dye your clothes to match the falling leaves or the colour of fresh rhubarb in the summer. I will further link Lucy Lepchani's blog below, it is incredibly insightful and will lead you on a journey of vitality, with a passion of life itself.
(Image: Lucy Lepchani from lucylepchani.life)
Minimalism may not be for everybody, however taking aspects of the lifestyle into your own can really make a difference. Personally, I’ve taken to throwing away an item every time I want a new one, as to stop the net increase of garments in my wardrobe (which is already embarrassingly excessive).
“Colorwashing is an umbrella term for the profit-driven practice of companies and brands to deceptively communicate unsubstantiated values in products and services in order to appeal and market them better to socially and environmentally aware consumers.” - Sustainable Fashion Matterz
There are many different types of washing that occur in the fashion industry, from green washing which involves a company advertising themselves as more environmentally friendly than they truly are. Or pink washing where a brand will advocate for female empowerment, however their business practices exploit and harm women; brown washing involves companies that will attempt to appear supportive of anti-racism yet continue to exploit and harm people of colour.
Our style must not detriment the environment, but also the humans that walk on this very earth. Not only is the lack of sustainable activity an integral part of the fashion industry’s downfall, but also the excessive amounts of exploitation that take place. Many brands have come under fire for misleading customers in terms of their eco-friendly status, so ensure that any company that you intend to give your money to are working towards a less damaging effect on the environment, and also that they are paying their employees.
Recent news has been covered with headlines and stories about the Black Lives Matter movement, we are truly living in times of change and 2020 has seen the beginning of Generation Z’s activism. This meant that of course, fast fashion brands have utilised this to attempt to increase their profits. Brown washing has become prevalent, with some fast fashion brands selling t-shirts with protest chants plastered on the front with no mention of donating the profits. Whereas others will utilise popular black and brown creatives to appear inclusive, however their modes of production exploit people of colour.
Where to go from here?
Adapting to a new way of seeing fashion doesn't mean that the longstanding traditions within the art of fashion are gone, only that they need to be tweaked. Condé Nast have developed 'The Sustainable Fashion Glossary' which I would highly recommend taking a look through. The glossary is spread across four different categories which follow the journey that our garments go on before they end up in our wardrobe. From the materials to production, into consumption habits and then how to sustainably take care of our clothes as consumers. Furthermore, it details intersectional issues within the industry that include the carbon footprint of fashion as well as social, cultural and economic impacts as a way to educate and move the industry towards a more sustainable future.
This follows Vogue's recent call for brands to act in a more sustainable manner as to save the planet for future generations. Going as far as looking for a Global Sustainability Director to specifically focus on how the industry can become greener. The green rhetoric has been circling the industry for years, however positive changes are being made, continue to be mindful when shopping and remember, you probably don't need to buy those new shoes.