Is sustainability the future of the fast fashion industry?
- Fashion is being urged to be more environmentally-friendly
- Consumers are demanding to know that clothing is sustainable
- Impact of carbon footprint from fashion is huge, say experts
(Header image courtesy of S4S Project)
Sustainability has become a buzzword in fashion over the past couple of years with it dominating social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram.
But with climate change and global warming at the forefront of everyone’s minds, the urgency for consumers to switch to an eco-friendlier lifestyle is increasing.
It is well-known that the fashion industry has a detrimental impact on the planet, with 85% of all wasted textiles are either burned or sent to landfill every year (UNECE, 2018).
The industry is responsible for between 8-10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined (UNEP, 2018).
The 2021 UN Climate Conference (COP26) made it clear that change needs to happen fast as both investors and consumers alike raise their demands for a more sustainable industry and the freedom to access information about how their clothes are made and where they are coming from.
So, is sustainability going to be the next major step forward in the future of the fashion industry and more importantly, the planet?
Professor Fiona Hackney, from the Manchester Fashion Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University, is optimistic about sustainability’s place in the fashion industry.
She said: “I think the urgency has eventually penetrated through, that something needs to be done, so It will come, but it will take a while.”
Fiona said the industry is already introducing changes to decrease it’s negative impact on climate change.
“One of the things they (REDUCES) mentioned and that is really important is the ‘Extended producer responsibility’,” she said.
“It means the people who produce the clothes have the responsibility for the end of life of the clothes.”
The ‘Extended producer responsibility’ was suggested by the Textile Recycling Association to the government after France and Sweden took the lead in bringing in legislation.
It is only one of the major policies that would make a huge difference when it comes to creating a circular fashion model as clothing would be recycled and/or disposed of responsibly opposed to being taken to landfill sites, where it could take more than 200 years for a single t-shirt to decompose.
Fiona has taken part in leading many projects on sustainable fashion choices and our relationship with clothes.
One of her more recent projects held in 2020, ‘Stitching a sensibility for sustainable clothing’, emphasised the importance of educating consumers on the complex process behind the creation of the clothes they are wearing.
She said: “We used lots of creative methods and then as well we tried to evaluate a change in people as they went on.”
Methods included creating threads and learning how to weave. Results showed that the more the candidates were taught, the more their original outlooks on fashion differed.
Comments from the project included:
“I found it really hard and really frustrating as well.”
“It just consumes so much time.”
Projects such as these increase the respect consumers have for their clothes and the way they are made, making people think twice before throwing out a perfectly good t-shirt and falling back into the repetitive cycle of consuming fast fashion.
Fiona says we all need to think about how we can help fashion be more sustainable.
“We know about these things, but how can we actually bring about change in our everyday lives, in our purchasing behaviour and our fashion behaviour?”, she said.
The project website, s4sproject-exeter.uk, provides those who are interested in taking part with resources such as thought provoking questions and educational videos. This helps them reflect on their own clothing choices and develop more sensibilities to act more sustainably.
"Changing the way people think, feel and act about clothing."
More than 70% of people who took part in a social media survey asking if they had ever considered an eco-friendlier lifestyle answered positively, but most said they did not know how to make the changes themselves.
This is where the CEO and founder of TREEN, a vegan fashion retailer, Cat Anderson comes in.
She said: “For me, it really stemmed from, I found a problem that I couldn’t solve personally myself, so I switched entirely to a vegan lifestyle”.
Cat founded her vegan fashion retailer in 2018 with a life-long passion for fashion and dedication to putting her 10 years of fashion expertise to the test.
“I sort of began looking at how I can live more sustainably, how I can make more ethical choices in general and that just kept on coming back to fashion,” she said.
It isn’t enough to have just beautiful products anymore
TREEN ensures its customers have an eco-friendly alternative to their fashion needs by supplying customers with a wide range of sustainable fashion products from basic tees and summer dresses to handbags and jewellery.
“I couldn’t find anywhere that combined sustainability, vegan and ethical but with style linking them all together, so I just thought is it possible to create a fashion company that’s both very fashion focused and customer focused,” Cat said.
Treen follows a strict set of values to ensure customers can trust that the products they purchase either in-store or online are made from 100% ethically sourced and eco-friendly materials.
Cat said: “If brands can’t answer any of the questions I have, like do you have factory footage from the past six months?, where are your certifications from?, where is your product made?, where has the material come from?, then I tell them to get that information and come back to me in a year.”
She hopes that by doing her part with her own business, sustainability will become a more accessible and widespread solution to the ongoing crisis that is climate change.
“It isn’t enough to have just beautiful products anymore,” she explained.
“I want this part of the industry to succeed so much, and I really believe we will move into a more sustainable fashion industry in the near future.”
If you are interested in reading more about the "Designing a Sensibility for Fashion" project visit s4sproject-exeter.uk.
For more information on sustainability in fashion visit fashionrevolution.org.