Many of us will have been raised to be careful with money, and to know a bargain when we see it. As a nation, we love ‘cheap but cheerful’ stores, but have you ever stopped to think about how that new bargain dress that you just bought has impacted the environment? You may be surprised to discover that the fashion industry has a very high impact in terms of pollution, the use of chemicals to treat fabrics and getting through nearly as much water as the agriculture sector.
We really should be examining our thirst for disposable fashion and the effect the textile industry has on the environment, and many people are. What we’re learning about the impact of textiles is sparking a new trend that’s known as ‘sustainable fashion’. As it turns out, green is the new black.
What is sustainable fashion?
Sustainable fashion is about owning high-quality garments while simultaneously minimising the impact on the environment. There are many ways in which the fashion industry are looking towards sustainability:
Developing eco yarns
Eco yarns can be created from natural products and byproducts that traditionally have no other use; everything from pineapple fibres to stinging nettles. Considering 1.3 billion tonnes of food is thrown away each year, it makes sense to create eco yarns from materials like oranges and even coffee grounds.
Lab created fabrics
Experts have recently been examining new, revolutionary ways to recreate luxury materials in a more environmentally-friendly manner, with spider silk alternatives and lab-made leather hot topics right now. If sustainable fashion fails to take off, we’re looking at 430 million cows slaughtered each year for fashion.
While this isn’t a miracle solution, minimising the number of chemicals used in the fashion industry is certainly a step in the right direction. Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent are among a number of big name brands who are aiming to significantly reduce or completely eradicate the use of harmful chemicals by 2020.
Participating in the sharing economy
Oxfam reports that the average Brit owns 53 items of unworn clothing. If fashion consumption and disposal increases so will landfill. While clothing collected for reuse increased between 2010 and 2014, it began declining once more in 2015, highlighting the need for platforms like eBay and Freecycle.
The good news is that the notion of sustainable fashion really seems to be gaining traction, partly because the majority of shoppers feel better when buying sustainable products, but also because this emerging industry already has some pretty powerful spokespeople. Emma Watson’s Met Gala plastic bottle outfit, for example, highlights how sustainable fashion can have a place in the real world.
Not too long ago, those wishing to buy sustainable clothing were forced to purchase from independent businesses. However, while it is hugely important to support independents, many shoppers naturally feel more comfortable with chains they’re familiar with. As the industry has evolved, it is now possible to purchase sustainable clothing from well known brands, like ASOS, whose offerings are dominated by their Made in Kenya line; Mango, who recently launched Mango Committed, and Zalando, who offer a kid’s range with clothing and accessories from Pepino, Maximo, and Sense Organics.
These brands may cost a little more than, say, George at Asda, but many will agree that it’s worth paying just a little more for peace of mind, and to know that you’re doing your part to protect our environment.