A trendy word, SUSTAINABLE fashion – but what does it really mean?
Unlike “organic,” which in law has an enforceable sense, “sustainable” fluctuates with the user’s whims, especially if the consumer is part of the clothing industry.
As even the most unfashionable person must be aware, the effect of fashion on the world is devastating.
More than 8 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the apparel and footwear industry, according to the think tank New Norm Institute, while its CO2 emissions are projected to increase by more than 60 percent in the next 10 years.
There is also the detrimental effect of tens of thousands of tons of clothing winding up in landfills every year in addition to the Yeti-like carbon footprint.
There is also the issue of microplastic fibers which, when washed, enter the atmosphere. Such plastics are not biodegradable and rivers, lakes and reservoirs are contaminated. Speaking of water, textile production is very water-intensive – an unique problem in countries where water is scarce, but cotton production is high.
By now, we are also all acquainted with throwaway fashion. Quick fashion, the trend of purchasing cheap clothes that are more than a few times not intended to be worn. Too cheap, without anyone caring about the damage to the bank balance of the wearer, it can then go into the garbage.
While two collections a year 20 years ago were launched by fashion companies, some chains now manufacture up to 24, reinforcing the sense that apparel is a short-term commitment to be placed on and thrown away.
It’s clear we can’t carry on like this. Consumer pressure has had an influence on fashion companies to become more environmentally conscious, some in concrete ways and others that only pay lip service to the issue.
I talked with a fashion student and a designer last week about the topic of throwaway fashion. Jillian Halfpenny, who runs Hawkers Bazaar, an online vintage boutique and is in the process of opening her own design studio, In The House Of, was one of six students chosen by The Princes Foundation, Prince Charles’ charity, and Yoox Net-a-Porter, a global fashion brand, to participate in The Modern Artisan.
Of course, Prince Charles is a vocal supporter of environmental concerns, and the project took place at the headquarters of the foundation, Dumfries Building, where all kinds of green projects are underway.
Jillian spoke of her ethos of fashion: instead of slavishly pursuing trends, buying a quality, well-designed and made piece for more cash is more beneficial, but one that will last for decades. Instead of redesigning them, her designs for In The House Of and the antique clothes she sells are for reusing fabrics and garments. For something different, Jillian would rather change a piece than throw it away.
This reminded me of a recent visit to see the Mary Quant exhibit at V&A Dundee. It was the packets of patterns that produced the most memories for my mother, memories of sewing her own dresses, among all the beautiful pieces on display. For her age, it was a normal practice, but many of my peers would not even know where to begin.
At the other end of the £ 1,200 designer clothing scale, Glasgow City Council called for nearly new warm coats to provide children and young people who do not have the right clothes to stay warm in classrooms where ventilation windows are open to tackle Covid-19 transmission.
It’s a scandal, of course, that families can’t afford to purchase their children sufficient basic clothes.
But much of the hype surrounding this campaign has been that it’s a crying shame that second-hand apparel has to do with kids from deprived backgrounds. Emails came in from readers wondering why, instead of appealing for donations, the council should not just buy new coats or hoodies for the students.
It’s curious that in an anonymous second-hand sweater, some people see a stigma, but not the stigma of being the only kid in the class wearing the council hoodie.
It’s also curious because, on the one hand, if you’re middle class, secondhand clothes are considered antique, and a shameful legacy if you’re part of the middle class.