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Can Fashion Do Good?

24-Sep-2018 3:08 PM | Kimberley White

“If a T-shirt threatens to be cheaper than a croissant, it’s time to act.”

- Lidewij Edelkoort

Lidewij Edelkoort is one of the world’s most famous trends forecasters and has been calling for human and environmentally friendly fashion production for some time.

Edelkoort believes that the drive for ever-leaner supply chains in manufacturing has led to a "rapid and sordid restructuring process, which has seen production leave the western world to profit from and exploit low-wage countries."

At recent yarn fairs, (Pitti Filati, Filo and Premiere Vision yarns) sustainability was the most talked of subjects; with spinners reporting customers are increasingly asking for more sustainable and responsible yarns.

The launch of the Circular Fibres Initiative at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2017, aims to encourage the collaboration needed from fashion-industry heavyweights such as Inditex to reform the textile supply chain, so everything is reused in a continuous cycle.

The initiative brings together stakeholders from across the industry including brands, cities, philanthropists, NGOs, and innovators to collaborate and create a new textiles economy, aligned with the principles of the circular economy.

In October this year, a new sustainable fashion experience called Fashion for Good will open in Amsterdam. This will be an interactive technology driven museum focusing on sustainable and circular fashion innovation. The museum aims to change the hearts and minds of visitors by helping them discover the stories behind their clothes, learn how they can take action and explore how they can have an impact on both an industry and at international level.

Fashion for Good believes that changing the fashion industry is only possible when both the the industry and consumers change. The museum aims to showcase both sides of the story, looking at innovations within the industry on both a supply chain and a product level. It aims to provide visitors with a new outlook on fashion, empowering them with information on tangible actions that they can take to help affect change.

Raising awareness both at industry and consumer level, the creation of the museum highlights the increasing importance of sustainability within a globalised fashion industry which has been supported by international corporate partners including Adidas, C&A and PVH Corp.

Here in the UK, a new inquiry has been launched by the House of Commons environmental audit committee, which will explore the carbon impact, resource use and water footprint of clothing throughout its lifecycle and supply chain.

MPs are to investigate the environmental impact of throwaway “fast fashion” in the UK amid growing concerns that the multi-billion pound industry is wasting valuable resources and contributing to climate change.

A woman photographs French artist Christian Boltanski’s ‘No Man’s Land’, made up of around 30 tonnes of discarded clothing. Photograph: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Inviting evidence on how the influential sector should remodel itself to be both “thriving and sustainable”, it will look at how improved recycling rates of clothing could slash waste and pollution.

“Fashion shouldn’t cost the Earth” said Mary Creagh MP, chair of the committee. “But the way we design, make and discard clothes has a huge environmental impact. Producing clothes requires climate-changing emissions. Every time we put on a wash, thousands of plastic fibres wash down the drain into the oceans. We don’t know where or how to recycle end-of-life clothing.”

The raw materials used to manufacture clothes require land and water, or extraction of fossil fuels, while carbon dioxide is emitted throughout the clothing supply chain and some chemical dyes, finishes and coatings may be toxic. Research has found that plastic microfibres in clothing are released when they are washed, and enter rivers, the ocean and even the food chain.

Recent negative publicity revealing how luxury brand, Burberry, burnt £28.6m ($37.2m in U.S. dollars) worth of bags, clothes and perfume to protect its brand has illustrated what most consumers and even fashion professionals don’t realise is that this is a common practise in the fashion industry and not just consigned to Burberry. Every year the fashion industry burns billions of dollars worth of unsold clothes, footwear, and accessories in order to protect their brand.

Last year the fashion designer Stella McCartney condemned her own industry as “incredibly wasteful and harmful to the environment.”

A Stella McCartney campaign shot in a Scottish landfill site to raise awareness of waste and over-consumption. Photograph: Harley Weir and Urs Fischer for Stella McCartney

Key to the government inquiry will be how consumers could be encouraged to buy fewer clothes, reuse clothes and think about how best to dispose of clothes when they are no longer wanted. An estimated 300,000 tonnes of fashion waste goes straight into landfill each year, despite growing efforts to encourage consumers to recycle their worn and unwanted clothing.

There is no doubt that there is a growing challenge to find ways of balancing consumerism with environmental concerns which will require creative solutions both in materials and construction in the future.

Words by Fiona Chautard

About the author: Fiona is a qualified business coach, experienced mentor and advisor to the creative industries with a specialism in fashion, textiles and design.

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