Parliament launched a review into the environmental impact of the fast fashion industry: here’s why it won’t work

The UK fashion industry contributes more than £28 billion to national GDP but not without consequences. A new Parliamentary inquiry is examining the social and environmental impact of the huge fast fashion industry, focusing on the environmental footprint of clothing throughout its lifecycle. The review was launched in June and is taking comments and evidence from the public until September 2018. It is chaired by Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee. Speaking on behalf of the committee, Mary said: “Our inquiry will look at how the fashion industry can remodel itself to be both thriving and sustainable.”

This raises a few questions for me:
• Does the industry want to remodel itself and if so, to what extent?
• How much remodelling are we talking about here? Isn’t fast fashion inherently unsustainable?
• Could/should a Parliamentary inquiry lead to more Government enforced regulation?

The inquiry will examine the carbon, resource use and water footprint of clothing throughout its lifecycle. It will look at how clothes can be recycled, and waste and pollution reduced. This is all because it’s obvious that circulating clothing through our wardrobes at the speed to which fast fashion retailers would like means a whole lot of resources, wastage and pollution.

So why not address the consumption model itself? Changes to address singular problems will not lead to significant benefits without addressing the economic system surrounding fast fashion and consumer culture. A focus on decreasing the environmental impact of fast fashion is only part of the issue, the bigger problem is consumer habits. Stores like H&M and New Look are doing good things to help make their impact less bad but ultimately, they still want to sell a lot of clothes. You’ve seen those in-store recycling bins in H&M, TKMaxx and M&S? This works to divert guilt – ours and theirs – but really sends a message that consumers can keep on consuming so long as they donate their unwanted clothes to charity (there are problems with this in itself as shipping our cast-offs to low income countries has been found to harm local employment and manufacturing industries).

Don’t get me wrong, the review is welcome and every change helps, but if we’re really talking about doing things differently an environmental impact audit isn’t the starting point. It’s the fast fashion model that needs to change and this is very, very difficult when the UK is run on a stifling model of capitalism. Success is based on economic impact – we need to earn a wage and we need to consume. Government doesn’t want to interfere with that if it upsets business. The fashion industry itself is a huge employer and source of creative and service (not manufacturing) export. Various strands need to come together to change the system. Some of these are:

• Education, education, education. I’ve written about this before and not just for fashion students but for all students there should be a focus on sustainability, CSR and alternative measures of growth incorporated into learning at all levels. Normalising a different way of working and living will filter into their own consumption habits as well as their work, and it’s already happening.
• Designers need to take more responsibility for resource use. Waste should be a massive taboo; closed loop production should be prioritised.
• Cultural change needs to come from the media, both mainstream and social media, to continue to shift the focus to experiences rather than material consumption and possession. While advertising works as it does this is unlikely to lead to a complete shift.

Sustainability is about viewing a problem holistically, something that needs to be taken into consideration with this Parliamentary review. Fast fashion is inherently unsustainable unless we think outside the box, like changing the look of our clothes digitally or designing pieces that are ‘throw-away’ in a different sense by being completely biodegradable. And why not?

Want to have your say? The Committee invites submissions by 5pm on Monday, 3 September 2018.

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How Vegan Footwear is Revolutionizing the Fashion Industry

Guest post from The Lux Authority

When shopping for high fashion accessories, fashionistas have often sought apparel made from leather, suede, silk, and fur. The sleek feel, softness, and fit of leather made it highly desirable in the fashion world. The functionality of leather and fur can provide warmth without bulkiness for athletic types and nature lovers. Silk has been coveted for hundreds of years due to its smoothness on the skin and lustre to the eye, but unfortunately, the fashion industry’s gain is the animal world’s loss. In the past, for a majority of the fashion conscious, there was just nothing else like the fit and feel of genuine animal products. Fortunately, that has changed. At the request of the growing numbers of vegans and others adopting a more sustainable lifestyle, more designers are creating beautiful, stylish, and kinder alternatives to clothing made at the cost of animals and the environment.

As an increasing number of people are choosing a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, there is a greater need for vegan options for fashionable clothing. For many years, artificial leather, suede, and fur were available, but they didn’t have the same look or feel as the real thing. Appearances are important, making it difficult to be able to be socially and environmentally responsible while looking great in haute couture. For far too long, it was nearly impossible to find cute, cruelty-free shoes. But now, vegan footwear is revolutionizing the fashion industry.

The vegan footwear brand, VEERAH, knows what it means to reduce and reuse. Why wastefully buy several different pairs of shoes, when you can make one pair look and function like many? Each pair of shoes purchased comes with a coordinating accessory such as a strap, tassel, brooch, or even fringe to change the style of the shoe from plain to fancy and casual to dressy. VEERAH straps can serve double-duty as fashionable bracelets. Their new long-lasting, durable shoe line, Appeel, is made using recycled apple skins to create a fabric more breathable than leather to lead the way in the slow fashion movement.

VEERAH Shoe Set

Bourgeois Boheme also creates beautiful shoes from plant based products. Many of this British company’s high-end, luxury shoes are made from Pinatex, a textile derived from pineapple leaf fibers that remain and otherwise become waste after the pineapples have been harvested. Even legendary Italian fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo has been influenced by the movement of using plant-based alternatives to more traditional fabrics. Famous for creating leather substitutes due to the lack of availability of the real thing during wartime, the company has released a collection in collaboration with Orange Fiber, a company specializing in making textiles from citrus skin. These textiles can replace lace, silk, and satin.

Another company making leather substitutes is Mycoworks. Using mycelium found on the underside of mushrooms, Mycoworks creates a fabric with the appearance and performance of leather. Not only can this be useful in creating vegan footwear, but similar technology can be used to make fabric that is thin enough for other clothing such as, dresses and jackets. The fabric is naturally antimicrobial and compostable making it eco friendly and sustainable in addition to being vegan.

These innovations in vegan products that were initially inspired by dreams of cute vegan footwear have led many celebrities and designers to move to an animal-free fashion philosophy. A growing list of vegan celebrities, including Zooey Deschanel and Jessica Chastian, have chosen to walk the red carpet in animal-free couture. Both Natalie Portman and Anne Hathaway have chosen to be photographed wearing shoes from vegan footwear brand Beyond Skin. Stella McCartney has led the way for many other brands, such as MIAKODA and Cri de Couer, to eliminate animal products from their lines and adopt a more eco-friendly and sustainable approach to fashion.

Beyond Skin Martha Shoe

An increase in the number of people who wish to live responsible, sustainable lifestyles combined with a desire to look good while doing it has led to a revolution in the fashion industry. Leading the way is the innovative vegan footwear industry. In an attempt to get the benefits of textiles made from animal products without the cruelty, vegan shoes just might help save the world.

Kelsey is the Managing Editor at The Lux Authority and is trying to balance both her budget and her credit card balance. She likes to live lavish and treat herself when the opportunity allows it. She loves the newest tech, old cars, the smell of rich mahogany, and leather-bound books as well! When she isn’t working, Kelsey is an avid academic, artist, stargazer, blogger, and yoga enthusiast.

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Say it with a t-shirt: the new political discourse in ethical fashion

Bee Maverick Tee, Deborah Campbell, £32. Fair Wear certified, £5 donation to Womens Aid

On 17th April I went to an ethical fashion and beauty event hosted by Southampton Solent University Fashion student, Anna Macken. The PR event, developed for part of Anna’s final major project, showcased four fantastic ethical fashion or beauty brands. Know the Origin and Willow Beauty both presented their products at the event, along with Deborah Campbell Atelier and Maison de Choup. Representing the latter two brands in person were the two respective founders, and listening to the two founders deliver talks to the audience, a common theme rose to the fore. Both were producing garments in a responsible manner, but, more than that, they both wanted to say something through their designs. Unlike some creative endeavours, these messages weren’t meant to be subtle fashion statements; both brands were using slogan tees to take a stand.

Slogan t-shirts aren’t new. Although Katharine Hamnet is often hailed responsible for popularising the radical slogan tee in the 1980s, clothing had been used to silently demonstrate political standing earlier than that. T-shirts are universal items: democratic, cheap, and unisex. They are the perfect canvas to communicate something more. High fashion designers were incorporating political ideas into their collections in the 1970s (think Vivienne Westwood) and more recently, Dior sent a model wearing a ‘We should all be feminists’ t-shirt down the catwalk, directly referencing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘We should all be feminists’ book. It seems, when Maria Grazia Chiuri became the first female artistic director of Dior in 2016 she wanted to make her mark. The feminist tee certainly did that, but not for all the right reasons (plenty complained about the undemocratic price tag of £500). That aside, Dior’s t-shirt perfectly encapsulated the mood of the moment. Clothing could once more be used to political effect.

Fortunately, Deborah Campbell Atelier and Maison de Choup come in at a more accessible price tag than Dior, and with a more interesting profile for that matter. Their founders are driven by purpose, integrity and creativity. After years working in the fast fashion industry, Deborah Campbell started her eponymous brand by producing beautiful printed dresses, tops and skirts drawing on the work of contemporary artists. Her current focus lies in statement t-shirts and charity collaborations. Deborah works with the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust and Women’s Aid. The latter charity inspired her ‘Future Female’ campaign – a range of ‘Future Female’ tops and corresponding blog championing gender equality.

Future Female tee, Deborah Campbell

Deborah says: “Future Female promotes every day gender equality through conversation. I became aware of casual sexism, and soft mysogynistic behaviour after hearing Emma Watson launch the #heforshe campaign and I really started listening to every day conversation. And what I heard was, littered with casual sexism and stereotyping that holds women and men back. The need to change the everyday is key because I believe these small changes in behaviour and attitude will lead to bigger changes and women and men will begin to see freedom from gender in-equality and we will see humans evolve to be more united”.

The impact of everyday conversation can’t be underestimated. What we wear can be a conversation starter, and so can what we post on social media. Deborah has made the most of these platforms to create her own movement, using her fashion brand as a springboard. It’s a feature reflected in the mission of Maison de Choup. Maison de Choup, also at the Southampton event, was founded for a specific reason – not to produce fashion per se, but to lift the taboo on mental health. Conceived in 2014, Maison de Choup is the creation of George Hodgson – a young artist who found the strength to be able to draw something positive from his own struggles with mental health. T-shirts adorned with slogans such as ‘Warrior not worrier’ and ‘Words fail me’ have touched the hearts of many as the profile of mental health has increased in public discourse. Maison de Choup works with many charities and offers a percentage of proceeds to YoungMinds.

Maison de Choup is taking a stand on mental health

Both brands use organic cotton and ethical sourcing to develop their respective ranges. One might have expected them to talk about this at the ethical fashion event, but they didn’t. They didn’t because they have so much more to say than that. Sustainable sourcing was taken as a given, and these passionate founders want to use their products to say more. Fashion has always been a vehicle to communicate and it’s interesting to see true ethical fashion merge with other worthy causes. Whether you call it fashion, politics, ethics or culture, more and more of us (propelled by social media) are using clothing as a platform for debate. With this trend, ethical fashion is taking on a whole new meaning.

https://maisondechoup.co.uk/
https://www.deborahcampbellatelier.com/

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Sustainable Fashion and Beauty Pop-Up Event: Southampton, 17th April

Purest.PR is a virtual PR agency with the aim of supporting ethical and sustainably minded fashion and beauty brands. The idea of the agency has been developed by Anna Macken for her BA(Hons) final major project in Fashion Promotion and Communication at Southampton Solent University (my old Uni!).

Under the Purest.PR name, Anna is hosting an ethical fashion and beauty event at Mettricks, Southampton on 17th April 2018 – open to all those with an interest in environmentally and socially responsible shopping. The event, which I shall be attending, will showcase four fantastic brands:

Deborah Campbell Atelier: One of my absolute favourite ethical fashion designers, Deborah designs stunning painterly prints and charity tees.

Maison de Choup: “The fashion brand with a mental health cause at its heart”.

Know the Origin: Wearable and affordable, responsibly-sourced garments from a LCF graduate determined to do fashion the right (ethical) way.

Willow Beauty: Organic bath and beauty products.

The event aims to have a relaxed and friendly vibe, with plenty of opportunities to ask questions to the brand representatives. Products will be available to touch and buy.

I’m pleased to see such a variety of brands attending the event with no fair trade jute bags in sight. These brands represent the future of ethical fashion and beauty, encapsulating everyday basics, beautiful classics, and activist slogan tees. With brands of such integrity, Purest.PR is just the kind of PR and marketing agency we need. One that will be just as thoughtful in their approach and careful in their messaging as the brands they wish to represent.

The event kicks off at 5pm on Tuesday 17th.
Follow Purest.PR @purest.pr

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Where did fast fashion come from?

Fashion revolution_2017_16 copy

Last Monday 24th April was Fashion Revolution Day, the day that marks the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory complex in Bangladesh, 2013. Over 1,100 workers died that day, made all the more tragic by the fact that many had protested outside the building just that morning on the basis of the factory being unsafe. They’d noticed cracks in the walls, they knew something wasn’t right, but they were forced to go to work anyway.

The factory was producing fast fashion for consumers in the West. Brands linked to the factory included Primark, Walmart, Bonmarche and Matalan, as well as some US, German and French companies. Globalisation has enabled complex supply chains so it’s conceivable that these companies didn’t know they had direct links with suppliers so blatantly flaunting safety precautions. All they needed was cheap clothes to sell to the West on mass.

castro quote

So, where did fast fashion come from?

For most of history fashion has been slow, very slow. When you had to make your own clothes, or a new dress cost a few months’ wages, there wasn’t going to be anything fast about it. Then the machines started to make light work of spinning, weaving and even sewing, and by the 1920’s the U.S. faced a problem – overproduction.

In the sixty years since the civil war ended in 1865, the U.S. population had increased threefold, whilst output had increased twelve times. By 1927 the textile mills could produce enough cloth for the population’s needs (and by need, I mean actual need, not consumer desire mistaken for need) by operating for just six months of the year. Rather than think, “How wonderful! We can holiday (sorry, vacation) for half the year!” They saw it as a problem of surplus. Their solution, led by the likes of Herbert Hoover, was not to produce less and enjoy the shorter working hours afforded by the Industrial Revolution, but to make the public consume more. By creating a consumer desire for more stuff, they were able to shift more of the new consumables they were producing in the factories and boost the economy: which was needed, because in 1929 the US entered the Great Depression. John Maynard Keynes’ ‘age of leisure’ never came to fruition, as a consumer culture was posited as the route to increased productivity, competition and profits. It was a move that proved popular for consumers, who were promised improved happiness, health and social approval if they only bought more stuff, made all the more accessible with increased access to credit.

Clothing retailers quickly caught on and by the late 1980s were able to offer fast fashion to the masses. As wage costs soared in high wage economies Western retailers relocated assembly offshore, first to places like China and India, and then Bangladesh, Cambodia and Nepal. By capitalising on the low-cost skills in emerging manufacturing economies, Western retailers were able to plough their labour power into marketing and essentially driving a new consumer culture. This led some economists to believe that it was the suppliers who were set to gain because the increased demands on productivity would make them more efficient and competent and therefore, hold more power than the retailer.

Sadly, the opposite happened because overseas manufacturing facilities developed at a similar rate and the growth in concentration of Western retailers allowed for greater buying and bargaining power on their part. As factories became ever more dispensable to retailers, power dynamics tipped heavily to the brands who were able to place large orders as a way to push piece costs down. Producers had become subordinate to those who design, market and retail fast fashion in the West. The media and retail industries became increasingly entwined, bombarding us with messages to buy, buy, buy, so we’re all working as hard as ever to keep up. We now use shopping as a way to reward ourselves for all those hours at work.

There doesn’t have to be anything wrong with shopping per se. Manufacturing and retail is a huge part of the global economy and provides jobs. Yet fashion is an industry of binaries: producer/consumer, global south/north, rich/poor, shiny/broken. Ethical fashion advocates want to break down these binaries and ensure that the fashion economy works for the benefit of all and promotes craftsmanship and ethical business practices.

future quote

Fashion Revolution encourages consumers to challenge brands on their corporate ethics. This year the campaign has shifted from a one-day event to a seven day ‘Fashion Revolution Week’. This means there’s plenty of time to get involved and ask brands ‘Who made my clothes?’ The more consumers use their voice, the more retailers have to listen. The easiest way to get involved is to take to social media and show your label.

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How your cashmere jumper may be causing desertification

goat-cashmere
It’s nearly Christmas so if you haven’t got your Christmas jumper out yet you’re sure to have spotted others wearing theirs. Whether you’re wearing, giving or receiving knitwear this winter though, it’s worth giving a thought to where that jumper came from. It’s all too easy to think that stuff just ‘appears’ in our favourite shops, but the supply chains behind these commodities can be long and complex. Cashmere is particularly pushed by retailers at Christmas as a luxury, yet increasingly affordable, product. But how many people know where cashmere comes from? I’d like to tell you the story of cashmere, and the journey might not be as plush as you imagine.

Cashmere fibre comes from a specific breed of goat. Traditionally it has been very difficult to get hold of cashmere, as three to six goats are needed to make just one medium sized sweater. Only twelve regions in the world have the right temperature and terrain to accommodate cashmere goats, the best spots being in Mongolia, China, India and Iran. To survive freezing temperatures, the goats develop a thick protective layer of hair, over a downy coat of super fine hair (the cashmere). Unsurprisingly, cashmere has long been an exclusive, luxury item. Until now that is, when you can pick up a cashmere sweater at the supermarket for £30-£40, but how?

Much of our cashmere used to be spun in Scotland, but by 2004 restrictions on cashmere imports had been lifted and spotting demand, China rushed in and flooded the market with cheap cashmere sweaters. There are now more than 2000 cashmere companies in China who source their cashmere from one of two means. PETA warn that many Asian cashmere goats live in atrocious conditions on factory farms. Others, whilst left to wonder free, are having disastrous effects on the environment due to their large numbers. There are simply too many living in the same place but farmers have found themselves in a vicious cycle. Stripping the land of pasture leaves nothing for the goats to eat and undernourished goats produce less fleece, forcing farmers to put more and more animals on dwindling land . It’s a problem found in other areas of livestock rearing and agriculture, but few solutions have been raised.

The Alashan Plateau, which extends from the Tibetan Plateau northward into Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, was home to 2.4 million Gobi goats in the 90s and now accommodates 26 million. As well as their grazing potential (eating 10% of their body weight a day), the goat’s hard hooves pummel away at the rest of the land. What should be grassland areas are turning to dust and desert at the rate of 400 square miles a year, disrupting the ecosystem and causing severe dust pollution. According to a study, 80% of this desertification can be attributed to overgrazing livestock. Already desertification is causing millions of rural Chinese to migrate from their villages because the land cannot sustain their livelihoods.

So what can consumers and retailers do? “Our industry’s challenge is to change this unsustainable system and put new, sustainable practices in place,” says Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs at Kering. “Companies need to recognise that their business depends on natural capital and also impacts many livelihoods at the base of their supply chain.”

In the world of fashion, cheap often is far from cheerful. For ethical alternatives try the Oxfam Online Shop for second-hand cashmere (even cheaper than the supermarkets!) or check out Brora and Izzy Lane, both of which source sustainable cashmere.

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