During the summer of 2007, I travelled to India. It was there that I cultivated an interest in environmental degradation, the dichotomy of rights and lifestyles between the developed and the developing, and the value of every human life. My chosen degree path, Anthropology, was a direct byproduct of a growing fascination with the aforementioned.
Reminded of my trip today whilst reading this article, I posed to myself the question: is it feasible to be devoted to social and environmental ideals and to love and actively participate in the consumption of fashion?
The predominant reason our relationship with fashion is so unsustainable is due to its ephemeral nature. Incomprehensibly low prices undoubtably catalyse our obsession with fast fashion and whilst advantageous to our pockets, the detrimental impact of low prices on both the environment and the workers who make our clothes, is extensive – culminating in disasters such as the 2012 Bangladesh factory fire.
Why is it so hard to find sustainable fashion that is actually considered fashionable? Of course, there are designers such as The Reformation and Stella McCartney who create beautiful garments without compromising on ethics, but they are two of very few brands employing this mentality. So much of what makes fashion desirable is its ability to inspire and create desire, yet ethical fashion is renowned for being remarkably average aesthetically, substance religiously prevailing over style. Why are sustainability and style still so mutually exclusive? And will we ever get to a position where unsustainable brands are the scrutinised minority?
The slower approach necessary within sustainable fashion entirely negates the thrill factor that comes with fast fashion. However, as sustainability becomes ever more mainstream there has been a resulting shift in design and an increasing variety catering to a wider market. Evidenced by holding companies such as Kering, high-street brands such as H&M and Zara, and high-end brands such as Chanel, whose very own Karl Lagerfeld noted that “sustainability is an expression of the times”.
Fast fashion effectively convinces us that in order to be fashionable we must update our wardrobes constantly. Sustainable fashion forces us to re-evaluate this paradigm and foster a sense of style beyond that currently being prescribed. The recent popularisation of conscious consumption in terms of food demonstrates a willingness to make sustainability fashionable and exciting; we are more aware than ever of the impact our dietary decisions have on our own and others health (see for example Ella Mill’s recovery from a debilitating disease using only plant based foods). We are therefore consequently re-establishing our relationship with our food and where it comes from.
Additionally, the advent of social media has amplified the internet’s ability to liberate and expand our consciousness and increase the transparency through which brands must exist – more often than not highlighting unsustainable brands mega monopolisation of everything. Furthermore, education is essentially evolving the idyllic combination of, desire to travel and desire to protect. Cue marketing that acknowledges the two; “In the beginning man created trash, but look what trash created” (Adidas).
The overbearing issue with the conversation around sustainability in fashion is its tendency to feel like an exclusive discussion that you can’t weigh in on if you own a single piece from Zara that wasn’t part of their ‘Join Life’ range. On the contrary, in order for sustainability to mean anything at all, it has to work within the context of our lives. A unanimous overarching charter would be largely unappeasable for the masses. Instead, by approaching fashion from a place of higher consciousness and inquisitiveness we are ensuring that the changes we make enable a system which can be supported indefinitely in terms of environmental and social considerations.
Ultimately, sustainable fashion should be neither scathing nor penalising. It should be conscious. I think the key is, even if you are indifferent to buying sustainable clothes, don’t buy clothes you are indifferent to. Adopting a more mindful approach is the first step to developing a more sustainable relationship with fashion.