The old adage, “every little bit helps”, used to be true… now, we need to start taking leaps and bounds to protect the planet. Increasingly, for many of us, investing in brands with a sustainable ethos is one way we can help. The challenge is understanding the many ways that companies are able to be more sustainable. To make it easier to vote with your wallet, here are seven initiatives that can make a difference, as well as some of the brands embracing them.
Over the past year, the pandemic has emphasised the plight of garment workers, which means luxury fashion needs more transparency than ever before. At the end of last year, Chloé announced that it is seeking B Corp certification, which verifies a company’s social and environmental performance. We hope more luxury brands follow. Look out for the way smaller makers are adhering to fair-trade principles, too. We discovered that our favourite pyjamas, from General Loom, are crafted in India by weavers from an initiative set up to preserve traditional techniques and pay craftspeople a living wage. Another brand with longstanding ties to rural communities and supporting artisans since 1973 is Monsoon.
Many of the fabrics hanging in our closets have a negative impact on the environment, and while organic alternatives minimise the damage, there is pressure on the fashion industry to create bio-based materials that don’t wreak havoc on the planet. The developments are promising: slow-fashion label CAES uses a fabric called Vegea, developed in collaboration with Italian wineries from waste that includes grape skins, stalks and seeds. Adidas is producing recycled plastic waste, while Hugo Boss has released a vegan sneaker collection made from Pinatex, a by-product of pineapple leaves. Fabric made from recycled waste is also growing in momentum: we love that Ernest Leoty work with recycled polyamides and natural cellulose fibres, including Tencel.
This one is close to our hearts at Wardrobe ICONS, and we couldn’t write a sustainability piece without a nod to something that is a key component of many designers’ philosophy: classic design that goes the distance. There’s a reason that a Burberry trench coat or a Chanel 2.55 handbag can be passed on from mother to daughter. Yes, these pieces are beautifully made, but they are also designs that stand the test of time. Which means they won’t be replaced or discarded, ever.
WASTE NOT, WANT NOT
Each year, excess fabric and unsold inventory pile up, leading to excessive waste. As a result, collections made from existing clothes and deadstock fabric is an idea that is becoming mainstream. Preen by Thornton Bregazzi make collections from 70% deadstock fabrics and recycled garments; JW Anderson recently dropped a range made using offcuts; the recently launched John Lewis brand, Albaray, uses excess fabric from suppliers; and it was great to hear that Boden has started to use regenerated yarn from waste in some collections. Small batch runs help, too, as they allow brands to better control the waste they produce. Luxury swimwear brand Cossie+Co manufacture conservative size runs for this exact reason.
The variety of animal and plant life on earth is increasingly under threat, and fashion is a big player in this global problem. The industry destroys natural habitats, pollutes waterways, causes deforestation and produces waste (92 million tons of textile waste ends up in landfill every year). Hopefully, more brands will follow in the footsteps of Gucci, who unveiled a nature-positive biodiversity strategy earlier this year, with a target of having a net positive impact on biodiversity in 2025. Sustainability trailblazer Veja is also actively engaging in preserving biodiversity in both its rubber and cotton supply chains.
One of the most exciting eco moves has been from brands looking for natural solutions to remove carbon from the atmosphere (which is admirable, given the vast CO2 emissions created by the fashion industry). Leading the way: Eileen Fisher and Patagonia, who are adopting solutions such as regenerative farming practices. This means growing a diverse range of crops to help put nutrients back into the soil and rehabilitate the ecosystem, rather than depleting it. Designer Mara Hoffman has released a range of Climate Beneficial knitwear, which is carbon-negative thanks to these farming techniques. And we’re hoping more high-street brands follow ARKET’s lead: in addition to their current sustainable strategies, they have committed to becoming fully climate-positive by 2040.
Colour is one of the first things that speaks to us when we look at a piece of clothing, but it’s also one of the most damaging elements of the manufacturing process in fashion. Post-production water containing residual dye, chemicals, and microfibres is expelled into water streams, untreated. This is almost impossible to trace back to source, so factories can commit the offence anonymously. Many brands are switching to natural and azo-free dyes as an alternative, and also choosing to work with factories that reduce and remove chemicals from their water processes, something that has been driven by Greenpeace’s Detox campaign.
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