How green fashion went mainstream

20 Nov 2017

If the fashion industry is anything to go by, green is the new black. After years of campaigning, those trying to get the fashion industry to clean up it’s act, finally seem to be making headway. But why now? What - or rather who - have caused this change?

There’s no hiding from it: fast fashion is bad for the planet. In fact, most fashion is bad for the planet. But it wasn’t until the collapse of the Rana Plaza that many of us realized it was also doing a lot of damage to other people too. Call it willful ignorance or lack of information, people were simply not thinking about who made their clothes, and at what cost to the world we live in and the people we share it with. And at some point along the line, this conversation went mainstream. Brands, consumers and the media started putting it higher up on the agenda.

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©Antibad

Some argue that Generation Z – the next batch of citizens with enormous purchasing power – are altruistic and like to know where their clothes come from. This may in part answer the question of why the fashion industry has chosen now to start thinking about the environmental impact of their supply chain. But technology has of course led the charge too: thanks to geotagging and drone footage and factory workers with smartphones, it is harder than ever to hide a wrong. Dirty supply chains are starting to be exposed and it takes no time at all to spread the message of a retailer not treating its workers properly, as Zara recently found out the hard way. Partner this encouragement with the fact that a new global consumer study from Unilever reveals that there is an over $1 trillion market opportunity for brands who can effectively market the sustainability of their wares.

Brands are also beginning to show it’s possible – and economically viable – to build a successful ethical business, as London initiative, Birdsong, have proved. Birdsong offers a platform for disadvantaged women to sell clothes, training them up and teaching them key skills and then giving them the profits. Similarly, the new online store, Antibad, was launched after its founder Agatha Lintott couldn’t find a website selling clothes from only ethical and sustainable brands.

“After leaving a job in luxury fashion I felt disheartened by the industry” explains Lintott. “There was a desperate need for responsible ethical practices in the whole chain from raw material production to the amount of pieces and collections being produced every year.”

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Loro Piana, an LVMH House, now produces 45% of the electricity it uses annually

Ethics – both human and environmental – are not just a nice-to-have anymore, but rather a business imperative. Luxury behemoth LVMH have developed a framework called LIFE (LVMH Initiatives for the Environment), which now must form part of each of their brands business plans, as well as giving them sustainability targets and actions for the next five years. Kerring are in on the act too – Gucci have recently committed to guarantee the traceability of 95 percent of its raw materials.

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©Bold Threads/Stella McCartney

And in other hopeful news, there are brands all over the world who are not just adding this kind of initiative on, but founding their entire business on such principles. From pineapple skin leather to closed loop manufacturing – where ocean plastics or landfill materials are transformed into new garments – to businesses like California based startup, Bolt Threads, who have raised millions of dollars to bring its brewed spider silk to market (Stella McCartney, famous for her commitment to sustainability, has already designed with it.) Then there’s French brand Veja, who’s vegan shoes are both good for the planet and delightfully designed. The list goes on.

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©Veja

But while many of these innovations are replacing materials and supply chains that are terrible for the environment, they still don’t get to the cause of the problem. The only way to truly improve the industry is to do as Vivienne Westwood suggested: ‘Buy less, choose well.” Add to that ‘only buy locally’ and you might be onto something.

“The more that consumers are made aware of the state of the fashion industry and of their purchasing power, mind-sets will change and we will start to ask more questions” concludes Lintott. “Where do my clothes come from? Is this dress too cheap to be fair-trade? Are these dyes toxic? Brands will then be under pressure to be fully transparent and greenwashing won’t work anymore.”

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