Many of us are aware of the dangers of fast fashion brought about by a great deal of high street retailers, and now we have an alternative, more sensible approach to our apparel addiction.

What is it?

This is the complete opposite of fast fashion; the sustainable movement aims to ensure that all stages of the fashion cycle are ethical – from designing to selling. The idea took off at a United Nations (UN) environmental conference in 1992 and became a hot topic in fashion and textiles publications. At the time, the American brand, ESPRIT, was a big champion of the cause.

The sustainable movement is there to protect people developing clothes, scarce global products, aims to create personalised pieces of clothing that last longer and tackle the wastage that arises from overproduction of goods. An infamous case of this occurred in 2018 when Burberry faced heavy criticism for admitting they burnt over £28 million worth of stock and were accused of having poor ethics.

However, the sustainability movement has also been criticised for only being for the privileged. If clothes are produced more ethically, they’re also likely to come with a hefty price tag – which doesn’t make them ideal for the majority of shoppers.

Supporters justify the movement by highlighting the environmental damage caused by the fashion industry, as discussed in a previous blog. The poor working conditions in many developing nations of garment workers has also resulted in an outcry by campaigners who are asking for there to be more transparency in the supply chain. Supporters also say that it will create more jobs with everyone being paid fairly and won’t dry up already scarce materials – meaning less carbon emissions.

Sustainable clothing is produced from recycled materials and follows the three r’s - reduce, recycle and reuse.  Upcycling is also advocated as part of this.

Recycled materials and upcycling

Textile recycling involves salvaging materials that can be re-sold due to their good condition in order to make new clothes from; this method saves clothing from ending up in landfills.

H&M is a brand known for incorporating unwanted and recycled materials within its clothing, and it produced the ‘The Global Change Award’ in 2017, to recognise future fashion trends in an effort to reinvent the entire sector. Previous winners have produced vegan leather and a digitalised method of creating recyclable materials from scratch.

A huge part of recycled clothing is also given as aid – unwanted garments from the developed world sent to developing nations. In Sub-Saharan Africa, over a third of clothes are purchased this way.

Upcycling involves reusing discarded textiles to create newer, better pieces and local production is emphasized.

A famous supporter of this movement is British brand Stella McCartney, who uses the ‘Environmental Profit and Loss’ (EP&L), a tool that analyses the environmental impact of luxury fashion firms, including their operations and supply chain, to minimise the environmental damage they cause by reducing pollution and water use.


What’s being done?

The Copenhagen Fashion Summit started in 2012 and is the world’s largest meeting on sustainable fashion. Thousands of individuals gather here including representatives from ASOS, Nike, Target and H&M to discuss how to create an eco-friendly future.

The UK government has also taken action. In 2019, politicians held the ‘Environment Audit Committee’ and discussed providing tax-incentives for those who take up sustainable practices, such as reduced Value Added Tax (VAT) on repair services and pushed for more retailers to offer rental schemes too.

It certainly seems that the future is bright with major retailers and governments pushing for a more sensible approach within the fashion world. If you’re a budding fashionista and revolutionist full of great ideas, move towards your dream today by taking the BA Fashion and Textiles course at London College of Contemporary Arts (LCCA).