Last summer I wrote an article on sustainable fashion for Impact Style . Ever since, I have become increasingly passionate about the importance of this burgeoning movement that aims to address the ethical and environmental problems surrounding the fashion industry. Last month I attended a talk in London at the V&A museum entitled ‘Can fashion change the world?’ hosted by Livia Firth and Lucy Siegel, two pioneers of sustainable fashion.
The appearance of celebrities wearing custom made sustainable pieces created by renowned designers has also successfully challenged the negative image of ethical clothing
Lucy and Livia began by discussing the Green Carpet Challenge (GCC), a joint venture that began as a response to their growing concerns regarding the fashion industry. It challenges high-end designers to create sustainable pieces that are then showcased on the red carpet by celebrities that have included Meryl Streep and Cameron Diaz.
Livia and Lucy discussed the way in which they and the GCC have utilised our celebrity culture in order to raise awareness of the sustainable fashion movement. The appearance of celebrities wearing custom made sustainable pieces created by renowned designers has also successfully challenged the negative image of ethical clothing, reinventing it as something glamorous and desirable.
Targeting and challenging public attitude to ethical fashion is both the obvious and key place to start when initiating a fashion revolution. However, the danger of appealing to celebrity culture, whereby consumers want to mimic the looks they see on their favourite stars, means the message behind the garments is not always successfully communicated. It is vital that people go further than face value appreciation in order to recognise that what they’re looking at is not just a beautiful dress, but also a social statement.
The fast fashion industry can no longer hide their exploitation of workers nor ignore the press for change.
The longevity of the sustainable fashion campaign was a recurring concern during the talk. However, both Lucy and Livia were quick to stress that; ‘this is not just a trend but a movement.’ They highlighted the significance of the high-profile collapse of the Bangladesh factory in April 2013, killing over 1000 people, and also the lesser-known explosions that have occurred since then.
Although tragic, the consequences of these disasters have been crucial in alerting the industry and the consumer to the human price that we pay for cheap clothes. The fast fashion industry can no longer hide their exploitation of workers nor ignore the press for change. Livia compared the use of sweatshops in the production of cheap clothing as a second slave trade, highlighting that this campaign is not just an ethical debate but also an issue of social justice.
It is clear that the real issue of disconnect is not between the consumer and the concept of ethical fashion, but much more importantly, as Livia repeatedly sought to enforce, ‘there is a disconnect between us and our clothes.’ This statement can perhaps be more readily applied to those for whom clothing is more of a necessity rather than a statement. However, it is also relevant for the more fashion orientated of us who cannot resist the lure of absurdly cheap prices or the pressure of ever-changing trends.
Almost unwittingly, we have been drawn in to the fickle, vicious world of fast-fashion, accustomed to treating our clothes as disposable items rather than as pieces that will come to last for many years.
This disconnect is perhaps less applicable to the minority that can afford to buy designer clothes. There is still a sense of investment and longevity associated with these high-end pieces because of their price and the quality that they guarantee. The manufacturing process of high-end designers means it is much easier for them to adopt sustainable practices. This has enabled Eco-Age and the Green Carpet Challenge to move from design initiatives to consumer aimed collaborations with designers such as Erdem, Stella McCartney and Valentino to name but a few.
The manufacturing process of high-end designers means it is much easier for them to adopt sustainable practices.
Livia and Lucy discussed the significance of projects, which include working with Gucci on the production of zero-deforestation leather bags and Net-A-Porter on an exclusive capsule collection of dresses that included designs by Victoria Beckham and Christopher Kane, and was modelled by eco-enthusiast Emma Watson.
The GCC, Eco-Age, Livia and Lucy have made incredible achievements in a very short space of time. Though perhaps not easy, it is certainly easier to target the designer market, who already have the right mind-set for shopping sustainably and can afford to spend more money on their clothes. In order to challenge the fast-fashion industry where the majority of the problems lie, we need to challenge the mentality of the fast-fashion consumer and work to provide and promote the more affordable, sustainable opportunities.
For more from Rachael see her blog: asustainablethread.blogspot.co.uk which documents her efforts to shop sustainably whilst living on a student budget.
Images: astylishreview.com, ecouterre.com, br.fashionmag.com