Sustainable fashion is having a moment. You’ve heard about it, you’ve seen it everywhere, and you may have even bought some of it (no, your H&M Conscious Collection t-shirt doesn’t count). In the first few months of 2020, searches for sustainability-related keywords were up 37% and terms like ‘vegan leather’ and ‘organic cotton’ fully entered the mainstream vocab. Fast forward to 2021 and it feels like the industry is finally taking note too, with brands sliding into our inboxes with their new “sustainable collections” almost every day. Yawn.
Rewind to June where sustainability was a key theme at London Fashion Week, returning with another digital-first event jam-packed full of trailblazing, female-owned brands. Two of the most exciting names on the schedule were winner of the 2021 Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design Ahluwalia, who works solely with deadstock fabrics and creates nostalgic pieces celebrating her dual Indian-Nigerian heritage and London roots; and BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Award 2021 winner Bethany Williams, who’s socially and environmentally conscious collections are making waves across the industry.
Innovation in the sustainable textile space is also evolving at a rapid pace, as venture capitalists see the potential of the ‘green pound’, pouring hundreds of millions of actual pounds into start-ups focused on bringing lab-grown leather and silk alternatives to market. Today big brands are bringing out sustainable versions of their best sellers: like the Hermès Victoria travel Bag that’s been a hit since 1997 and is now being reissued primarily in lab-grown mycelium from Californian start-up MycoWorks; or the Mylo mushroom leather Stan Smiths from adidas and Bolt Threads.
So sure, sustainable fashion is great, it’s exciting. It’s driving innovation, inspiration, and positive change. But, you know what – we just don’t want it anymore. Why? Well, it’s not as sinister as it seems. We don’t want “sustainable fashion” because it shouldn’t be an individual silo in the fashion world. It isn’t a style or a passing trend. It is the future of our industry, and all brands need to get on board with that.
Not to mention that “sustainable fashion” has been struggling with a bit of an identity crisis. Although we’re increasingly aware of the necessity for change to save our Mother Earth, the term “sustainable” can either bring thoughts reminiscent of off white t-shirts, wanderlust style and communal living, which isn’t for everyone; or more recently, as luxury brands have co-opted the sustainable fashion movement, it feels reserved for the elite who can afford the hefty price tag attached to the limited-edition collections. Sadly, it’s still not seen as a viable everyday option for most people, who are questioning if it’s yet another seasonal fad in an industry of ever-changing trends.
In short, “sustainable fashion” needs to become just “fashion.” We need to drop the silo and all the associated greenwashing and focus on one sole purpose: making all fashion sustainable.
Whilst the true impact of the fashion industry on the planet is contested, one thing that everyone does seem to agree on is that it’s big. Huge even. And it’s getting worse. The fashion industry emits more carbon into the atmosphere than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Big yikes. Whilst innovation into lab-growth leather is great, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the impact of polyester and other petroleum-based fabrics, which (amongst other things) quite literally drop microplastic particles into our seas. In fact, synthetic fabrics are responsible for more than a third of the primary microplastic pollution found in the ocean. Worse still, very little innovation is underway to replace these cheap textiles, yet polyester alone makes up 55% of the textiles produced. Not a vibe.
The other issue with “sustainable fashion” having a moment, is that brands are throwing marketing buzzwords at us to try and convince us to part with some of our hard-earned cash in the name of the planet… and not for the right reasons. Some products labelled as “sustainable” are only partially sustainable (whatever that means) with a ‘Conscious Collection’ made from 20% recycled cotton but mixed with 80% virgin polyester. Whilst others are just straight-up fraud, for example, the “organic cotton” scandal of up to 20,000 metric tons of fake organic cotton that were sold in India. We definitely don’t have time for that. But whilst brands keep making this stuff, you lot will keep buying it.
Shop forét on Public Fibre.
Although it’s not because you don’t care – 69% of millennials say that they look into claims about sustainability and eco-friendliness when researching clothes, but only 37% actually buy clothes in this category. So what gives? Are we all pretending to be eco-warriors in public but burning plastic behind closed doors? Obviously not. It’s a discrepancy that can easily be explained by digging into the psychology behind why we buy clothes. You see, we don’t just buy from brands that share our values, as much as we wish we did. What we choose to wear is deeply personal. It’s our outward-facing expression of the person we are or want to be. For a lot of people, it’s still design and aesthetic first with sustainability unfortunately coming (an albeit close) second, with 41% of young people saying that they’d rather be ‘fashionable’ than ‘sustainable’. What we’re arguing is, why should you even have to choose?
And that’s why we started Public Fibre (shameless plug, we know). We want to highlight the brands that show how you don’t have to sacrifice on design or aesthetic or even price when buying in line with your values. So you can look bloody great and feel good about yourself too. Win-win. (Or as some would say, “Donnant Donnant” – click for a niche reference). We’ve found the brands that match our values, like Rotholz – a German-based brand inspired by minimalist Japanese design, urban art and culture, who focus on creating timeless fashion that can live in harmony with people and planet; or VIRÓN, the self-professed protest against the footwear industry and the brainchild of two well-established names, crafting shoes made of apple and corn leather, or recycled military gear.
So, if you want a planet to wear your Mylo-mushroom sneaks on, we should focus on dropping the silo and turning “sustainable fashion” into “fashion.” Let’s keep the momentum going by supporting genuinely sustainable brands who are making the world better for all of us. And rather than letting the industry pull the ‘organic cotton’ wool over our eyes, let’s focus on buying from brands who recognise that sustainability should be at the core of their business, not just their marketing. Why not start with the collection we’ve lovingly curated for you over on Public Fibre? Okay, we’ll stop now…
Shop VIRÓN on Public Fibre.