27th Jun 2019
Edaein O’ Connell thought sustainable fashion was all beige and no fun. She also thought it was completely unattainable and a luxury she could not afford, but a short trip to Copenhagen changed her mind…
What is your idea of sustainable fashion? Is it a preconceived notion of boring beige, hard textures, unsexy, unappealing shapeless clothes? Well, this is certainly the image I had in my head. Sustainability and everything it entails has always reminded me of the hippie revolution of the 1960s when men and women wore hemp, went barefoot and wore daisies in their hair. However lately, I’ve been thinking more about sustainable fashion and the impact my shopping habits are having on the world I inhabit. Why? Simply because I feel I have to.
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According to the damning UN climate change report, we have 11 years to reverse the coming onslaught and devastation that a two-degree increase in the earth’s temperature would cause. And the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world. In the UK alone, it is estimated that £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year. Now, think of every country in the world and what it contributes. It’s easy to see the issue, right?
A sustainable shift
If you are prone to a nervous disposition like I am, this information will send you into a tizzy; a panic which may almost be the cause of you wearing hemp exclusively and rendering yourself free of the shackles of the materialistic world we live in. I talked myself off of that cliff edge but now I am aware. There is a shift happening in how and why I shop.
Brands are under pressure. Consumers are waking up. Subsequently, there has been an increase in exclusively sustainable brands such as Bethany Williams and Reformation. However, much of this comes at a price.
Related: How Jean Cronin created a vintage treasure trove loved by Ireland’s most stylish women
And for the everyday consumer like me, sustainable fashion is often out of reach. These brands are expensive, and weighing the pros and cons always throws me right back into the throes of fast fashion. But on a recent press trip to Copenhagen with high street brand Selected Femme for the Responsibly Crafted summit, my eyes were opened to a world where sustainable clothing is accessible. Selected Femme’s clothes are achingly Scandinavian cool and are ahead of the eco-friendly fashion game with 60% of the Autumn/Winter 19 collection made from sustainable fabrics. All of its jeans are made from 100% organic cotton and a quarter of its tailoring is made from more sustainable materials.
Most importantly, there was no beige or hemp in sight. Sumptuous textures, abstract prints, and sparkles adorned midi dresses, tailoring, knitwear and outerwear. It was my kind of wardrobe. There was nothing boring in the designs. Clothes were clothes, the fundamentals of them didn’t have to change just because the process and materials did.
I live and work in Dublin. It’s expensive and any clothing I buy must be worth the spend. Selected charge anything from €40 to €200 which means the clothes are within a very accessible price range. On further investigation, I discovered other brands such as Arket, Nobody’s Child and Everlane who are all providing affordable sartorial choices with a sustainable focus. What kind of sorcery is this?
At the crux of this is education and I am wholly uneducated in the world of sustainable fashion. Selected has been doing this for two years, but I never knew. They use Tencel, a process that turns sustainable forested wood pulp into fibres in a water and energy efficient process. These Tencel fibres are certified as compostable and biodegradable and can fully revert back into nature.
Laziness is detrimental and I as a consumer have become much too used to having a dress readily available to me with just a click. I never thought of the material, how much water is used in cotton production or why polyester is the devil.
I spoke with Camilla Skjønning Jørgensen, the Sustainability Sourcing Manager for Selected and asked her how this can change. She believes at this moment some of the onus is on the media to push the message out there and promote brands such as Selected to a wider audience saying: “This is where people go to get their information. It’s a very powerful tool.”
High street future
Looking back on the summit, one of the most vital aspects of it was how important it is for brands to look towards a more sustainable future, particularly in the high street realm.
In an increasingly shaky retail environment where giants such as Topshop are closing bricks and mortar stores, it has never been more important for brands to have a differentiating factor. A point in their brand story where the lightbulb goes off in a consumer’s head signalling that they have found what they were searching for.
Related: Fabrics to avoid and embrace if you want to make more sustainable fashion choices
Clare Press, Sustainability Editor at Vogue Australia attended the summit to discuss the importance of fashion and why we wear it. She spoke of how there has been a 66% increase in online searches for sustainable fashion. More people are looking to shop in an eco-friendly manner and brands should take heed.
“This conversation is growing and growing and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If you work in the industry sustainability is a huge opportunity for you to be capturing the audience but also being ahead of the game.”
Values and truth
I spoke with Clare to hear her thoughts on how to market sustainable fashion to a younger audience who have grown up in the fast fashion world. Once again she believes media, social media and influencers need to be utilised: “Get one Irish girl, one main influencer, and get her to talk about sustainability and how important it is. Get her to wear the clothes and then you will begin to see a change”.
She also spoke of how the clothes we wear represent the person we want others to see us as. Without words, they convey our values and our truths. Something that has stuck with me since the trip is how much I want to play my part. I want to shop vintage, rework and wear the pieces in my wardrobe again and again. Invest in pieces that will last and buy from brands who support a sustainable ethos such as Selected.
However, we need more affordable brands to take notice and change the status quo. While many release eco-friendly capsule collections, there are very few who are making a full commitment to a sustainably led future as Selected have. Positive and powerful brand statements are what the industry needs. Affordable, high-quality eco-friendly fashion is what we desire.
Ignorance is most certainly bliss but not when it comes to this. It’s time for all of us, retailers and consumers included, to wake up and begin to educate ourselves. Sustainability isn’t all beige and no shape.
It’s actually quite chic and I am here for it.
Read more: The ugly side of fast fashion: This is the scary impact it’s having on our world
Read more: Documentaries to watch if you want to get serious about sustainability
Read more: Is sustainability a class issue?
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