What Changes When Sustainable Fashion Wins?

What does the future of fashion look like in an environmentally conscious world?

Everyone has seen the image of New York’s Climate Clock countdown on their Instagram feeds recently. David Attenborough’s much-welcomed emergence onto the social sphere comes with calls to action and warnings of what’s to come if we don’t change mankind’s eco-destructive behaviours. As educated, eco-conscious consumers, we can only fear the impact that fossil fuels will have if we do not change our outdated ways.

The fashion industry is responsible for 10 % of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. At this pace, the fashion industry's greenhouse gas emissions will surge more than 50 % by 2030.

But this damning prediction doesn't have to become reality. Let’s, for a minute, imagine a world in which sustainability triumphs!A world where we stop impulse-shopping at Zara or Pretty Little Thing. According to The Guardian, the value of clothing and footwear retail worldwide has grown by half a trillion dollars since 2008. So what happens to the fashion industry when we ditch fast fashion in favour of vintage shopping and recycling?

Perhaps the only positive thing to come from the Covid-19 pandemic: its almost oracle like ability to predict and in some cases command our future behaviour. People are generally not buying as many clothes (after all, there is now much less reason to do so… Zoom meetings don’t exactly require an entire wardrobe of trousers when your boss only sees you waist up, do they?).Instead, people have more time to think, to make conscious purchases. Shoppers' are spending their money with companies that contribute to society, and they are choosing to buy for utility, which means high quality and long-lasting products. The winners so far are the businesses that were already tapped into this idea, already eco-conscious, already making sustainable decisions, and producing products reflecting this.

What will our future look like then, I hear you cry? Thrifting and vintage shopping with their newfound popularity, alongside the general decrease in sales of new goods doesn’t look good for the creative industry, does it? Does it mean only larger, wealthier brands will survive? Not necessarily. Instead, perhaps, when sustainability wins, we will live in a world in which shoppers don’t necessarily own their entire wardrobe. Instead, we rent out items for specific events and then pass them on after we’re finished with them – popularised already with clothing swaps (Manchester University’s Thrift Society is paving the way in this sense.) It’s not like you’re ever going to wear that prom dress from Year Eleven again, are you? Upcycling or donating products like this adds a sense of value to the pre-loved product.

But what about products like outgrown underwear and worn-out t-shirts that we wouldn’t want to rewear? A green world would use solely sustainable cotton and wool, so our ‘unwearable’ garments could then be recycled to create something beautiful, like a pair of trousers, a skirt or even a duvet. In fact, on the topic of fabrics: Ever heard of pineapple leather? A whole range of biodegradable and ecological leather alternatives made from plants, fruits, and trees are storming the market in favour of replacing unethical animal hide. A sustainable future might feature more innovative materials as opposed to those harking back to the middle ages!

This means drastic change in not just the production of high street clothes but also haute couture. How will this evolution of new materials affect the red carpet and future iconic fashion moments (certainly, Lady Gaga won’t be rocking another meat dress for the foreseeable future!). Enter: The Green Carpet Challenge. Founded by Livia Firth, following an eye-opening trip to Bangladeshi factories, her challenge implores celebrities and stylists to search for sustainable alternatives to MET gala ball gowns and movie premier-worthy outfits. Most recently at an online fashion event, actress Zendaya donned a gorgeous Versace dress that is as old as she is. Applauded by Anna Klevhag, the dress’ original model, she highlighted to the fashion community the lack of a need for all-new designs.

Will creatives stop creating then, if there’s a lower buying rate? Of course not – in fact, it just allows us to be more inventive and resourceful when designing products. They do not have to be designed for mass production and cheap (not to mention, critically unethical) labour. Instead, a thoughtful creative process matched with the buyer’s desire to choose something long lasting and truly beautiful to them allows for a much more harmonious overall artistic process.

So, as I’ve now painted a utopia of sustainability on all levels of the fashion world, it’s all the more important to try to achieve this. Vintage and thrift shopping, upcycling and buying good quality, eco-conscious products are the place to start. It all seems rather overwhelming to the average consumer but it’s important to remember that – as the Tesco saying goes – every little helps. In the meantime, keep yourself informed by checking out Livia Firth’s work, watching David Attenborough’s new Netflix documentary A Life on Our Planet and researching about the brands you’re buying from. If you’re not proud of what you find out, maybe it’s an indication that you should stop shopping there!

**This article was originally written for the purpose of One-Off Vintage's blog**


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