Sustainable Fashion: What It Means for the Average Consumer
Updated: Nov 4, 2018
Image credit: Jason Hargrove
This is an article from May, 2016
The Cannes Film Festival 2016 is upon us yet again and I can’t help but notice frequent updates and postings on how impeccably dressed celebrities look when walking down the red carpet.
Currently taking spotlight are Blake Lively and Aishwarya Rai.
In the spirit of fashion, I thought now might be a good time to talk a little bit about sustainable fashion.
Clothing is one of the primary needs of humans. From essential items to cover up to avant-garde designs, fashion is one of the ever-changing, innovative and boundary pushing industries in the world today.
But it begs the question, who is responsible for improving or enhancing the fashion industry?
My mind is cast back to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) in The Devil Wears Prada and her views on her assistant’s blue sweater:
“This… stuff’? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet, and you select… I don’t know… that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it… who showed cerulean military jackets? (I think we need a jacket here.) And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.”
In the real world, Ms Priestly is known as Anna Wintour. While she may influence what goes on the runway, she isn’t the only one responsible for making the fashion world sustainable.
Sustainability has different definitions when it comes to different industries – and then you have to account for the fact the different people interpret the word ‘sustainability’ differently.
When I think of the word 'sustainable', I think of the environment; for me, 'sustainability' means separating my trash, recycling, using less water and electricity whenever I can and travelling more responsibly. I believe that when you take something away from Mother Nature, you are indebted to her, and you should return what you took - not just exploit it, taking more and more.
Then there’s also the word ‘ethical’, which, to me, concerns social issues such as human rights, working conditions, forced labor, modern day slavery, low wages and the conservation of traditional crafts and skills.
And there’s also ‘responsible’, which I believe has an overall effect on ethical and sustainability as it encompasses both terms.
Image credit: Robbie Merritt
But “sustainable, ethical or responsible sound nowhere near as exciting as “glamorous, sexy or elegant” – three things the fashion industry is all about.
Prior to the Cannes Film Festival, I read about clothing choices worn by Emma Watson, Lupita Nyong’o and Margot Robbie during the Met Gala 2016. These dresses were part of the ‘Green Carpet Challenge’ (also co-hosted by Anna Wintour by the way).
Watson’s ensemble was made from NewLife fabric, a unique engineered yarn created from used plastic bottles, sourced, processed and spun into yarn in Italy. Nyong’o’s jade-green sequined dress was part of the Calvin Klein collection which was made and assembled entirely in CK’s New York atelier. Robbie’s white strapless dress was also made from organic silk woven in Italy featuring zippers made from recycled materials.
With these celebrities walking down the red (or should I say… green) carpet in garments made from recycled material, it breathes new life to sustainable fashion, giving it a much needed boost; sustainable fashion is fresh, edgy, comfortable and fashion-forward.
So how does this all relate to Miranda Priestly’s immortal words, “you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff”?
When big labels, brand names and celebrities adopt more ethical and responsible choices in making their clothing, other fashion retail brands take notice and jump on the bandwagon of sustainable fashion.
How can we purchase more conscious and sustainable fashion items and make more conscious and responsible fashion decisions? When we talk about being responsible consumers, responsibility means we must be accountable, taking care of the people around us and of the environment. It also means quality and equality.
You as a consumer can do the responsible thing by buying from these brands that are moving in the right direction. Sustainable fashion equals responsible fashion. And responsible fashion means taking responsibility to enable change. Want to go shopping? Consider these sustainable fashion brands: