An industry that makes a living by providing its fans with the very newest trends that haven't been seen or used before is surely one of the most unsustainable imaginable. And that's exactly what it is.
Reportedly the world's second most polluting industry after oil, the very nature of fashion's quick trend turnover renders it so damaging that it has become one of the most environmentally crippling industries on the planet. And, according to a recent report, it's only getting worse, with the textile industry emitting more greenhouse gas emissions than international shipping and aviation combined.
Announced earlier this year in honour of World Recycling Day, the Government has unveiled proposals for new measures that will, they claim, "ramp up action on fast fashion and hold manufacturers accountable for textile waste". Introducing steps to encourage fashion brands to be more sustainable by using resources more efficiently while designing and manufacturing products for optimum life, there is also a huge focus on the need to repair and reuse more items by brands themselves - not just on an individual consumer level.
So while the very idea of 'sustainable fashion' may have a reputation of being a box-ticking snore-fest phrase that brands throw around in order to be seen to be fulfilling corporate social responsibility, it's actually an important answer to a very real problem.
What is 'sustainable fashion'?
Many people confuse 'sustainable fashion' with 'ethical fashion', and while the two are unquestionably linked, the concept of sustainability in the industry refers to the effects of the production of clothing on the environment (ethical fashion concerns the way clothing is made - encompassing everything from how the cotton was grown to whether and how animals are used, and how the garment workers are treated).
The very basic aim of fashion sustainability is to ensure that clothing is manufactured in such a way that the product's life cycle minimises any undesirable environmental effect.
Science just got very chic.
Which brands are championing sustainability?
While the on-going detrimental effects of the fashion industry are drilled into us, there are a number of brands acknowledging the issues and adapting their businesses to create change. Not because they need to look "good" but because it makes long-term economic sense.
Every year, thousands of tonnes of clothes are thrown away with household waste and as much as 95% of those clothes could be recycled. Buying new materials doesn't make business sense when a brand could reuse what they have already. Waste doesn't make business sense.
Leading the charge is Stella McCartney, whose label has proved since its launch in 2001 that it's possible to create sustainable, ethical, trend-led collections without damaging our planet. "We challenge and push boundaries to make luxurious products in a way that is fit for the world we live in today and the future", McCartney's website reads, "No compromises."
Mother of Pearl is another beautiful brand who has always had a devoted focus on sustainability. With its unique brand commitment of being traceable throughout the entire supply chain - not only when looking at the final garment production - Mother of Pearl shows exactly what has been done with each garment via its sustainable attribute filter, giving the consumer the power to make informed choices about the clothes they purchase.
Having been announced today, on Earth Day 2022, as a brand ambassador for TENCEL™, Amy Powney - Creative Director at Mother of Pearl - is taking a step beyond her work at MoP, to “pursue her mission to protect people, planet and nature”.
E.L.V. Denim is another brand leading by example, creating pairs of jeans from deadstock fabric that's been previously rejected. One of the world's most polluting materials - it takes approximately 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to form jut one pair of jeans, and therefore denim is a crucial material to target in the sustainability fight.
Thankfully, Anna Foster, Director and Founder of E.L.V. (East London Vintage) Denim, has a great eye and her pieces by no means scrimp on style, rendering them far chicer than the large majority of others on the market - sustainable or otherwise.
While the world of high fashion has often had a bad rap in terms of its focus on sustainability, the likes of Alexander McQueen and Mulberry are showing what's possible having both recently announced partnerships with Vestiaire Collective - one of the world's most-loved pre-owned fashion platforms - as part of their 'Brand Approved' programme.
Mulberry has also revealed its Made to Last Manifesto. To mark the iconic brand's 50th anniversary, it laid out an ambitious commitment to transform the business to a regenerative and circular model, encompassing the entire supply chain, from field to wardrobe by 2030.
To achieve this commitment the Made to Last Manifesto focuses on six key actions for change:
- Pioneer a hyper-local, hyper-transparent ‘farm to finished product’ supply chain model
- Develop the world’s lowest carbon leather sourced from a network of environmentally conscious farms
- Achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2035
- Continue to extend the life of Mulberry products through repair and restoration
- Buy back, resell or repurpose any Mulberry bag
- Extend our commitment to being a real Living Wage employer by working with our network of suppliers to achieve the same
Launching its 'Feel Good' sustainability platform in October 2020 to articulate a long-term goal and commitment to people and the planet, footwear-favourite UGG has recently introduced its dual-gender Plant Power Collection. Addressing the issue of carbon emissions - a key driver of global warming that threatens our oceans, atmosphere, and overall way of life - the collection features three footwear styles thoughtfully crafted with carbon-neutral, plant-based materials.
JPL Atelier is a slightly lesser-known brand that you should really have on your radar. Launched in 2017, the London-based sustainable womenswear brand prides itself on its devotion to "women alongside [their] muse, Mother Earth." A PETA approved vegan label (yes, they prioritise both sustainable and ethical fashion simultaneously), they focus on transparent sustainability and the production of high quality garments using a fusion of both natural organic fabrics and luxury recycled materials.
Lingerie and swimwear is an area of the fashion market that sees a lot of sustainable innovation, with underwear brand Parade one of the front-runners. Having made use of a series of sustainable fabrics (the majority of which being recovered, recycled excess), to make things super simple for the shopper every Parade product now comes with a score between 0%-100% to showcase its environmental, social and circularity impact.
This is sustainable label Parade's first venture outside of North America.
But it's not only clothing that can be conscious, with the world of jewellery quickly catching on too.
Californian brand Jennifer Fisher - loved by Kendall Jenner, Lady Gaga and Emily Ratajkowski - recently announced a partnership with Diamond Foundry, the leader in carbon neutral, sustainable lab grown diamonds known for their quality, while London Based sustainable jeweller Kitty Joyas - who uses purely recycled materials - has launched her classics and best selling pieces, reintroducing them in both gold and silver to celebrate World Recycling Day 2021.
Australian label Dinosaur Designs is another great sustainable brand. Headed up by creative directors and co founders Louise Olsen and Stephen Ormandy, the label's resin homewares and jewellery have earned themselves a place in many hearts and homes thanks to both their aesthetic originality and their conscious credentials.
The team designs and hand makes pieces using low-energy methods from a product derived from a waste material. The resin is developed from a by-product of the oil industry and has a use-by date. In its unprocessed state it is essentially a waste product, which can either be burnt or - if not used in time - can solidify making it unusable and often dumped in landfill.
For lovers of luxury, there's no need to avoid resale sites. Cudoni are the UK's leading premium luxury fashion and goods resale service, who treat every client as a VIP and make the entire process a breeze - from complimentary collection from a location of your choice, to opening up a discourse with you about data-driven valuation, photographing the product and going on to sell it. They also achieve a sales price that is on average 30% higher than if you were to sell the same item independently.
Teaming up with non-profit organisation Parley, Adidas last year sold more than 1 million pairs of shoes from recycled ocean plastic, with each preventing about 11 plastic bottles from the possibility of entering our oceans. They have created a material trademarked ‘Ocean Plastic’, which is made entirely from plastic intercepted on beaches and in coastal communities.
Another shoe brand doing brilliant things is sustainable label Allbirds. The first fashion brand to have labelled all its products with a carbon output - taking into consideration materials, development, manufacturing, and end of life - Allbirds encourages accountability and inspires businesses, as well as consumers, to commit to a low carbon future.
How can I champion sustainability?
For such an important question, the answer is very simple - shop from labels and collections that support sustainability. That way you can fuel your love for new trends without supporting the production of damaging, unrecyclable materials.
Other ways would be to adopt a charity shop habit and buy pre-loved clothing (a great way to snap up 'vintage' pieces without the price tag of London's edgiest vintage stores).
So now you've read up on the brands to know, scroll down to shop our favourite sustainable buys to get your hands on right now...