Globally, nearly 60% of clothing ends up in an incinerator or landfill site within a year of being made. That’s thanks to the rise of fast fashion, which has paved the way for a throwaway culture in the clothing industry.
Luckily, sustainable fashion is becoming increasingly popular as people look for solutions to reducing waste. But what does sustainable fashion really mean? And can the fashion industry ever really be sustainable?
Renowned fashion journalist and author Tamsin Blanchard and Cara Smyth of the Fair Fashion Centre recently came together to discuss the state of the global garment industry. Here are their thoughts on how we can decipher the truth behind the buzzwords, and how we can become responsible consumers.
Sustainable fashion has more than one meaning
When someone mentions ‘sustainable fashion’, the first image that might come to mind is of people wearing ugly brown sacks for clothes. In reality, sustainable fashion actually covers a wide range of environmentally, socially, and ethically conscious processes.
However, Cara argues that this also brings its own problems, as the phrase becomes a buzzword and loses its meaning: “I find sustainable as a word is actually very lazy, and it’s become such a cliché. Nobody really knows what it means anymore.”
This means there is a lot of new vocabulary to learn – for example, how many people know the difference between slow fashion and ethical fashion? That’s why we’ve created a helpful dictionary explaining the most common terms and phrases around sustainable fashion.
Sustainable fashion is about thinking outside the box
Cara and Tamsin admit that the fashion industry inherently revolves around making and selling more product. However, ‘sustainable fashion’ also focuses on finding innovative solutions and making better choices instead, as Tamsin explains: “The idea of sustainable fashion is ultimately a bit of an oxymoron because we're creating more and more product. But it's about finding ways of doing it in a more responsible way.”
For example, Mayamiko are working towards incorporating QR codes in their clothing labels, helping customers to trace the journey of their shirt or dress from start to finish by simply scanning the code. This is just one of the actions brands are taking to support a more sustainable fashion industry, without compromising the core business model. Cara says: “We're in an industry where we make money out of selling things so you can't really ever be sustainable, but you can make better choices.”
Sustainable fashion is a collaborative process
According to a recent industry report, 50% of Brits prefer to buy from retailers who are trying to reduce their impact on the environment. Tamsin and Cara explain that as consumers become increasingly aware of their fashion footprint, clothing companies are transforming their business models to match public opinion. Tamsin says: “There's been a lot of shifts in the way we think and interact with our clothes that has forced a sustainable conversation...”
At the same time, changing business practices and policies are also encouraging consumers to rethink their shopping habits. Cara has an optimistic vision for fashion in the future, where every item of clothing is sustainable by default: “…sustainable fashion should be and will be every single piece that's made.”
Ultimately, open and honest communication is the way forward if the fashion industry is to become more sustainable, and Tamsin and Cara emphasise that it is up to us as consumers to drive that conversation forward.
Listen to the full episode here, or search for ‘Sunday School by Harvey Nichols’ on your preferred streaming platform.
Thank you to the special guest speakers:
- Tamsin Blanchard - https://www.tamsinblanchard.com/
- Cara Smyth - https://www.gcufairfashioncenter.org/