Almost exactly six years ago, Patagonia ran an ad in The New York Times reading, “Don’t Buy This Jacket”. Published on Black Friday as part of their Common Threads Initiative, the outdoor clothing company, asked it’s consumer to think twice before indulging in the annual holiday splurge. As well as donating 100% of their revenue last Black Friday, Patagonia also encourages their customers to repair the garments they already own through their self-repair kits and tutorial videos (produced in partnership IFIXIT) rather than buy new ones. It’s made them one of the leading athleisure brands aiming to tackle the fast fashion.
Second to oil, fashion is now the next highest polluting industry in the world. Since the birth of mass production and industrialisation in the 20s and 30s, environmental and humanitarian issues within fashion have been dulled by the bright lights of sale signs and 3for2s. In the age of fast fashion, a 125g basics cotton T-shirt uses more than its own weight in pesticides during production. It takes on average over, 900 gallons of water to make one pair of jeans. Cheap clothing and lots of it has become the status-quo in consumer shopping habits, irrespective of the environmental and humanitarian impact of the trend of trends.
“Every fashion course should teach about how to work with minimal impact..” – ELLISS
A new-wave of sustainable fashion is creeping into mainstream consciousness, however, in both the high-fashion industry and on the high-street. Following their spring/summer 18 collection, Marco Bizzari for Gucci announced that the house would be suspending the use of fur in all future collections, embarking on a ten-year ‘Culture of Purpose’. The initiative aims to recenter the brand around issues of sustainability through three pillars; the environment, humanity and new models of working. Joining brands known for their strong environmental consciousness — e.g. Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood — Gucci’s announcement has sparked a revival in conversations surrounding brand responsibility and ethics in designer labels.
High street brands have also begun to take action when it comes to sustainability. Swedish retail giant H&M’s re-wear, reuse, recycle initiative aims to reduce landfill space by collecting old unused clothes to be repurposed. Nike and Adidas have also begun releasing trainers that have an environmental consciousness – Flyknits, for example, due to their woven texture use 60% fewer materials during construction. Furthermore, each pair of Adidas Ultraboost, Ultraboost X and Ultraboost Uncaged use 11 plastic bottles in their production. These efforts by high-street retailers may seem relatively small, but large-scale advertising keeps the issue of sustainable fashion at the forefront of conversation within the industry, encouraging both the retailer and the consumer to think about the real cost of cheap.
To shed some light on the matter, we caught up with London based designer ELLISS to hear her take on the sustainability of sustainable fashion. Launched in June last year, CSM graduate ELLISS’ company ethos is to ‘create clothing using conscious design methods and minimal waste’. ELLISS’ beautiful underwear and considered basics range prove ethical can be stylish, using organic and recycled materials to reduce the company’s carbon footprint.
Currently working on a line of swimwear made using recycled ocean plastics, ELLISS explains “all of my clothes are manufactured in the same building as I design… It feels natural to me – I’m not sure I could work in any other way.’ Commenting that “price is a big factor and people want easy purchases” the brand explains the dilemma within the fashion industry but suggests that it is with larger companies adopting eco-initiatives that real change is likely to happen; “I think the fast-fashion industry is growing rapidly, but the consumer is starting to hold companies to account – big companies are trying to seem greener and work in a more sustainable way to appeal to the customer.”
“It seems that we, as consumers need to redesign our relationship to our clothing. Although it’s easy to blame the retailer, it’s important to remember that the choice is also with the consumer.”
The solution? ELLISS suggests that “every fashion course should teach about how to work with minimal impact”, explaining that “it should be integral to how designers learn and businesses are started” within fashion school. Her advice for the sustainable consumer is “to buy good quality clothes and don’t buy on a whim – buy less stuff but really love the things you do buy. And if you are on a very tight budget – buy vintage.” It seems that we, as consumers need to redesign our relationship to our clothing. Although it’s easy to blame the retailer, it’s important to remember that the choice is also with the consumer.
The Business of Fashion recently reported that while a third of millennials say they are more likely to buy from companies that are conscious of their social responsibilities, only a small proportion are willing to pay more for this product. ELLISS’ hopes for the future of the industry will be “that consumers become more aware and keep asking questions. The shops will follow what people want.”
ELLISS is available to buy here.