For this first blog post, I thought I’d start off by laying the foundations: addressing what has become a massively buzzwordy term, share with you my view of what a genuinely sustainably and ethically conscious fashion brand should encompass and lay down my vision that will underpin every piece I make. Fashion is the skin we choose to show the world, it’s beauty and expression but it’s also entangled with an ugly side - the sustainable and ethical fashion movement aims to make clothing without those ugly unseen costs.
So, let’s try and define it: what comes to mind when you think of sustainable, ethical or slow fashion? For a lot of people ‘sustainable’ clothing would previously conjure images of hemp, neutral colours, mismatched patchwork and shapeless outfits. In the last few years, this perception has changed with more appealing fabric options becoming available in a wider variety of colours and innovative ways of reusing waste materials.
It’s also becoming more widely known that the fast fashion industry is responsible for a long list of environmental and social exploitation (more on this another day). So much so that big brands are trying to get a stake in the sustainable fashion landscape and show their customers that they too care about these issues, while also continuing with damaging systems of business as usual. This is part of the problem: ‘sustainability’ is such a loose and ambiguous term that brands are interpreting it in whatever way best fits their own narrative and aims, which is often far removed from what you, I, or workers in their supply chain would consider to be remotely ethical or sustainable. For example, producing and heavily marketing a ‘sustainable’ collection that makes up a tiny percentage of their products, while simultaneously hiding the fact that they destroy literally tonnes of surplus stock. Whether or not any fashion brand can be 100% sustainable is still up for debate, but the biggest brands are the worst offenders and still have a long way to go.
Results from Fashion Revolution’s 2020 Consumer Survey found that 76% of people agreed that fashion brands “should have to protect the environment at every stage of making and selling their products'' and 75% said they should “say if they’re paying the workers who make their products a fair, living wage”. However, the fact that there is little consequence for sharing or omitting certain information allows brands to create their own story, even if it’s hugely misleading. While some progress has been made in terms of transparency, a recent website sweep found clothing to be one of the areas where nearly 50% of eco claims were deceptive, false or exaggerated. BUT, it does looks more likely that brands will be held to account in the near future as the results of this survey are due to inform new legislation to empower customers. In the meantime, it’s a reminder for us to be a little more critical when brands try to woo us with eco claims and greenwashing.
So then - what does a brand with genuinly sustainable aims at its core need to focus on? And what does the word sustainability even mean?! The World Commission on Environment and Development first defined ‘sustainability’ more than 30 years ago as: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In short, go about your business in a way that does as little damage as possible. In my view, the key areas to focus on - and importantly, be transparent about - in working towards that aim are: materials, waste, labour, inclusivity, longevity and recyclability. (There’s also aspects within and linking to these such as logistics and pollution - we can delve deeper in a later post).
That just leaves me to define my own mini manifesto - what I want the core values of my brand to be and the integrity I want each piece I put out in the world to have.
A SUSTAINABLE MAKERS MANIFESTO
To use only:
Pre-existing fabrics from supplies I already have, second-hand or vintage remnants or clothing and textiles that would otherwise be considered waste.
Vintage and recycled buttons and trims, or buttons made from natural materials.
I now use exclusively pre-loved textiles in my work, previously when I used new textiles I made sure that they were:
Made from natural materials with environmentally friendly credentials and with certs where possible.
Everything is made by:
If I look to outsource sewing in future the pieces will always be made by someone who is happy, healthy, safe and paid fairly.
Each piece is made:
To a high quality, ensuring you can get many happy wears and pass it on to a future wearer if you ever want to part with it!
With sizing and fit in mind.
A wide sizing range from the outset and made to any other size in specific measurements.
All genders, races, shapes and sizes are welcome - everyone partakes in fashion in one form or another and this is a brand made for anyone who enjoys the clothes!
Cutting scraps are:
Reused for smaller items such as collars, scrunchies, small details and patchwork pieces.
Teeny tiny scraps are kept to create new textiles and upcycles (see more on my zero waste project here).
Fibre recycling is in its infancy, but I keep this in mind for the future when choosing new fabrics now. The fewer types of fibres that make up a fabric, the easier it will be to recycle.
Packaging will always be recycled, recyclable and/or reusable.
This is a roadmap for how I want to move forward with the brand and I’m sure it’ll change and evolve over time as I learn and explore more of the possibilities of how to make ‘making fashion’ more ethical and sustainable.
Hopefully this post helps you to identify or build on your own definition of what slow and sustainable fashion means to you and what questions to ask your favourite brands big and small!