No longer stirring clichéd images of the hemp-wearing hippy, 2018 was the year sustainable fashion firmly established itself on the consumer radar, and was embraced by high street retailers.
Burberry was slammed for burning £30 million of clothes, Stacey Dooley’s documentary Fashion's Dirty Secrets gave the movement a much needed platform, and Meghan Markle’s penchant for ethical brands demonstrated the positive impact ‘the Meghan effect’ could have on consumer spending. As the Duchess herself said at the recent British Fashion Awards : "The culture of fashion has shifted from one that was cool to be cruel, to now where it’s cool to be kind".
With New Year resolutions still fresh on the brain, we spoke to Jason Forrest, Sustainable Fashion Expert at London’s Fashion Retail Academy, to get some advice on how we can shop and dress with a cleaner conscience.
Consider this your guide to going green.
Find your ethical fashion favourites
Let's face it, we're never going to stop shopping. But by looking to ethically-minded brands, you can at least enjoy your new pair of sneakers and sleep at night.
Slowing down industry processes naturally equates to higher garment costs and therefore, before the high street giants jumped on the eco bandwagon, ethical fashion was traditionally associated with the frumpy or unaffordable. Luckily, as more high street retailers adopt ethical practices, shopping sustainably has become more accessible and visually palatable.
“Retailers today have to demonstrate that they’re accommodating the diverse needs of their consumer with their ethical practices and sustainable innovation,” says Forrest. The stats agree. Fashion search engine Lyst reported a 47 per cent increase in shoppers looking for items with ethical credentials in 2018.
Ethical and fashionable are no longer mutually exclusive, as we're seeing from the exciting new brands pioneering sustainability. Kitx, Rave Review and Reformation are redefining the movement on the fashion design stage. For footwear fanatics, Allbirds, Rafaand Veja are brands worth investing in, and vegans can take refuge in faux fur jackets from Jakke or affordable cruelty-free accessories from Matt & Nat.
Take the time to research the brands you love and see what information they reveal about their production processes. Remember if they reveal nothing at all, it’s probably because they have something to hide. And if the prospect of researching every label you wear is too time consuming, get help from an app. Good On You rates brands based on their human, animal and environmental cost, and warns against those that don’t provide enough clarity on their production processes.
Prioritise natural fabrics and read care labels
Approach fabrics as you would a healthy diet, with an emphasis on natural sources. "Avoid things such as polyester or nylon because they’re non-biodegradable and also really harmful to the planet," Forrest advises. Think of synthetic fabrics as fashion's equivalent to single-use plastic.
For more unorthodox approaches, there are many exciting initiatives in the textile industry utilising new natural materials. Hugo Boss recently released a vegan sneaker collection made from Pinatex, a by-product of pineapple leaves. "Bamboo and hemp are beginning to show their worth in fashion retail, linked with comfort and softness in menswear and womenswear," Forrest adds. Barkcloth, an East African fabric made from the inner bark of a Matuba tree, is also having a resurgence in homewares and fashion.
As for what you can do at home, you know that little tag that's always on the inside of your clothes? Read it. Not only does it include the fabric components of your garments, but it tells you how to wash them in order to optimise their lifespan. Also bear in mind that water wastage is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry, so cutting down on your laundry wouldn't hurt!
Always, always recycle
For those in the midst of giving their wardrobes a new year sprucing, the best way to dispose of unwanted clothes is still to recycle.
The fashion industry is the second largest contributor to global landfill, largely due to the amount of clothes we throw out. To put it simply, people are buying clothes more and wearing them less.
According to WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme), the value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at around £30 billion. It is also estimated that £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year.
New initiatives are making the process of recycling your clothes stress-free. “There’s always the option of booking a home collection with a charity trade on their websites," says Forrest. Love Not Landfill recently launched clothing banks around London to encourage people not to throw out their clothes. And there's also reGAIN, an app which operates as a circular economy which rewards those who use their clothes recycling bins with discount shopping codes.
Turns out, these days, it is quite easy being green.