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How can fashion become more sustainable?

Since the rise of high street giants like Topshop, Miss Selfridge, New Look, and Primark, fast fashion has permeated our culture.  And as our shopping habits moved online, brands like ASOS were only too happy to oblige our fast fashion buy now, wear once desires with next day delivery, student discounts, and almost weekly sales. 

Fast fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them in to garments in high street stores at breakneck speed. But, in recent years, we’ve seen a shift away from the ‘shop often’ ‘shop cheap’ mentality, and towards more sustainable brands who put ethics and the environment above the bottom line. Our outlook has changed and we’re becoming more aware of where our clothes are coming from, and who is actually making them.

What is sustainable fashion?

Sustainable fashion is often concerned with the environmental impact not only on the manufacturing process but of the clothes themselves. Man made synthetic fibres like polyester, rayon, and nylon are made of microplastics that flood the ocean, threatening the health and sea life that consumes them. In 2016, 65 million tons of plastic was produced for textile fibres which represents a staggering 20% of the total plastic production for that year. Not only that, but plastics in fashion are responsible for generating enormous amounts of wastewater and emitting huge quantities of carbon.

Sustainable fashion on the other hand uses fibres and materials that are organic, recycled, or repurposed. This limits harmful chemicals and dyes, and reduces the amount of energy, and volume of water and waste.  

How are brands making the clothes manufacturing process ‘sustainable’?

Whilst the process of producing clothing is for the most part hidden away from the public eye, the public are becoming more aware of where their clothes are coming from. Because people are now asking questions, the fashion industry is having to change it’s manufacturing process to become more sustainable.

And with brands embracing the advances in technology, sustainable fashion is becoming more mainstream. From investing in energy efficient technologies by harnessing solar, wind, and waterpower, to recycling old materials instead of creating new ones.

In the past it’s been high end brands like Stella McCartney who have been championing sustainable fashion, but now high street giants like H&M are getting in on the action. In partnership with the Hong Kong research group HKRITA, they discovered a hydrothermal recycling system that could fully separate and recycle cotton and polyester blends into new fibres and cellulose powder. This sort of research would have a dramatic impact on the sustainability of the fashion industry as a whole if it were to be rolled out globally.

How can we play our part in sustainable fashion?

It’s not just businesses who need to move away from fast fashion, but consumers too. There are simple ways we can all play our part in sustainable fashion.

  • Create a capsule wardrobe: A capsule wardrobe is one that features only the most essential items. Ideally, they should be of good quality, and will therefore last. Think a well- fitted pair of jeans that can be dressed up or down. A plain white t-shirt, and a beautifully cut white shirt. A blazer and a jumper will also diversity. These items can then be dressed up or down, by other key pieces.
  • Shop vintage: Vintage boutiques and charity shops are a treasure trove of clothes. And whilst you might find a gem from yesteryear, you’re just as likely to find brand new clothes with tags on.
  • Customise: You can bring new life to old clothes by clever customisation. This can be anything from adding chic patches to jackets, to having an old dress altered by a seamstress.

But nothing will change, if we don’t; after all, there is no Planet B.

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