Why sustainability has become fashion's biggest trend


Now more than ever, fashion is embracing sustainability and not just from the consumer’s end. The labels themselves are also becoming environmentally conscious.

The recent fashion weeks saw several brands taking steps to highlight the issue to a wider audience. This is with the aim to alleviate the effect the industry has on the environment.

Gucci announced it was committed to becoming 100% carbon neutral, just a week before its runway show in Milan. Dior built its Paris runway surrounded by trees, which were to be re-planted in sustainability projects around the city.

Burberry, on the other hand, took steps to offset the carbon impact of its London show by donating to a number of causes and projects that prevent deforestation, as well as conserve parts of the Amazonian jungle.

New York Fashion Week showcased labels like Mara Hoffman, Chromat and Collina Strada. Each one adheres to a mission of adhering to fair trade practices, local or low-impact production, and/or transparent sourcing methods.

Chromat unveiled a swimwear collection made of sustainable lycra, discarded fishing nets, and up-cycled fabrics, while the Collina Strada show began with an environmental activist giving a talk.

Mara Hoffman did away with the runway altogether. Instead, the label brought members of the press into its office for an intimate presentation.

“There is garbage for the programmes, the food, and water, the sets. Are people renting things or are we breaking that down, and is it going into the garbage?” Hoffman herself told In Style. “So here I am not doing a show, and I don’t have any FOMO (fear of missing out).”

To top is off, the third annual Green Carpet Fashion Awards closed Milan Fashion Week. It saw Francois-Henri Pinault, CEO of Kering (the company that owns Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga), presented with the Visionary Award.

Pinault told The Hollywood Reporter at the event that they already had a plan to achieve carbon neutrality. He noted, “But considering the urgency of deforestation and what is happening in the Amazon, we decided to put it into effect immediately and not wait.”

The night also saw Valentino Garavani honoured with the Legacy Award. It recognised the quality and durability of his label’s creations and the legacy of these pieces being passed on for generations – as opposed to fast fashion.

Dior's green show space highlights the need for bio-diversity to survive climate change. Many of the trees sourced for the set were in danger of dying because of rising temperatures, and after being cared for, they were replanted around Paris.

Diluting That Carbon Footprint

It is without argument that fashion has an impact on the planet. These days, clothes are often regarded as disposable. The manufacturing process also releases harmful waste.

A 2019 European Union report stated that the average number of collections released by apparel companies per year has gone from two in 2000 to five in 2011, with fast fashion labels offering up to 24 new collections each year.

Last year, the United Nations pointed out that the fashion industry contributes to around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production. It also said the industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industry combined.

“Shifting practices in the fashion industry to reduce carbon emissions is key to limiting warming to as close to 1.5°C above pre-Industrial Revolution levels, in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,” reads the statement.

But the whole idea of “green” fashion is not entirely new. The industry toyed around with sustainable practices all the way back in the late 1980s – before it became a trending issue.

Belgian designer Martin Margiela’s debut collection in 1988 included what The Independent described as “a leather butcher's apron reworked to make it an attractive evening dress”.

H&M's Conscious Exclusive collection uses materials that have less impact on the environment.

Adhering to a philosophy of “nothing is lost, everything is transformed”, the man (who established French fashion house Maison Martin Margiela) also turned second-hand clothing and flawed fabrics into runway collections.

Marc Jacobs used to have a store in New York where leftover pieces from runway collections were turned into clothes and accessories under the label, Marc by Marc Jacobs for Marc Jacobs.

Italian label Moschino sent its models down the runway with T-shirts saying “Stop Using Our Oceans as a W.C.” back in 1989. This was at a time when designers began using their designs to send a message.

H&M, lampooned for the sheer amount of clothes it produces, has long tried to reduce the impact of its fast fashion practices. Twice a year, the brand releases special ready-to-wear pieces that makes use of sustainable materials.

The Conscious Exclusive collection is now entering into its 10th year. The latest incorporates recycled brass and zinc, as well as fibre partly made from waste cotton, into designs.

Act Of Conscience

The people consuming fashion are also making a change. Just look at bundle shopping. It is no longer seen as just about being thrifty, but a great way to reduce waste.

According to Kloth Cares, a social entrepreneurship movement founded with the aim of keeping fabrics out of landfills through recycling, 2019 data shows an estimated four per cent of the total municipal solid waste generated in Malaysia comes from textile waste.

"That old T-shirt or pair of jeans that you plan to throw away makes up of 5% of solid waste that ends up in our landfills, if not recycled," reads the statement on its website.

Seen at New York Fashion Week, the designs by Chromat were crafted with sustainable, regenerated nylon, spun from fishing nets recovered from the ocean.

This is where businesses dealing with second-hand clothes come in. Bundle shops like Bandoru Store for example, sells pre-loved clothing from Japan (both online and in its stores), all carefully selected and cleaned.

Recyclothes, an online fashion boutique based in Malaysia, offers second hand women’s clothes. The proceeds are then given back to society in the form of donations to charity organisations.

The younger generation, probably one of the biggest consumers of fast fashion, are all for it too. They are now accepting the fact you can look good by buying pre-loved clothes.

“Fashion is a way to express, and pre-loved items gives that opportunity to youths without spending too much,” says Muhammad Ali Khazurin, 24, who has been shopping at bundle stores for years.

For twenty-year-old Nadhirah Aminah Rashid, being mindful of your fashion purchases is something to be proud of. She said, “Not only we can save the earth, but we can tell the people that you don’t need to spend a lot to look cool.”

Others, like 27-year-old Cynthia Sim, said it is just a matter of changing the mindset of thinking that new is always better. To her, buying second-hand clothes helps reduce wastage.

And with consumers becoming environmentally conscious, it is only natural that brands and designers are following suit – which bodes well for an industry that is trying its very best to go green.

It also goes to show that fashion is increasingly aware of the impact it has on the environment. From the producers to the consumers, eco-consciousness is certainly a good look to sport.

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