This week we've been championing sustainable fashion and investigating the sad facts that the fashion industry relies on cheap fabric, exploitative labour and a lengthy, complicated supply chain. Want that £3.99 T-shirt? There’s a good chance that the desire for this basic garment comes at the expense of an underpaid garment worker in a developing country. Things are, however, changing slowly – the combined effect of new legislation, increased consumer awareness and the tireless work of non-profit organisations like Fashion Revolution. Still, union workers are being jailed in Bangladesh for striking over criminally low wages, activists are being attacked and silenced by untrustworthy governments, and factory fires are still a relatively common cause of death for garment workers. We need to do more.
It may sound an unachievable mission but a new generation of design talent is proving that, with enough creativity and commitment, clothing can be both innovative and sustainably made. Some use organic fibres or recycled textiles. Others work with local craftspeople, eliminating the need for global exports and the air pollution caused by fuel transit. These are all small changes which ultimately prove that style doesn’t need to come at the expense of others.
Better still, these designers are using a new language of sustainability. Devoid of press buzzwords, their explanations of their brand ethos and design aesthetic break down the complex web of effects so often reduced to terms like ‘ethical’ or ‘green.’
Bethany Williams, for example, works with local communities and creates a cycle of income still anomalous in the fashion industry. The Autonomous Collections make unique garments from scrap fabric in their east London studio; Jodie Ruffle uses couture embroidery techniques with small adjustments, which results in a beautifully imperfect aesthetic. Elliss incorporates sustainable manufacturing without compromising design, whereas ONEBYME has created an entire world around their gender-fluid vision that turns fabric waste into delicious cupcakes.
These inventive minds are exploring and expanding their creativity without exploiting workers or polluting the environment; they’re part of a new generation for whom sustainability is a natural consideration, not a passing trend intended to sway new consumers. Ultimately, they are part of today’s fashion revolution.