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Cradle to Cradle: <br> Fashion’s Grave Reality

Cradle to Cradle:
Fashion’s Grave Reality

The circular economy.

Closing the loop.

Cradle to cradle. 

These are all phrases you may well have heard of. If not, best to familiarise yourself with them a.s.a.p. As our increasingly consumerist lifestyles reach tipping point, organisations are desperately trying to gather and reuse our rubbish, because otherwise, we may have nothing left to make anything with.

This year’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit was kicked off by someone I had, until that moment, not heard of: Bill McDonough. If you are as clueless as I was, take the next 14 minutes and 30 seconds to get to know him and his ideas a little better. You won’t regret it.


Interesting, right?

People were still clapping by the time I’d completed my purchase of his book, Cradle to Cradle.

Fashion’s grave reality

McDonough’s work is clearly applicable to the creation of many, if not all, products. But it is particularly relevant to clothing because this industry has arguably one of the most linear and wasteful cycles in modern society. And this cycle’s impact on the environment is exacerbated by its speed and the quantities involved.

take make dispose clothing lifecycle fashion

The fashion cycle: cradle to grave

With 92 million tonnes of textile waste being produced by the global fashion industry in 2015, corresponding to more than 12 kg per person, it’s clear that we are haemorrhaging valuable resources every second of every day.

So what exactly is being wasted?

I recently wrote about the differences between natural and man-made fibres, and the importance, as a consumer, of understanding where these different fibres come from.

In particular, I highlighted popular man-made fibre polyester as the most used in clothing production today. 

Polyester is derived from fossil fuels, one of our planet’s none renewable resources. A resource so valuable in fact, that it should be treated as a ‘nest egg’ McDonough suggests.

And yet, not only do we buy cheap, poorly made clothing using this precious resource, but we throw it out in such a way that these valuable materials cannot be retrieved.

Perhaps excavating landfill sites will be a common activity in the future?

How insanely backward would that be?

How can the fashion industry do it better?

How can this regressive fashion industry transform itself into a regenerative one?

When it comes to fashion, and the materials we use, we can work to achieve a circular system in two ways:

By creating a “biological” cycle, whereby an item made with 100% natural fibres (wool for example), able to be broken down by bacteria, is reclaimed by nature into its vast ecosystem when we no longer want or require it.

clothing fashion lifecycle cradle to cradle biodegradable

The fashion cycle: cradle to cradle (biological)

Or a “technical” one, whereby the clothing we buy made of man-made fibres is designed in such a way that the fibres can be separated and reused in a never-ending production cycle, whilst not degrading in quality.


fashion clothing lifecycle recycle circular cradle to cradle

The fashion cycle: cradle to cradle (technical)

Some organisations are themselves working on large-scale collection schemes in their shops. These schemes provide them with the raw materials to experiment with ways of recycling fibres.

Unintelligent and inelegant things…

My favourite phrase from ‘Cradle to Cradle’ is: ‘products that are not designed particularly for human and ecological health are unintelligent and inelegant –what we call crude products

Everything we buy, and everything we do, is part of a bigger process.

We can’t know everything. But know this: as a wearer of clothes, what you chose to buy and wear really matters. Because with every purchase, you are telling the world who and what you support.

Choose not to buy cheap clothes from people who cannot tell you how or where their products are made.

Chose not to buy clothing from companies who ignore our collective responsibility to address the issues the fashion industry and, by default, we all face.

A product without background, without craftsmanship, made without thought or purpose or regard for the future is a product without beauty, without meaning and without worth.

It’s a crude purchase. Simple.


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All of the brands represented on the STUDY 34 platform are driven by individual desires to work towards change – whether that be the sourcing of responsible raw materials, investing in real craftsmanship during the manufacturing process, or seeking to create timeless pieces outside of fast fashion trends.

Fashion: How Will It Reflect On Us?

Fashion: How Will It Reflect On Us?

What is the meaning of fashion?

The word fashion (derived from the Latin ‘facere’, meaning to do or make) has today come to mean something that is transient, something that will naturally become less desirable over time.

If ‘X is the fashion’, it could mean anything from building styles, cars and travel to food, clothing and even dog breeds.

Yet somehow the word fashion has become most strongly associated, or even interchangeable, with the word ‘clothing’ (and I’m just as guilty as the next person for using it).

A garment of course requires less cash and commitment than the purchase of a building, car or holiday. But as prominent trend forecaster Li Edelkoort recently said ‘Now that many garments are offered cheaper than a sandwich we all know and feel that something is profoundly and devastatingly wrong’.

ethical sustainable fashion

Li Edelkoort's Anti-fashion Manifesto

What will be our fashion legacy?

‘Fashion is a reflection of the time’, US Vogue editor Anna Wintour commented a few years ago. If so, what will our overwhelmingly fast and continuous consumption of cheap clothing say about us to future generations?

Will they look back and wonder, in an era of unrivalled access to knowledge, communication and skill, why we seemed to place such value on disposability and allow ourselves to be defined by low quality and cheap prices?

And at a time of unprecedented connectivity, why did we knowingly consume goods made in unfair and unethical conditions when there was, increasingly, a choice not to?


When it comes to fashion, can we really call ourselves feminists?

If fashion is looked upon as a reflection of our time, today’s continuing battle for gender equality is in danger of being unrecognised. For when it comes to fashion and equality, we are, most certainly, falling short.

While a 2014 survey revealed that the average British woman will spend over half a million pounds on clothing and accessories in her lifetime, we also know that women between the ages of 18 to 35 make up 80% of the industry working to make these clothes. And their working conditions are far from where they should be.

conscious chatter remake world ayesha barenblat

Conscious Chatter Episode 65 Remake + Connective Human Stories

In a recent podcast, Kestrel Jenkins (founder of Conscious Chatter) and Ayesha Barenblat (founder of Remake World) discussed with interest the differences between sympathy and empathy. And the truth is that we often sympathise with somebody or a situation that we encounter, but rarely do we empathise – because the latter would require us to actually take action.


Wear your values on your sleeve

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett (Author and professor of public policy at the Price School, University of Southern California) recently wrote about a coming shift from ‘conspicuous’ to ‘inconspicuous’ consumption and the growing view that knowledge, education and cultural capital may be becoming increasingly more aspirational than material goods.

In the context of fashion, it may signal a shift to understanding and appreciating the origin of clothing, becoming as valuable as the garment itself.

And in an increasingly connected world, it is easier now, more than ever, to access information, share it with others and take action.

Luciana Zegheanu (contributing writer at Not Just A Label) wrote last month that fashion ‘symbolises the spirit of the times’. Let the generations to come look back on ours as one that, empowered by technology, strived to achieve something better. 

The time has come to dress ourselves in ways that communicate not simply who we are and what we like but to a greater extent, what we believe.


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All of the brands represented on the STUDY 34 platform are driven by individual desires to work towards change – whether that be the sourcing of responsible raw materials, investing in real craftsmanship during the manufacturing process, or seeking to create timeless pieces outside of fast fashion trends.

Superlative Alternative: Organic Cotton

Superlative Alternative: Organic Cotton

Today, cotton is the second most used fibre in apparel manufacture, after synthetics.

And I’ve found the subject of organic cotton one of the most frequently discussed when talking about sustainable fashion. Perhaps because it’s an easy concept to understand, in theory, and also because it is now widely accessible.

But what does organic really mean when it comes to cotton?

I’m often asked, what are the environmental benefits of organic vs conventional cotton production? How much more, on average, does a garment made of organic cotton cost? Is there a difference in the way it feels against your skin? And to be frank, there were only a few answers I felt comfortable giving until now. So I decided to dig a little deeper for everyone’s benefit.

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Let’s start with a clear and digestible summary of what organic production means.

It is ‘a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects’. It ‘combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.’ (Life Cycle Assessment for Organic Cotton, 2016).

What is organic cotton? 

In a nutshell, it’s cotton that is not grown with the aid of chemicals or artificial substances but in a way that gradually and naturally builds soil fertility, and protects biodiversity.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences between conventional and organic cotton in the growing phase:

organic conventional cotton pro con table 

Put simply, conventional cotton relies on the use of chemicals at almost every stage of the growing process, while organic cotton does not. 

While this table covers the growing phase of organic cotton fibre, it’s important to note that the stages further along the supply chain (processing and manufacturing of the garment) have huge social and environmental impact too.

What does ‘GOTS certified’ mean?

GOTS stands for Global Organic Textile Standard and the certificate is arguably the most recognised and respected when it comes to clothing labels on organic cotton garments.

What makes it different from other cotton certifications is that it not only ensures the organic status of textiles from seed to finished garment but also covers all processes in between (processing, manufacturing, dyeing, labelling etc) while setting strict environmental and social criteria throughout.

womens organic cotton t-shirt

Women's GOTS certified organic cotton t-shirt £36

How much of the cotton grown worldwide is organic?

This answer is staggeringly small – the latest figure is less than 0.5%.

Currently, India is the global leader in organic cotton production, producing more than half.

What are the environmental advantages of growing organic cotton?

  • Organic cotton water consumption is up to 91% lower than that of conventional cotton.
  • CO2 emissions into the atmosphere are 46% less when growing organically (this is mainly due to the lack of chemicals used in its production).
  • As no synthetic chemicals are used in organic cotton production, there is no water or soil contamination.

What are the social advantages of growing organic cotton? 

  • Farmers and communities have more food security. By planting different crops between the cotton crops (inter-cropping) farmers and communities can access fresh organic produce for themselves.
  • Famers are more financially stable. They can get a higher price for the organic cotton they sell in addition to cutting costs because they don’t have to buy expensive chemicals and GMO seeds. Furthermore, by growing other crops and selling them, farmers have an additional source of income.
  • A farmer and the surrounding community also have fewer health risks, as they are not exposed to chemicals.

Certifications such as GOTS also set strict social and environmental criteria in the processing and manufacturing of organic cotton garments, further down the supply chain from the growing phase.

organic cotton printed women's pyjamas

Women's pyjama shorts in GOTS certified organic cotton £70

Does a garment made with organic cotton cost more?

I’m calling on The Textile Exchange for this one, since they already have the perfect explanation:

‘It’s not that organic cotton “costs more” it’s that conventional cotton “costs too little” because it does not cover all its true costs. Health and environmental costs are often externalized, meaning neither the consumer nor the retailer “pays” for them, the farmer and the environment does. When a fair price is paid, it makes a huge difference to producers and only a small difference to the consumer.’ 

Does organic cotton feel noticeably different on your skin?

There is currently no evidence that wearing a garment made with organic cotton feels different on your skin. Having said that, it certainly should make you feel happier in your skin.

It is clear from the environmental and social impacts outlined above that organic cotton production not only dramatically reduces pressure placed on the environment, but also provides market-driven relief against poverty.

By buying garments made with organic cotton you are investing in the long-term health of the planet and the lives of those working in the supply chain. 

How do we make a change?

Like many issues, it will take a combination of things to make a change. Among them, insightful government regulation, the development of forward-thinking business structures and us, educating each other about the need for change.

So share this post, learn more about organic cotton and incorporate it into your purchases when you can, because YOU play a leading role in this fashion revolution.


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All of the brands represented on the STUDY 34 platform are driven by individual desires to work towards change – whether that be the sourcing of responsible raw materials, investing in real craftsmanship during the manufacturing process, or seeking to create timeless pieces outside of fast fashion trends.