Last month, Shoreditch based Kit & Ace hosted a small group of us for the first in their speaker series ‘Real Talk: Conservationism and Sustainability in Design’. I was expecting a tame discussion around the subject, but in fact it developed into one of the most impassioned conversations I can remember being part of. And at the end, food remaining practically untouched for fear of missing an opportunity to speak, I left laden with new questions and ideas.
Who is responsible for making the fashion industry better? At what stage does most of the negative impact on the environment happen? When did we develop and why do we, as consumers, have such a short attention span? These were just a few of the questions fuelling the debate.
However, the topic I remember most prominently was about the use of the word ‘sustainable’ and how we interpret it. Given that it has been overly and often misused, is it still the best word to use? What does sustainable mean to a consumer today?
24th April signals Fashion Revolution Day and I’ve been asking myself recently, what do Sustainable Fashion and Ethical Fashion mean to me?
‘Sustainable’ is a word that I associate with our environment: waste (throw-away fashion) and recycling, water consumption and contamination, energy consumption and climate change, chemical usage and animal welfare.
I believe that if you take something from our shared planet, you should give it back and you should not exploit it by taking more than it can afford to give you, if it is still to thrive.
‘Ethical’ on the other hand, I associate with social issues, so people. Working conditions, human rights, forced labour, wages and the preservation of craft and skill. I believe that all brands should strive for the fair and equal treatment of people from farm to shop floor.
I often to use the word ‘responsible’ because I think it encompasses both terms.
I know. It’s not fun, it’s not exciting and it’s not sexy. Arguably three things that fashion should be. But the way in which a garment is produced, has no correlation to what it looks like. As Regina Due so eloquently puts it ‘”sustainable” is an ideology, not an aesthetic’.
Responsible means something good. It means trust. It means taking care of others and the environment. It means safety. It means quality, and equality. And there are hundreds of brands working towards change.
There will always be those who believe change is not possible, that the fashion industry is what it is and that we are in too deep.
It’s difficult, and the brands striving for change are a long way from perfection. It will be a long wait if that’s what you’re looking for. But the responsible thing to do right now is to buy from brands that are moving in the right direction.
‘Surely it’s not beyond the realms of human wit to come up with a better system’ Bill Nighy recently wrote in his article ‘Hope for Myanmar: From Sweatshop to High Street’, and that’s exactly it: We created it, so we can change it.
And we will.
Ethical and Sustainable Fashion mean Responsible Fashion. And Responsible Fashion means taking responsibility to change.
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This post was also published on The Huffington Post