Sustainable Fashion by Katherine Ormerod
I don’t have to cast my mind back far through the annals of my fashion career to remember a time when the words ‘sustainable fashion’ were received with dramatic eye rolls. During my decade working in fashion magazines, even if a brand had great ethical credentials, that would never be the line I’d pitch to my editors. When cult L.A. label Reformation, perhaps one of the most important catalysts in the hipsterfication of sustainable fashion emerged, the fact that its transparent supply chain and commitment to using dead stock to make its much-imitated backless dresses were central to the brand’s values was waaaay down on the list to justify coverage. Back in 2014, sustainable meant hessian. It meant art teacher with a pasta necklace. It meant Falmouth or Barcelona and it meant you probably needed dreadlocks. It was all very About a Boy.
Luckily for us all, things have changed. Livia Firth’s Green Carpet Challenge which she started back in 2010, gathered steam by the middle of the decade and started to bring A-listers together with brands who were doing sustainability with polish. The press generated by celebrities wearing gowns which were ‘fashioned within the remit of environmental and social justice,’ moved the needle. After 2013’s devastating garment Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh which killed 1,134 workers and a slew of potent and emotive documentaries, consumers became increasingly aware of the impact of their little retail pick me ups. Then came Greta, keep cups, reusable nappies, lab-grown diamonds, tree planting, carbon offsetting – the Zeitgeist shifted and sustainability quickly became less-eye-rolly. Instead, it became a status symbol.
Yes, we’ve gone through a period of greenwashing and seen the bastardisation of the term sustainability. Yes, we’ve tired of seeing multimillion dollar even faster fashion brands pay lip service to the shift in values with organic cotton ‘capsules.’ Shoppers have quite rightly, become cynical. But we’ve also become educated in the principles of the circular economy. We’ve changed our attitudes to clothing ownership through rental platforms and we’ve embraced brands who have either made dramatic shifts in their production structures or have started from scratch with an intention of making fashion in a better way.
As an influencer, I am acutely aware of the politics of sustainability. If I only worked with fully sustainable brands on my channels, I wouldn’t make a living. But I always check a brand’s rating on an app which lets you search the ethical and environmental credentials of thousands of labels often turning down a project if I feel the standards aren’t right. I am happy to support sustainable labels, though I am thorough with the questions I ask, I definitely don’t want to promote a so-called green brand if they aren’t actually practicing what they preach.
As for where our industry will go in the future, to me it seems there will be a clear delineation between those who care and those that don’t. Let’s not fool ourselves; there are still plenty of shoppers who are not in the financial position to change their spending habits, or else simply are not too fussed. Even in the midst of gen-z’s supposed planet-centric revolution, twenty somethings are buying more low price dresses than ever before. We are now currently in the midst of a crisis which I believe will only serve to polarise attitudes. For those squeezed by the impending recession, sustainability will be seen as even more of a choice for the rich, while those still in fiscal buoyancy may redouble their efforts to shift their perspective on shopping. Whether the Coronavirus pandemic makes you more or less likely to care about others depends very much on your experience of it, but it’s something that any fashion brand needs to be transparent about. It’s not just journalists who will be probing a brand’s practices in 2020, for those that do care, disingenuity will lose even the most loyal of customers.