Fixing fashion?

Sustainable fashion is the only option for the future. Consumers are ready for it - so why is the industry slowing down its efforts?


Glamour and sustainable fashion are not natural bedfellows. 

But one look at Deborah Milner's stunning 'ecouture' gowns dispels any preconceptions that 'going green' means compromising style. 

 In 2005, the celebrated designer began a journey towards ethical fashion by creating her acclaimed, Ecoture™ collection that laid the sustainable ethos behind her business and called for a spotlight on the issue of sustainability and the fashion industry at a time where this conversation had little to no attention.

Beautiful pieces

Continuing her commitment to her ethos that fashion 'shouldn't cost the earth', Milner went on to establish her own couture label, Deborah Milner using natural dyes, sustainable products and working with experts and manufacturers that were equally committed to bringing her creations to life with as little environmental impact as possible.

Founding her brand in the early noughties at a time where sustainable fashion was synonymous with oatmeal coloured clothing and hemp trousers, Milner was driven to pave the way through her creations to show the possibilities of creating beautiful pieces that still respected the planet.   

Fast forward a decade later, and sustainable fashion is at the forefront of conversations. This year, we saw February's London Fashion Week make sustainability a central focus for its shows

Designers such as Mother of Pearl partnered with the likes of BBC Earth and sustainable and ethical designer, Bethany Williams - the second recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design, an award recognising community, talent, values and sustainability practices. 

Sustainabile fashion is more accessible than ever before, no matter your budget. It spans beyond the likes of designers at LFW and Milner's couture dresses with a growing number of sustainable fashion brands for all budgets. From stores such as Lowie and Keep Boutique to charity shops upping their game and waving the pre-loved flag, consumers, have never been so spoilt for choice. 

Conscious consumer

The ubiqituy aligns with increasing consumer demand for ethical clothing. The recentPulse of the Fashion Industry 2019 Update report highlighted that 75 percent of consumers believed sustainability was either ‘extremely’ or ‘very important’ to them.

Over 33 percent of shoppers revealed they switched brands to support those that back environmental change. What's more: 50 percent of consumers reported their intention to switch brands in favour of those embracing eco-friendly practises.

The report is further proof that people are thinking twice about what they buy – and whether they even need to buy anything at all.

We have therefore firmly entered the age of the conscious consumer spurred on by the well-publicised concerns for the planet's future and the growing problem of waste and environmental degradation.

More citizens of the earth are questioning how things are produced and how they affect the world's ecosystem. 

Foundational practice

With such consumer thirst, it is disconcerting that recent stats from the report also shows that the global fashion sector, despite customer demand and the positive 'green' publicity praising sustainable clothes - the industry is cutting down on sustainability efforts. 

The report sights the 'Pulse Index scorecard' that evaluates fashion companies sustainability goals and implementation efforts. Results from the 2019 research revealed that while the fashion industry increased its overall score to six points in 2017, in 2018, that score decreased to only four points. 

As the third most polluting sector in the world, this cannot be ignored. Our much loved essential wardrobe staple, denim jeans, using 2,000 litres of water to make just one pair. 

The fashion industry has no option but to change and ensure this index does not decrease any further. 

The report also highlights the need for the fashion industry to understand sustainability as something they can no longer 'opt-in' or 'out' of but as the only way. Sustainable fashion is not a trend to highjack but a practice that should be at the foundation of any brand. 

Revolving wardrobe

Despite this revelation, I've got to remain optimistic. Fortunately through my work as a techpreneur and environmentalist, I'm helping consumers connect with businesses that share their ethical values.

Through my own research and community building, I've seen a growing number of inspiring consumer trends that give me hope daily.

From buying clothes made in the UK to renting clothes, choosing vintage and buying from the growing number of ethical and sustainable brands that have come to the market, individuals – and not brands - are slowly helping to turn the dial on the third most polluting industry in the world.

The smart companies are listening and aligning their values with the consumers – and turning a profit as well. Earlier this year the firm Rent the Runway, an online platform where people rent rather than buy their clothes, was valued at £1 billion.

There are numerous examples of other industry disrupting ideas popping up in London, and across the UK such an East London based CoGo listed, Wear the Walk a clothing rental subscription service that allows you access to an endless revolving wardrobe

Fast fashion 

This move away from the throwaway fast-fashion industry is also reflected by the increase in brands advertising the durability of their products and offering 'free repairs' that are challenging consumer's disposable relationship with clothing. 

There are even several brands starting to use waste products as an input into their accessories and garments they make, creating a more 'circular' fashion industry. A good example is Elvis & Kresse, which sells bags made of recycled fire hoses that don't compromise on design. 

Then we've got innovators using technology to promote sustainability and to cut cost along the way, such as the firm Lark and Barry, which grows affordable diamonds and other precious stones in a lab; and Unmade, which uses cloud software to manufacture beautiful clothes without any surplus in the supply chain. 

Meanwhile, the UK government is reviewing the new report, Fixing fashion, published by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), which sets world leading policy recommendations to ensure fashion retailers take responsibility for the waste they create and to improve human rights in the sector.

Taking action

Even if it's not as fast as the industry they're aiming to disrupt, the government is trying to take action. We need to praise their efforts and keep putting pressure on them to do more.

The same goes for consumers and forward-thinking brands that are changing their attitudes towards polluting throwaway fashion. This is good for people, the planet and it looks set to be good for business too.  

Now we just need more fashion brands to step up and start delivering more sustainable options – not less.

As they say - there's no Planet B.  

 This Author 

Ben Gleisner is chief executive of the CoGo, which makes ethical living easy by connecting businesses with consumers that match their environmental and social values.