It’s difficult to comprehend how clothes end up in our closets when we buy them. When it comes to sustainable garments, it’s even more complex. At the heart of sustainable fashion is traceability and transparency; brands taking full responsibility of their garments whilst reassuring consumers that their purchases are guilt-free.
Fashion for Good is an organisation that is at the epicentre of transforming the fashion industry. They want to accelerate the industry away from ‘take-make-waste’ and towards a circular economy. Their Amsterdam museum is the world’s first interactive sustainable museum, and their exhibitions showcase the complexity of creating sustainable clothing.
Here, I take a look at sustainable supply chains with the aid of Fashion for Good’s ‘A Cut Above’ exhibition, which takes a look at how we can reimagine how our clothes are designed, made, and worn.
When designing a sustainable garment, you need to be detached from trends. Instead, durable, and zero-waste pattern techniques take its place. Research shows that 15% of textiles end up on the cutting room floor during the design process. Zero-waste design means creating a garment with no waste. This involves designing flat-piece fabrics that fit together like a jigsaw.
Consumer demands for more sustainably sourced clothing has led brands to rethink their designing and sourcing process. In Mckinsey’s analysis of the key apparel sourcing topics, materials, resource efficiency, and transparency came top. Resource efficiency means using materials that will have a minimal impact on the environment. For example, the fashion industry is the world’s third largest user of water and the industry is having to come up with new ways to minimise their use of this finite source.
Organic cotton uses 80% rainwater and no harmful chemicals. This means that any effluent water can be reused, and the overall water usage is decreased greatly. Fashion for Good launched a two-year project with Kering and PVH Corp to lead innovative cotton-farming technology:
Fashion for Good Materra’s approach to cotton farming combines precision agriculture and controlled environments to create radically resource-efficient cotton farms. Efficient irrigation, preventing excess water loss, delivers agricultural inputs directly to the plant’s root system where they can be efficiently absorbed and is pesticide-free, using biological pest control to manage pest outbreaks. Farms are equipped with a network of smart sensors to track data in real-time enabling enhanced environmental and social assurance.
Sustainable garment production means the raw materials are made into the finished product by fairly paid workers and/or artisans. The Victoria and Albert Museum’s Fashioned from Nature exhibition highlighted that 70% of businesses suspected that slavery was taking place in their supply chains. Fashion Revolution’s ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ campaign is still used in the movement, with more and more consumers asking this extremely important question before purchasing fast fashion.
Transparency plays a big part in garment production. Being able to trace back your garment, understanding and appreciating the craft that went into it is key. It gives these workers an identity, when previously they were simply attached to the garment in the form of ‘Made in’ labels. Many sustainable brands produce transparency reports annually to showcase the equality within their supply chain.
In fast fashion, garment production results in textile waste and non-renewable energy usage. However, sustainable fashion aims to minimise the energy and the waste through innovative methods. One particular method is 3D seamless knitting. This technology uses solar energy to create whole garments without seams. This reduces the labour of traditional sewing methods whilst also producing less waste.
One of Fashion for Good’s ‘A Cut Above’ exhibition’s theme brands is Unspun. Their body scanning technology creates the perfect pair of jeans for you with no waste or chemicals. You can use your phone to scan your body and Unspun does the rest. This innovative technology gives us a glimpse into the future of sustainable fashion and the limitless possibilities.
Transportation of garments produces a large amount of carbon emissions. Sustainability needs to rethink how clothes are making their way into shops or homes. This process is a complex one as it is extremely difficult to create a carbon-free emission distribution.
Carbon offsetting are becoming increasingly popular within the sustainable fashion industry. This technique involves calculating the emissions generated through the distribution process (shipping, delivery) and offsetting that equivalent amount by schemes which remove carbon from the atmosphere (tree planting). This is a useful tool to use; however, it is not a solution. Sustainable fashion aims to reduce carbon emissions at every stage, so when it comes to unavoidable emissions like delivery, it is a helpful alternative.
The final stage is in the hands of the consumer. The journey the garment has taken to get into your closet is an extensive one. As a consumer there are many ways to ensure that you get the most out of your garments.
Throwaway culture is rife within society; we seem to want more and more when we have enough. When buying sustainable fashion, it’s important to keep the garment for as long as you will wear it. Once the piece becomes worn or you no longer want it, see if you can upcycle or repurpose it. Share the item with family or friends, or sell it on if it it’s still wearable. If not, there are retail take-back and recycling programs. These ensure that your garment is reintroduced into the fashion economy and not destined for landfill. These techniques are working towards a circular economy, one that Fashion for Good is fighting for.
Consuming fashion doesn’t always have to be physical. Fashion for Good innovator, The Fabricant, is a digital fashion house that creates digital garments for virtual fashion shows. The Fabricant is committed to revolutionising the industry through its digital models:
Among our founding principles is the belief that fashion should waste nothing but data and exploit nothing but imagination. Through our work we harness the power of the digital realm to build and inspiring and collaborative fashion future that operated beyond physical boundaries.
Sustainable fashion has come leaps and bounds over recent years but there is still a long way to go. The brands showcased at ‘A Cut Above’ show just how innovative the industry is, with technology that is constantly improving and allowing us to exceed any expectation we previously had. Fashion for Good convene for change through their innovation programmes and interactive exhibitions. Through cohesion, the industry can change for the better.
*Header image by Sue Doeksen
+ Words: Shaelei Parmar, Luxiders Magazine Contributor
Shaelei Parmar is a Fashion and Sustainability Blogger. She recently graduated with a degree in English and Drama and is beginning her journey as a writer and sustainable consumer. She has her own Blog (shaestyles.blog).
Connect with her on Instagram @shaelei_