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From trend to timeless

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Teddy coats, boiler suits, and coloured tartan may or may not be in style next winter, but that’s always been the beauty of the fashion industry. With each passing season, we anticipate the industry’s next big moves – exciting emergences of patterns and textures, the must-have pieces and hottest colour palettes of the season. And then, we watch these trends fade – some most definitely for the best (so long, biker shorts from S/S’19).

There is one trend in particular that seems to ebb and flow, season after season – sustainability. New reports indicate that sustainability efforts, while up in 2017, made a steady decline to 4 fewer points in 2018 on The Pulse Index, a scoring system created by Global Fashion Agenda and Sustainable Apparel Coalition in partnership with The Boston Consulting Group.

Can the fashion industry be sustainable?

With the amount of industry buzz and badass activists like Greta Thunberg in the media spotlight, educating all of us about the dangers of deforestation, water contamination, shortages and the effects of big business farming, we look at why sustainability can’t completely enter a state of permanency.

One of the biggest reasons, unfortunately (and inevitably), is money. It may not be a surprise that sourcing fabrics and textiles organically, safely and sustainably comes at a much higher cost. Supporting the people behind the production process is also no exception. Take men and women's fashion brand Outerknown, they will only partner with production and supply-chain resources who are accredited by The Fair Labor Association. While the accreditations certainly help support the cause, they do require higher investments.

The lead-time for a green-friendly manufacturing process is another contributor to hesitation. Bigger, more commercially viable organisations leveraged mass production models when environmental consciousness wasn’t at an all-time high. Adding lead-times and overhauling their standards could cost them millions. But new, niche and emerging brands are setting out to change the sustainability landscape in fashion.

What fashion brands are sustainable?

Activewear brand, Vyayama, recently devoted an entire year to creating custom, sustainable fabrics that met their standards of satisfaction and quality. Everlane, a “timeless pieces” fashion brand, continues to only partner with factories that achieve a 90% or higher competency score for ethical production, resources, and textiles.

So, when it comes to the guiltiest of fashion- waste contributors, (I’m looking at you, Zara and H&M), although these mega houses are also actively committing to sustainability programs and organisational goals, their approaches are less than impressive.

Zara, who published sustainability plans for the first time in the summer of 2019, is committing to eliminate hazardous chemicals in their supply chain, incorporate on-site donation bins, and end the use of fabrics that endanger forests in 2020. But considering Zara produces 500 new designs each week, these attempts are not even close to what they could be doing. But is it a step in the right direction? Sure.

H&M take their efforts just slightly one step further. They’ll not only take donations from your old H&M pieces, but clothing from any brand. H&M will then reward you with a 15% discount on a future purchase for participating in their program. While positioned as a charitable act that benefits the consumer, this process ultimately benefits the company; the fabrics from donated garments are eventually deconstructed and cleaned for use in future production.

There are high street shops that do deserve credit (albeit only slightly more) for their commendable efforts. Uniqlo began charging for shopping bags in 2019 in an effort to incentivise customers to purchase recyclable, reusable totes. They also adopted in-store donation bins and will use them to eventually give back clothing to homeless communities. Giving back? How On-trend.

How to support sustainable fashion

So, with all of this in mind, it begs the question: what’s the solution? Whether you’re an emerging brand setting new precedents or a monster-sized retailer taking baby steps because your PR team is getting crushed. All brands need to be doing their part and investing in the long haul through strategies that truly prioritize sustainability within their business models, rather than superficial or potentially self-serving initiatives.

And for those of us who are fast-fashion-loving consumers, we have to do better too. How many times do we make unnecessary, frivolous purchases just for the sake of having a new outfit for an occasion?

Renting programs like those offered by Rent the Runway, Nuuly, New York and Company Closet, Gwynnie Bee, Tulerie, (just to name a few) offer a fairly accessible solution for those who still want to partake in evolving trends.

Most importantly, people in power, (at the top of the food chain in the fashion industry and beyond) need to take sustainability seriously and establish governance for meeting industry standards. We should also hold government officials accountable for avoiding action, especially ones who try silencing or belittling activists who are trying to make a difference. According to The EPA, 9% of our country’s waste is attributed to The Fashion Industry! And there isn’t a tweet in this universe that can prove otherwise.

It may be no easy feat, but maybe going green doesn’t have to be so scary and can eventually be accepted as the timeless, unquestionable classic we so desperately need.

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