The entirely unexpected globe-shifting events of the past 18 months brought with them a small glimmer of a silver lining, slowing fashion down a fraction and forcing the industry to briefly reckon with its faults – shortly before the breakneck speed we’ve been accustomed to snapped us back to the dreaded ‘new normal’.
Before falling into total despair, fashion is inching towards a more sustainable future, tentative as steps may be. Burberry, Gucci, and Balenciaga are among luxury fashion houses pledging to reduce their impacts on emissions, no longer use fur, and using sustainable and upcycled materials, with outlined targets meant to hold them to account.
It’s overwhelming and at times maddening, when you consider that simultaneously while these changes are being rolled out and we’re all busy pointing fingers on an individual level about recycling responsibilities and the use of plastic straws, world leaders from countries including Russia, Brazil, and China fail to make an appearance at this year’s vital climate conference: COP26. Meanwhile, scientists and environmental experts alike are pleading for us to listen and act, warning us of the imminent danger on the horizon if major improvements aren’t immediately made.
Yet, despite little to no help from those in charge, young people are more emboldened than ever in tackling the almost impossible task of reversing climate change, their voices in chorus with the experts, seemingly being led into battle by Greta Thunberg. At just 18, she has immobilised more than 10 million protestors globally via her Fridays for Future movement with the mantra: “You are never too small to make a change.” – she’s an exemplary example of an entire generation that truly cares.
Similarly, on the front line of fashion, it’s a new wave of young designers who are leading the way, leaving the hesitant established brands behind and in grave need of catching up, quickly. As varied in their aesthetics are their processes: including zero waste collections, hand-dyeing using natural ingredients, experimenting with bioplastics, and breathing new life with upcycling and the use of secondhand garments. They infuse ‘eco’ fashion (almost an expletive nowadays) with a dynamism and flair that it has been in dire need of to shake off its stale reputation. In short, it’s not sustainable clothing, instead it’s clothing that is sustainable.
Hailing from Sweden to Australia and London to Paris, this handful of names – Freyja Newsome, Miles George Daniel, Mikaela Mårtensson, Jules Bramley, Alice Potts, Hodakova, Steven Chevallier, and Olivia Rubens – are united in their disinterest in buzzwords, jargon, and claims of alleged aid in the struggle. Angry, they want results, instead of blame-shifting and the blind eye that is being turned to issues that impact us all – equipped with the statistics to back up their desire for a future. “The new generation of upcoming designers is one for forward thinkers; we are breaking many rules of what’s expected and how to expect it. It’s a very dynamic place to be right now,” says Daniel.
They’re equally reflective of their own contribution, the innate impact of prescribing to the wasteful and damaging fashion industry of today. But, just as there is no perfect designer, there is no perfect way to be sustainable. “There are many ways fashion could be made more responsible, but I see the most innovation in terms of sustainability coming from fashion students,” asserts Mårtensson. “It should be everyone’s responsibility to some degree, but it’s the big companies and politicians that have the power to actually make a big impact and change.”
While leading by example is undoubtedly important, the young creatives share a plea for fashion to slow down and for major houses to reduce the number of collections presented annually. Instead, they suggest imitating their approach to move away from trend-driven ideals and towards intentionally small collections. “Avoiding overproduction and waste and using deadstock materials is instinctual for me and should be for all brands big or small,” expresses Bramley. “It shouldn’t be about trying to tick a certain box.”
“If designers worked on one really amazing collection a year (or less, only releasing work when they feel like, as many artists do), they would have more time to focus on making something more exciting and less wasteful, as well as allowing them more time to research and use more sustainable processes,” echoes Newsome. It’s a persuasive argument, leaving you to ponder why, to some, pounds and profit outweigh the planet.
“The fashion system can be very conservative and hard to change, so radical change doesn’t often happen,” Mårtensson concludes as we teeter at a crucial tipping point; the crossroads we stand out stretching out to two very different potential futures.
For now, we can only hope the powers that be choose the right path, listening to the urgent voices of both the experts and an entire generation of concerned youth. It’s indisputably a challenge, one this fearless cohort are ready to tackle, with the intent, education, and action to make a change before it’s too late. We are unstoppable, a better world is possible!
Freyja Newsome’s dark and moody aesthetic harkens back to simpler times, a humble medieval peasant-like glamour. Unsurprisingly, her creative processes are aligned, designed with a make-do attitude. “It derived from the need to use what I have around me already because I couldn’t afford to buy more, so I just used fabrics and yarns that I’d had for years, along with other bits and pieces I’d collection,” the Central Saint Martins graduate explains. “I also love using natural dyes and fucking around with fruit and kitchen spices to see what colour stuff will come out. It makes me feel like I’m making potions.”
Newsome’s experimental nature is more than apparent in the final creations, utilising a number of different sustainable practices from recycling leather and felt, upcycling motorcycle helmets that make wearers look like bygone astronauts, hand knitting and sewing, to a wealth of materials including feathers, foam, and wooden carved tokens. “Sustainability is about how everything is made and the attitudes you have towards your work and the processes, not just the materials used,” she asserts. “It’s not just macramé’d bits of old fabric and bashed plastic bottles turned into some hideous upcycled clothes.”
The designer’s simple wish for fashion is for it to slow down, for both the big players and consumers alike. “The biggest issue is the massive overproduction and waste of clothing manufactured every year,” she says. “If people actually took some time to consider what they were doing, they might have time to make something more precious and bespoke and less likely to be thrown away. Clothing is a privilege, they were made by humans who sacrificed their time to physically craft something and should be cherished as such.” @mvudslyde
MILES GEORGE DANIEL
“The new generation of upcoming designers is one for forward thinkers; we are breaking many rules of what’s expected and how to expect it – it’s a very dynamic place to be right now,” reflects London-based designer Miles George Daniel. Among the new wave of names implementing sustainable practices through his eponymous label, he pushed it to the limit for his graduate collection at Middlesex University – challenging himself to a ‘zero spend’ budget. “I don’t think anyone quite believed me or thought I could pull off something like that, but it just fuelled me to push even harder and create something spectacular out of nothing,” he shares.
The result is a maelstrom of materials – found, repurposed, or donated – infused with plenty of punk and a DIY spirit. Scraps of slashed knits, cardboard cut and coloured with scrawls of graffiti, and sprouting wires all work harmoniously – shrouding his models who look as if they’ve wandered a desolate post-apocalyptic wasteland. The resourcefulness doesn’t stop there, after documenting the collection, the designer unwrapped the pieces to be used again for future looks.
Unsatisfied with resting on his laurels, Daniel is continuing to evolve his sustainable practices at his label and reflect on his impact on the planet as a designer. “It’s been hard to implement, but I haven’t run into any problems,” he concludes. “As my business continues to grow and develop, I look forward to steady development of my design practices, questioning every aspect of my own creativity and individuality as I go. The whole industry should be paying more attention to the current scenes impacting us all right now, especially with sustainability; this is development for the future.”
Swedish designer Mikaela Mårtensson draws inspiration from the limitless potential of knitwear and crochet – crafting each unique piece herself. “I’m interested in making high quality garments and good work with my own hands,” she explains. “It’s important to really value the material, which led me to the concept of slow fashion and zero waste. I want to make clothes with greater value that will last a long time.”
Her oeuvre emerged at the Swedish School of Textiles, a collection comprising wispy dresses distressed ends trailing the floor in sea foam green or bright and bulbous traffic cone orange dresses overstitched to the nth degree – a homespun aesthetic made elegant with Mårtensson’s take on chainmail, painstakingly stitching individual washers into the thread. “I work carefully with my hands and produce a very small number of pieces, all my garments are unique and have an inherent value that comes from the handicraft and design,” she shares.
Echoing the sentiment shared by her sustainably minded peers, the designer urges that now is the time to act before it’s too late. “Sustainability has always been important, but we’re becoming more and more aware of the fact that time is running out and things need to change now and not later,” she concludes. “It should be everyone’s responsibility to some degree, but it’s the big companies and politicians that have the power to actually make a big impact and make a change. A couple of small independent fashion brands wont save the world.”