The entirely unexpected globe-shifting events of the past 18months 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
However, try as some might, the harmful impacts fashion and other industries have on the planet can no longer be ig-nored and the time to act is yesterday. It’s the runner-up formost damaging, only trailing behind oil. It’s unsurprising given that each step of fashion from production and transportation through to eventual destruction has an impact on the planet:accounting for 20% of global wastewater, 10% of carbon emissions, and with a terrifying 10,000 items ending up in land fill every 5 minutes, a 200-year lifespan before full decomposition.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 mate-rials, 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 plead-ing 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 Thun-berg. 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 de-signers 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, experiment-ing 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 hasbeen in dire need of to shake off its stale reputation. In short, it’snot sustainable clothing, instead it’s clothing that is sustainable.
Hailing from Sweden to Australia and London to Paris, thishandful of names – Freyja Newsome, Miles George Daniel, Mi-kaela Mårtensson, Jules Bramley, Alice Potts, Hodakova, Ste-ven Chevallier, and Olivia Rubens – are united in their disinterestin buzzwords, jargon, and claims of alleged aid in the struggle.Angry, they want results, instead of blame-shifting and the blindeye that is being turned to issues that impact us all – equippedwith the statistics to back up their desire for a future. “The newgeneration of upcoming designers is one for forward thinkers;we are breaking many rules of what’s expected and how to ex-pect it. It’s a very dynamic place to be right now,” says Daniel.
They’re equally reflective of their own contribution, the innateimpact of prescribing to the wasteful and damaging fashion in-dustry of today. But, just as there is no perfect designer, there isno perfect way to be sustainable. “There are many ways fashioncould be made more responsible, but I see the most innova-tion in terms of sustainability coming from fashion students,”asserts Mårtensson. “It should be everyone’s responsibility tosome degree, but it’s the big companies and politicians thathave the power to actually make a big impact and change.
While leading by example is undoubtedly important, theyoung creatives share a plea for fashion to slow down andfor major houses to reduce the number of collections pre-sented annually. Instead, they suggest imitating their ap-proach to move away from trend-driven ideals and towardsintentionally small collections. “Avoiding overproductionand waste and using deadstock materials is instinctual forme and should be for all brands big or small,” expressesBramley. “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 art-ists do), they would have more time to focus on making some-thing more exciting and less wasteful, as well as allowing themmore time to research and use more sustainable processes,”echoes Newsome. It’s a persuasive argument, leaving you toponder why, to some, pounds and profit outweigh the planet.
“The fashion system can be very conservative and hard tochange, so radical change doesn’t often happen,” Mårtenssonconcludes as we teeter at a crucial tipping point; the crossroadswe stand out stretching out to two very different potential futures.
For now, we can only hope the powers that be choose the rightpath, listening to the urgent voices of both the experts and anentire generation of concerned youth. It’s indisputably a chal-lenge, one this fearless cohort are ready to tackle, with the in-tent, education, and action to make a change before it’s toolate. We are unstoppable, a better world is possible!