Failure inspires future fashion was a talk given by Sophie Mather at TEDxBristol last year. I have the privilege of knowing Sophie and when I see her I ask “how I can make my fashion choices more sustainable?”. Sophie begins to answer the question “is it ok to like pretty things?”, and her answer is yes, in fact she goes further than that. The reason I love her approach is because although she has recognised the problem she looks for solutions, and in finding them creates better products than before.
Sophie’s TedXBristol talk:
As Sophie’s talk lays-out a big part of the ethics of fashion is environmental sustainability. Making clothes (and wasting them) has a huge impact on our environment. The thing to know is that our clothes all go through a process before they land on our backs:
- Raw material is harvested;
- Fabrics are created;
- Garments are created;
- Garments are sold;
- Garments are used;
- Garments are disposed of.
Each of these stages creates impact and uses processes that aren’t sustainable, the major problems are:
- Water: water is used in the preparation of garments e.g. dying/washing and for growing cotton. This often happens in places where clean water is scarce, but for financial and trade reasons (or just as an oversight) the water is used for the creation of textile products instead of for the population. The creation of just 8 T-shirts per person at TEDxBristol (1000 people) uses enough water to fill the Colston Hall, that is just for the cotton growing. I have a bit of a lump in my throat as I realise that I have far more than 8 T-shirts.
- Non-sustainable energy: transport and creation of garments uses non-renewable fuels (oil, diesel, electricity). We all know that fossil fuels are running out, or becoming harder to come by and as they continue to run out the cost of products will go up, unless other sources of energy are utilised.
- Chemistry: toxic chemicals are used to make clothes. The Greenpeace report “Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch Up” found that we are all wearing clothes which contain hazardous levels of chemicals, including azo dyes that can release cancer-causing amines. Hazardous chemicals not only end up in our clothes but in the waterways.
- Emission of carbon and other pollutants: Sophie speaks of not being able to go running because of the high levels of pollution caused by the pollution levels in Hong Kong due to emissions from factories. Carbon is emitted all along the supply chain.
- Waste: The video shows just how much textile waste goes into landfill every minute! I will talk about this more in the next blog.
The future, according to Sophie is not just sustainable but also better. As the previous innovation leader for Nike in Asia, innovation plays a large part in Sophie’s work. She has shown me that sustainable fashion doesn’t have to be ugly fashion. There are options for the consumer that not only impact less on the environment but that are also a better product. The good news is, all we have to do to reduce our carbon, water and chemical footprint is to be informed and chose wisely, because brands are becoming more environmentally aware.
Water: Sophie highlights this issue of water use and potential solutions in her video. There are new dyeing processes that use supercritical carbon dioxide (my chemistry PhD suddenly comes flooding back!). There are now some products on the market that have been developed without using water. This short video is from adidas who are now manufacturing using the “drydye” process:
Chemicals: Following the Greenpeace report A number of brands have “detoxed”, reducing the amount of hazardous chemicals used to create their products, and there are eco-ranges in a number of high-street stores. There are still hazardous chemicals used in making clothes, but the industry has recognised the issues. The Centre for Sustainable Fashion works with brands on all the issues discussed in this blog. They also have a blog that looks at all aspects of sustainable fashion and help brands work towards more innovative solutions.
Energy and Carbon Emissions: I have discovered Rapanui Clothing, who are based on the Isle of White and are huge supporters of eco-fashion. Their website has a lot of information about the impact of the clothing industry and what they are doing to reduce that impact, such as:
- They use ethically accredited factories that are powered by wind and solar energy. Massively reducing the carbon footprint and the use of non-renewable energy sources.
- They have a cool traceability tool, which helps you to see where their clothes come from. Their supply chain diagram also helps to understand how clothes are made.
- They even use camels to transport their cotton. How awesome is that!
Rapanui are championing the use of eco-labelling and I think that it would make is much easier for us to make wise purchasing choices.
Let me know in the comments if you know of any other eco-brands that are creating such great products and don’t forget to read the other blogs in this short series which provide other sources of information on how you can reduce the impact of what you wear.