The Importance Of Sustainability In The Fashion Industry*

*This post is written in collaboration with Hawthorn*

Years ago I probably wouldn't have given much thought to sustainability in fashion. And yet ever since my nephews have arrived in the world I've become much more aware of the planet and how our actions have consequences. Fast fashion in particular leads a huge helping hand to environmental damage. The clothing industry is the largest world polluter, second only to the fossil fuel industry. As young children, my nephews are currently blissfully unaware of any environmental issues at hand or of global warming and yet it is indeed them that will be living with the result of our present day actions. It's a scary and sobering notion when you think about it. As such, I myself have made some changes in the way I live my life and in the brands I support because I believe we have a responsibility and the ability to bring about change. 

Fast Fashion 

It's a term we hear about every now and again and then often brush under the carpet. Out of sight, out of mind. But here are some of the harsh realities that go hand in hand with fast fashion. With fast changing consumer tastes, new catwalk trends every season and clever marketing, we are encouraged to splurge on the latest 'must-have' pieces on a regular basis whether we need them or not. Obviously it's nice to want and to be able to have new things, and it's nice to feel good in what we wear. But this isn't where the problem lies. The problem with fast fashion is that it's often classed as disposable and understandably so. Garments are made quickly to keep up with changing trends and to please consumer needs, but then they often fall apart and end up on one of many landfills, therefore impacting on the environment. Here's a scary fact for you thanks to Forbes, in the US, 13 trillion tons of clothes get sent to landfills where they'll sit for two hundred years leaving toxic chemicals and dyes to contaminate local soil and groundwater. 

Here's another fact for you. 75 million people are making our clothes with the majority earning less than $3 a day. $3 a day?? Would you work for that? As Forbes highlights in their article, fast fashion unfortunately traps a generation of young women into poverty. 80% of workers are women working in dangerous conditions and aren't being paid fairly. 

C02 emissions are expected to increase to nearly 2.8 billion tons per year by the time we hit 2030. Particular cotton producing countries such as China and India are already facing water shortages. The vibrant colours in our favourite garments are often achieved with the use of toxic chemicals. Textile dyeing is apparently the second largest polluter of clean water globally after agriculture. How many of us watched Blue Planet 2 and cried as the whale carried it's dead baby around for days?? I bet you didn't know that when we wash one of the fashion industry's most used fabrics in domestic washing machines, it sheds microfibres that add to the levels of plastic in our oceans. The guilty fabric?? Polyester. 

I could sit here all day and talk to you about the issues with fast fashion, about the social impacts, about poverty, about pesticides, about the impact on our own health as well as the environment, but there is so much information out there already. We just need to open our eyes and our minds to see it because education is key. 

Change is already on the horizon. Many celebrities have recently backed eco-friendly fashion brands and have put their faces to slow fashion campaigns. Many of my friends are already investing in vegan and cruelty free beauty brands. How long before they make a change in how they shop for their clothes? As a society I believe that we do care, it's just about educating ourselves and then making changes where we can.

But How Can We Make A Change?

There are some simple changes we can make to end fast fashion.

* Forgetting the environmental issues for a moment, the reality for us as consumers is that if we were to invest in fewer higher quality pieces, they'd last longer and we would save money in the long term. Investing in about thirty quality pieces means you can build a capsule wardrobe and you'll be able to mix and match items to produce several different looks. 

* You could donate unwanted garments to charity shops but unfortunately the reality is that most of these still end up on landfills. Instead you could learn to sew and up-cycle pieces to give them a new lease of life. 

* Get thrifty and buy second-hand. Not only will you be reducing your own clothing and carbon footprint but you'll be grabbing a bargain too.

* Do your own research. Change to buying sustainable or eco-friendly fashion. This will help to reduce the negative human impact on the environment and will also mean we're supporting working conditions of those who make our clothes.

* Wash your clothes less. 

* Educate your friends and family.

I had a quick chat with the lovely folk at Hawthorn who shared their own thoughts on the matters of fast fashion, the fashion industry and on sustainable practices.

In a world where climate change and sustainability is on the forefront of many minds, the fashion industry it seems is starting to take note. Dare I say change is happening? That said, although consumers may want to buy into eco and sustainable fashion, they also won't want to compromise on style. I spoke to Tom Lovelace from Hawthorn, a clothing manufacturer who is working hard to raise awareness of sustainable fashion to find out some more. 

Ignorance is bliss for many and often a consumer will prefer to turn a blind eye. How many consumers in reality go shopping thinking about ethical consideration or the planet? Do you think that it's the fashion industry's responsibility to ensure that all garments are made ethically and in a sustainable manner so that consumers can shop with complete peace of mind? If so, can you see this happening in the future? 

At the moment, the number of consumers who actually go out with sustainable fashion in mind is lower than we would like, and it's only through education and awareness, working with bloggers like yourself that we will be able to raise the profile of sustainability. In an ideal world, all garments would be made using sustainable fabrics, however of course, we don't live in an ideal world and there will always be a case for fabrics like Polyester being used in active wear or for sports clothing for example. We at Hawthorn think a realistic aim would be to make eco friendly fashion more of a priority for brands and manufacturers, ensuring that rather than being something which isn't thought about at all, it is a consideration at least. It is at that point that brands will realise that there are very few negatives to using sustainable fabrics and more positives than they would have first realised. Even brands which aren't outwardly “eco friendly” are brands that we would like to see using organic cotton in place of traditionally farmed cotton for example.

I've found often when I'm browsing for sustainable fashion that many garments look quite basic and dare I say, boring. A consumer will almost always plump for something pretty and attractive. Does sustainable fashion mean that we have a boring future ahead for our garments or do you think that more companies will get more innovative with designs? 

Of course, the main consideration of a consumer is usually style, and at Hawthorn we're seeing brands which are more style focused starting to use eco friendly fabrics in their garments. Sustainable fashion doesn't have to mean we have a boring future ahead at all. As brands begin to realise through increased awareness that sustainable versions of the fabrics they're already using are available freely, we want to make these as accessible as possible so that sustainable options can become the norm over all sub sections of the industry.

I've spoken to friends who say that when perusing a store they assume any 'sustainable' labels will come with a heftier price tag. Although this can be the case, it means that they're not giving the sustainable labels a chance as they're tarnishing them with the 'too costly' brush. Do you think if the term 'sustainable' was dropped that more people would buy eco-friendly clothes? 

At the moment, sustainable options do cost a little more, however this can only be combatted by increased awareness, and therefore increased demand, which will force manufacturers and brands to increase their supply. As with any industry there are economies of scale which have a great affect on price, so as more supply is required, costs will fall. The term sustainable shouldn't be dropped however, since this is key to helping the consumer realise that the items they're buying which are lasting longer and proving to be of a higher quality than other items they've bought in the past are also helping the environment. 

What is the long term mission or goal for Hawthorn? 

As a clothing manufacturer specialising in helping small start up brands, our mission is to help make sustainable clothing accessible to not just the large brands and high street chains, but to the masses also. With so many brands starting up in the UK alone every year, if we can capture that market and help to make a difference by offering sustainable options in place of traditionally farmed or “fast fashion” fabrics, we can help to make a really positive impact on the environment.

How do you incorporate sustainability into all aspects of your business?

Sustainability isn't just about the origin of the fabric, it's about being as eco friendly as possible with our materials and in the packaging of the goods we send to our customers. We ensure that we have as little wastage as possible from the fabrics we use, ensuring that we don't over purchase and then have a lot of fabric which is left over in the warehouse. We also package all of our bulk orders very economically to ensure that the least amount of space possible is used on the plane, which will burn less fuel and therefore have a lower carbon footprint as a result. Although this may seem insignificant, we ship thousands upon thousands of products a year, and all of these shipments add up.

To end, here is a fun quiz to see how eco-friendly you lovely lot are.

With thanks to Hawthorn for working with me on this piece. What are your own thoughts about sustainability in the fashion industry? 

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