Sustainable Fashion - Why Bother?*

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When you think fashion, what images spring to mind? Glitz and glamour? Fame and fortune? Stunning models posing in front of the camera, or strutting down the catwalk in a designer's latest creation? Whichever glittering image pops into your head, it's probably not the one I'm going to be talking to you about today. I'm going to be telling you all about the dark side of the fashion industry, where exploitation, poverty, and environmental desolation are rampant. Essentially, the side of your shopping basket that the clothing manufacturers don't want you to see. Get ready, because you might be in for a shock!

Did you know that the fashion industry is second only to the oil industry as the most polluting commercial enterprise on the planet? Even your innocent-looking white cotton tshirt is guilty. Cotton production requires so much water that its manufacture in countries such as Uzbekistan is causing rivers to dry up. This has had a truly devastating impact on the surrounding environment: The fisheries of the Aral Sea, reliant on the rivers sucked dry by the cotton, are no longer able to function, leaving communities decimated. Dust from the dry river beds has created a public health crisis and seasons in the area have become more extreme. Sadly, this isn't an isolated case. Across the globe, in countries such as Bangladesh, India, China and the Philippines, the picture from Uzbekistan is repeated. Some of you will know that recently, I turned vegetarian, a decision made partly due to the enormously detrimental impact that animal agriculture has on the environment. Learning that the fashion industry is just as bad, if not worse, than meat production has been a real eye-opener for me, and has really made me think twice about what I'm putting into my shopping basket.

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The impact of cheap clothing manufacture isn't just felt by the environment, but by the people who are employed in developing countries to make the clothes. This really hit home to me recently, when I watched The True Cost documentary on Netflix. The 2013 collapse of the Savar garment factory in Bangladesh, killing over 1,000 workers and injuring thousands more, hit the headlines in a big way, raising the issue of unsafe working conditions. But the realisation that this was by no means the only incident of this nature to occur in clothing factories was a bitter pill for me to swallow. Learning that starving families were being exploited in these sweatshops, earning the equivalent of just 38 euros a month, made me sit and cry as I watched the documentary. This is slave labour, and these poor people are giving their lives for a measly Primark tshirt. It just breaks my heart.

However, despite the rather melancholic start to this post, it's not all doom and gloom in the fashion world! There are some amazing brands and companies who are really trying to make positive changes. I've teamed up with the guys at Hawthorn, one of the UK's leading sustainable clothing manufacturers with a real commitment to ethical fashion, to get an insider's view from a company who are reforming the industry from within. I was lucky enough to be able to put some questions to Tom Lovelace, Hawthorn's Founder and Creative Chief Officer.

Why did you get into the business of sustainable fashion? Why is the issue so important to you?

Hawthorn specialises in manufacturing collections for small brands and emerging designers. A couple of years ago we started to notice that we were getting more and more enquiries from brands who wanted to use sustainable fabrics like organic cotton, but we weren’t able to use such materials at the time, so we set about changing this. Following some research, we started to realise the damage that the fashion industry actually causes the environment. We realised that if we could start offering organic cotton as an alternative for every customer, we would make a difference in the industry. I’ve never been a particularly passionate “eco warrior”, however I can appreciate that as a race, humans are damaging this planet every day and if we can do something via Hawthorn to help change that, it is something to be proud of.

Some people may say that they wouldn't bother shopping sustainably because one person can't really make much of a difference. How would you respond to this?

It is true that one person buying an organic cotton item over a traditionally farmed item would make a negligible difference to the environment, but that’s not the point. We need to implement an industry-wide change to make a real difference, and the first part of that is to get more information out to the public highlighting the issue. If we can start to educate people on the damage that fast fashion is doing to the planet, we can begin to change the shopping habits of not just one person, but of a great number. If you’re that person thinking “one person can’t really make much of a difference”, I would suggest changing your thinking to “I’m doing my bit to make a positive change”.

How do you incorporate your sustainable ethos into other parts of your business?

One way that we incorporate our sustainable ethos throughout our business is through economical fabric usage. When cutting panels for an item we use software to help plan how the individual pieces which make a garment will be cut from the roll of fabric, minimising wastage. We also reduce environmental impact through the transportation process. By reducing the weight and size of shipments by packing economically and using less packaging, we reduce the carbon emissions used to transport the garments. When you consider that we ship hundreds of thousands of garments every year, this seemingly small change makes a big difference overall.

Is there a way to recycle fabrics or garments in order to give them a second life?

Most certainly! The main method is to recycle them via a charity donation, for example donating them to people living in third world countries or by giving them to your local charity shop. Recycling in the more traditional sense is also possible, with some recycling centres accepting old clothing which they break down and sell on to industries for use as padding in different types of chairs, or even for use in blankets and cloths for cleaning. Recycling should be encouraged in everything we do. A lot of people don’t realise that it’s very simple to put your old clothing to such good use.

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Sustainability is a factor that most of us take account of in some aspect of our lives. For example, you probably separate your rubbish into landfill and recycling. You might also recycle your old mobile phone. You may even have a compost bin in your garden. So why not adopt this approach when it comes to fashion? If we keep talking about the issues surrounding fast fashion and sustainable shopping, high street brands will listen too. Some have even begun already! H&M has launched a Conscious line, founded on seven sustainability and ethical commitments, and by 2018, they've pledged to pay 850,000 textile workers a living wage. The message of this post is as follows: Let's keep talking about sustainable fashion, using our commerical power to make a real and lasting change. Who's with me?

Is sustainability something that you take into account when shopping? Why / why not? Please comment below and join the discussion!

Until next time,

A x

*This is a collaborative post with Hawthorn International
© Abbey Louisa Rose. Design by Fearne.