Can Fashion be Sustainable?

Norwich Millennium Library - Saturday, 8th February 2019.

Today was the Makers Festival in Norwich where many fashion lovers came together to share their passion for clothes and to discuss the state of the fashion industry as we know it.

The panel discussion was lead by Kate Cooper, the founder of We Wear The Trousers, a cause to educate and inform people about slow fashion through activism. The main focus and point of conversation for the event was: 'Can fashion be sustainable?'. Kate invited a variety of different experts in the ethical fashion sector based in Norwich.

The experts included: Kerry Curl, Marie Oaks, Libby Mata Harii and Ilona Brinton. All ladies made some very interesting points about wether fashion can be ethical and how we, as consumers of fashion, achieve this goal.

Kerry Curl, award winning fashion photographer, made a great point that the word sustainable, not just within the fashion industry, has become a buzzword; it's overused and lost it's meaning. I couldn't help nodding my head to this statement. She is totally right, many brands and influencers, including the media, have used the word sustainable so much that it's sort of become this word we just throw around. Libby actually expanded on this point and said that some brands are using this word to describe their practices and products to seem responsible but actually most of the time they are not. When talking about organic materials, she says there is a process and checklist for something to be organic. The word sustainable does not have a checklist or verification, so people and brands are just using it to seem green. Which takes me to the other part of the discussion. Green-washing.

Ilona Brinton brought up the subject of green-washing and how companies are using this to create more profit. If your unsure of what this is, green-washing is simply the term used for when a company uses wording like, sustainable, green, ethical, fair etc. to make them seem like a responsible company when for some it is not the case. Brands that do this, make it harder for the industry to become legitimately ethical as the everyday person does believe this and buys the products under the impression it is made ethically. This is of course an immoral form of practice, but in a world where people are becoming more aware of the climate crisis, sadly it works.

This is where Marie's belief comes in - education is powerful. She believes that the fashion industry can become sustainable, but we need to make change, starting with the roots. One of the most effective ways of making a change is to educate and inform people. Once a person knows the true workings of an industry, most will change their habits, others will see, be inspired, and do the same. therefore, we have a domino effect - lead by example. I can safely say this worked on me. After coming across the documentary, The True Cost, I was shocked and changed my habits on the spot and since have researched further and looked for inspiration on how I can change my habits.

Another point brought up in the discussion is one I have been trying to get my head around lately. Can fashion be sustainable in a capitalist society? The trouble with this industry is the fact that it's run on supply and demand. We are churning out masses of clothing, quickly and cheaply because of the demand, so can we keep to this model and be sustainable? I personally do not think we can, even if the materials we use are all organic that is still using up resources. We are still using up energy. This is a topic I would like to research more and write a separate post for as I think it's so extensive.

The trouble with this topic is that, because it's not black and white, there's no single moral and straight forward answer, it becomes extremely hard to solve. Maybe there isn't an answer yet but just predictions. That's why I think we just need to act now and do the absolute best we can.

I feel so inspired coming out of this discussion. It has definitely pushed me to do a lot more and to research deeper into wether what we are doing already is making a big enough change, or is there something else we need to be doing? Activism is something I am looking to get involved in as well, as I said before, education is powerful, and activism is a great way of doing this.


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