7 Considerations For Sustainable Fashion Creation
I’ve had some emails since giving a zero waste fashion lecture back in early May. It would seem that people are in general becoming more and more aware of sustainable fashion.
I believe this is down in part to the reporting by the media of horrifying incidents such as Rana Plaza, the building collapse that happened in Bangladesh in 2013, where 1129 people lost their lives – many of them garment workers.
The 2015 movie ‘True Cost’ also highlighted the exploitation of garment workers within the fashion industry and the environmental costs of fast fashion.
But what does ‘sustainable fashion really mean?
Sustainable Fashion Definition
Let’s have a look at the definitions of the two words:
Sustainable – able to be maintained at a certain rate or level
Fashion – ‘A popular’ or ‘the latest fashion or style’
To me, sustainable fashion means consuming fashion in a way that is sustainable for the planet, and all life that inhabits it.
How Sustainable is the fashion Industry in 2017?
With the fashion industry being the second biggest polluting industry on the planet (second to oil) something needs to happen to slow down, and reverse, the effects of the fashion industry on our planet.
Lets look at 9 ways that we can be more sustainable when it comes to our fashion creation choices. (Yep, seems I can’t count after all!) 😉
1. Brand Transparency for Sustainable Fashion Creation
Nowadays a lot of people are influenced by a brand’s corporate responsibility. After Rana Plaza, brands were lobbied to be more transparent about their supply chain. By asking key questions of the brands, we can have a clearer idea of just how exploitative the brand is or is not.
5 Questions that should be asked are:
- Where are their garments manufactured?
- What is their supply chain like for that country?
- Do they have a history of paying fair wages to staff across the supply chain? And if not, why not?
- What will they do to ensure there is less exploitation of any worker in the fashion industry?
- Do they make any attempts to offset their ‘effect’ on the environment, such as carbon offsetting?
But how does this translate to fabrics and supplies that you and I use in our fashion creation?
For us, it is important to look at the fabric mills, and ask:
- Where in the world are they located?
- What are the conditions for workers in those mills?
- What about the early stages of fabric creation: farming (of cotton, silk worms etc), fibre treatment and the pollution ramifications, the yarn spinners.
In fairness there are less questions we need to ask of fabric manufacturers and suppliers, as there are less steps in the creation of fabric, than the creation of fashion. Yet these questions are still very important for anyone interested in being more considered with their own sustainable fashion creation.
2. Dyes, Chemicals + Water
Toxic dyes are used to add colour to fibres which are then woven into cloth. Bleach is used to make natural coloured cloth white. Other chemicals such as Trichloroethane (TCE) are used to treat synthetic fabrics before any dyeing takes place. (This information from the Ethical Fashion Forum highlights 10 Toxic Chemicals that we should be avoiding. )
Yet what happens next to these bleaches and dyes once the fabric has been treated? How are they disposed of? What water supplies are being contaminated by the disposal of these dyes, chemicals and bleaches, affecting water not just for consumption by human life, but animal and plant life too.
Limits To Freshwater
It is estimated that 1.5 billion cubic metres of freshwater is used each year by factories and textiles mills, mostly located in the developing world. Bearing in mind that of all the water on Earth, only 2.5% of it is classified as freshwater, with only 0.3% being accessible to humans.
This link will take you to a page on the USGS website – Water Science School – which looks at how much water really is on Earth. I have taken a look, but my brain is flummoxed by the numbers – they seem incomprehensible to me!
And we’re washing all this freshwater away with toxic dyes and chemicals. How long can we get away with this???
There are several possible solutions to this:
- Use dyes that are naturally occurring from vegetation and other (no-longer living) life sources. One example is cochineal, an insect which creates a crimson colour, and has been used since the 15th century. It has been most successful at dying protein based fabrics such as silk and wool rather than vegetable based fabrics like cotton.
- Use non-toxic variations that have less impact on us, the water system and the planet as a whole.
- Opt for fabrics that have been designated organic, using no chemicals that harm humans, plants or other life form.
3. The ’30’ Times Test For Sustainable Fashion Creation
It is said that for a more sustainable fashion buying approach we should take a REAL look at each piece with the view of ‘will I wear this at least 30 times?’ I have a couple of items in my wardrobe that I have never worn.
The Issey Miyake Find
One is an Issey Miyake knitted thing, embossed with gold foil. I picked it up for about £40 from a charity shop and can admit to having worn it once in the three years that I have owned it. Will I wear it more than that? Maybe, if I lose weight so that it looks better on me, at the moment it is a style that doesn’t work for my body shape.
Yet I don’t feel bad for adding that purchase to my wardrobe as I know that as a charity shop find, it will most likely have been worn before me, and that the charity itself has been helped by my purchasing of it.
The Next Sale Jeans
Then there are two pairs of high waisted black jeans bought at about the same time in the summer sales from Next, a UK fast fashion retailer. These jeans have never fitted me as I would like them to, and so I have never worn them. That is £40 sitting in my closet taking up space. Had I been more aware at the time I would have never have picked them up. I don’t wear high-waisted jeans, and buying into the trend just because it is just that, a trend, only serves to increase the output of these fast fashion brands, desperate to make a few fast bucks.
This of course also applies to the fabric and other supplies we buy.
By looking at the fabric you are about to buy, and asking yourself – ‘will I wear what I create from this many times or for years to come?’ – you are in a better position to be more sustainable in your fashion creation.
Also known as up-cycling, the act of refashioning is to create a new garment into another by changing it. This really is sustainable fashion! 🙂
These trousers here were created using two pairs of ‘outgrown’ trousers from my boys! (You can check that post out here!)
I love popping into a charity shop and looking for some interesting pieces. I go for print or texture usually, and think about what could be made from the fabric as a refashioning project.
A popular refashioning project is to take old denim jeans, cut them up and create them into a jacket or skirt. This does often require some creativity – denims are manufactured differently, with some having stretch added for those skinny jean styles, while others have been sandblasted or bleached to within an inch of their existence.
Cutting up these old jeans, and refashioning them into something new and fun to wear gives new purpose to their existence, and saves them from landfill too! For me, it also feels like I am honouring the original garment worker by extending the life of one of their makes.
5. Minimal Seam Construction
This is a technique which goes back in time. Max Tilke wrote in the 1920s: “The garments of the earliest epochs are the most simply cut and show the fewest seams.”
And it is true that by reducing the number of seams in a design, we can save on the amount of materials needed, the construction time involved, and still end up with a beautiful garment created using a simple construction technique.
A great example is a dress I made for my birthday this year using Subtractive Patterncutting, a technique developed by Julian Roberts.
I took a large piece of fabric, folded it in half and stitched a seam from one centre join across to the selvedge edge, and down the length of fabric, leaving the bottom of the rectangle open.
I then took my front and back bodice sections and laid them randomly upon the fabric.
I cut around the bodice front and back – through one layer only – leaving the hem untouched and then connected the left front side seam to the left back side seam with a very curved line. I did the same to the right hand side, albeit with a different shaped line.
What I ended up with was a very creative dress that was created from minimal seams. Granted I am not the biggest fan of the placement of the flappy skirt section but overall I love the dress and often wear it while pottering around the flat.
6. Biodegradable Fibres For A Sustainable Fashion Approach
Choosing fabrics that are made from fibres that can decompose more readily is another great way to be sustainable when it comes to fashion. In fact there are brands that exist who consider the end of the garment’s life at the start of the design period. By using a fibre that is biodegradable and making sure there are no plastic or metal closures, the end product can in theory be land filled and left to rot.
Fibres that are natural will usually decompose faster – cotton is a great example of a fibre that is grown and biodegradable, while fibres such as polyester will not. They are created from petroleum and so are an unbreathable fibre that is not easily biodegradable. The belief is that polyester can take up to 200 years to decompose.
7. Repurposing For Sustainable Fashion Creations
Now, repurposing sounds a little like refashioning or up-cycling but to me, the art of repurposing is to use elements that would otherwise be of no use, into something that can be used again and again.
Some great examples are zippers, buckles and buttons. I’m sure that many of you reading this are like me – avid collectors of buttons, die-hard zip un-pickers… I even have buckles cut from my favourite pair of boots which I wore until there were no longer salvageable!
Taking these items from something that is otherwise biodegradable adds something unique to our own fashion creations – which certainly excites me! – and allows the original to be up cycled or allowed to bio-degrade.
8. Fabric Remnants
There are companies out their that supply shops with end of season or end of roll fabrics. I myself have some from Burberry which I created into several shirts for me, my sister in law and friends. I also have a remnant from a Victoria Beckham collection that I created a top from.
Allie Olsen from Indiesew.com – an online fabric and pattern store – has previously mentioned on her Instagram Stories and in a podcast interview with Rachel from Maker Style that she uses suppliers who sell leftover rolls of fabrics. And she sells out. The number of times I have gone onto Instagram and checked out her stories to see that yet another fabric drop has sold out hours after being added to the store.
So there is demand for these beautiful fabrics, and they needn’t be put out as waste.
9. Zero Waste For Sustainable Fashion Design
Ah, my favourite! Zero waste is the art of creating no waste from your fashion creations. We will be covering this more fully in upcoming blog posts, so I won’t go into massive amounts of detail here.
My favourite ways to be ‘zero waste’ are to think about shape when creating a pattern, and using fabric manipulation to explore and develop any possible waste elements so that the potential ‘waste’ sections become part of the finished garment. This doesn’t always suit those with a more minimal design taste, but creative thinking can definitely help in using up those potentially ‘wasted’ section in interesting and minimal ways.
A Final Thought On Sustainable Fashion
That’s it my friends. Nine considerations for your sustainable fashion creation plans. I know that it isn’t possible for each of us to implement everything you have read here. And I’m not suggesting you do. What I am suggesting is the rethinking of the norm.
Let’s not pop out and buy something just because it is cheap, but think about WHY it is so cheap. Weigh up the purchase. Is that fabric or that garment something you do love and will wear again and again or are you thinking of buying it just because it was so darn cheap? In my experience, those buys end up stashed in a cupboard for years until I finally donate them to scrap store for schools to use.
Do you currently use any of the above techniques when making your own clothes? What is your favourite method? Which would you be excited to try out? Let me know in the comments below!
Sustainable Fashion Series
Have you caught up on all the posts in this series?
Part 2: This post you just read on Considerations for sustainable fashion.