Developing a sustainable future for fashion cannot be a short term fad. Those of us involved are acutely aware that we are in for a long haul; that we are in fact part of a global work in progress with climate change and respect for the environment our goal. We in the business of fashion have a growing sense that we have the power to use our influence; the power of our brands to effect real change. However, keeping the momentum going over the coming years will require events that capture the imagination and bring a variety of people together to work collectively on developing real solutions.
At London College of Fashion we have just hosted a Fashion Summit to make sustainability visually exciting and intellectually challenging. We wanted an international student competition which would promote the variety and quality of work being undertaken by the designers of the future. The most exciting and challenging work formed the basis of a fashion show which was followed by a conference, bringing together key speakers and delegates from across the fashion industry, education and government, to debate how to reduce the impact of our current excessive levels of fashion consumption.
The sheer impact of the student competition and fashion show came as a surprise to us. We realised this was the first showcase for the dynamic and creative collections from across the world which provided both practical and innovative solutions. It also blew out of the water any idea that sustainable fashion was a contradiction in terms and no one seriously interested in fashion would touch it with a barge pole.
The student competition attracted over 90 registrations of interest and 40 actual submissions. The wide range of approaches and ideas of the work impressed the judges by the quality of research and technological innovation, the work of the winners epitomised how students are looking at all aspects of the difficulties facing the fashion industry in making environmentally responsible clothes Not only issues in the garment design, the manufacture and the materials themselves but also the supply chain and network of the industry itself. The winners showed a range of solutions which tackled the issues of consumption, waste and energy at the same time as creating items which looked and felt good.
Manon Fleneur’s aimed to reduce waste by creating modular patterns and pieces that could easily be combined to create different outfits. The pieces are made of tough fabric locally sourced, that are joined by metal fastenings so that a customer could easily assemble a variety of garments. , Real steps are taken here to address waste as the clothes become more versatile and customers are involved with the garments themselves and are less likely to throw them away. Nimesh Shah’s collection was based around the traditional craft skills from his native India and part of his motivation was to increase the cultural identity and community cohesion of craft workers by working with them to develop new ranges of bespoke fabrics using organic cotton. The patterns, surfaces and quality of the textiles were reflected in the style and shape of the garments. Both of these collections demonstrate a move away from disposable fashion as they establish a closer relationship with clothing.
Michaela Carraro’s looked at ways that waste and the lack of sustainability in the industry itself could be addressed. Her collection showed alternative sources for fabrics using hemp, organically grown cotton and bamboo and undyed silks. She combined them with chrome free vegetable tanned leather and then hand dyed them by using blackberry, rosehip and tea. Many of the materials sourced for her collections were from small family run businesses and used end of lines that would have been discarded. Stephanie Sandstrom’s shoes showed another innovative approach to waste. She decided to confront the issue of fast fashion head on by designing them for one use only: making them from a single piece of recyclable polypropylene secured with a reusable screw and six aluminium rivets. The shoes can be flat packed easily and assembled thereby minimising unnecessary packaging and shipping , yet recycled immediately
When all the collections were shown, the aesthetic impact was startling. The audience was left in no doubt that considered fashion design can be innovative without being aesthetically constrained. Sustainable fashion can be inspiring, beautiful, tactile and inventive and does not need to be a stereotypical hair shirt. The show demonstrated that it is possible to use the power of fashion to make people excited about buying ethical goods. The show was also inherently optimistic as it clearly reassured us that our students have some great ideas for this work in progress to build on.
For Sublime Magazine. Issue 14 A Work in Progress