Time to slow down fashion?

The start of September brings with it a new season, the autumn term, the time for coats, and the arrival of London Fashion Week.

London Fashion Week
Siobhan Archer, Sustainable Investing Specialist

Twice a year, the UK capital hosts the clothing trade shows, flaunting the new season’s "it" pieces and giving new designers a chance to showcase their collections. After two years of pandemic lockdowns forcing designers to move shows online or host events outside of the pivotal week, London Fashion Week is back. This year’s line-up will have close to 40 shows over the five days, from established fashion houses exhibiting their latest designs, to exciting chances to spot up and coming new designers in shows put on by Central Saint Martins, the top London Fashion College.

However, London’s glamorous and star-studded event is juxtaposed with the ever-growing consciousness that the apparel industry has a sustainability problem. When 10% of global annual carbon emissions link back to the clothing industry, and over 75 million children are working in modern slavery within the textiles industry, it is clear that the status quo simply won’t cut it.

Tackling fast fashion

Clothing production cycles are often trend-driven and tend to create a large amount of unworn materials. Each year, 92 million tonnes of textile waste are produced, often ending up in landfills never to be recycled or reused. Textile manufacturing is also a highly resource intensive process. It can take up to 20,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of cotton and on top of being a water intensive activity, 10% of all microplastics in oceans come from textiles, creating harmful environments for corals and fish.

The fashion industry has also been under increased scrutiny as of late for unending claims of greenwashing: this year alone we saw H&M get sued for their not so "conscious line" and SHEIN, the renowned fast fashion business, appointed a head of sustainability. So, with this growing awareness of the issues, the bar has been raised and fashion houses now need to deliver credibly and verifiably on their claims to consumers.

Sustainable fashion innovation

In recent years, London Fashion Week has become a playground for conscious designers wanting to showcase the high quality, smaller production items now being coveted by consumers. Within this sustainable space, an area of true innovation is sustainable fabrics and textiles.

From recycled wool overcoats to single-use plastic being upcycled into rain macs, designers are embedding their climate commitments into the whole production process of their clothes, from the textiles to the sales platforms. Among these new fabrics, is TENCEL™, a new fibre made from wood pulp, resulting in a light and versatile soft fabric, one that is now used by high-end designers in the industry like Mara Hoffman and Filippa K.

Eco-friendly textile alternatives are now venturing beyond just traditional materials. The newest alternative is mycelium cells, more commonly known as mushroom leather. With the fashion community realising the impact of the leather and tanning industry, and the problems of oil-based “pleather” (plastic leather), this new biodegradable alternative is gaining traction. Mylo™, is a mushroom based fabric that has been developed by Bolt Threads, a material solutions company, focusing on natural based fibres. Their fungi fabrics are now being used by several brands, such as Lululemon and sustainable leader, Stella McCartney.

Stella McCartney’s brand has become synonymous with sustainable fashion, being among the first to ditch leather in favour of vegan alternatives and swapping out silk products for Microsilk™. Instead of using the threads spun by silkworms, Microsilk™ uses a yeast water and spiderweb protein substitute. This process eliminates the previous practice of harvesting the silk, which usually involved a large number of worms being killed. This summer, they were the first to launch a Mylo™ product: a mushroom leather Frayme handbag, a sleek black crossbody bag, with the signature Stella McCartney chain detail. The vegan bag saw huge demand, demonstrating customers’ commitments to sustainable textiles.

Giving "deadstock" a new lease of life

New textiles aren’t the only sustainable change that has been happening; old fabrics are now getting revamped and reused too. Romain Brabo, a fabric buyer for Givenchy and Dior, has been collecting beautiful fabrics that were once used by the luxury houses for a collection and then shipped off to fabric warehouses. Brabo curates these fabrics and offers them back to emerging independent designers at large discounts. This so-called "deadstock" fabric retails for up to 70% off wholesale prices and is of the most exquisite standards, giving a new life to the unused material. Brabo opened his second showroom at a fashion and tech incubator in King’s Cross in May this year.

So, whilst many would believe it’s only the new generation of designers touting sustainable textiles, we’ve seen some of the British high fashion pioneers embracing the trend too. Dame Vivienne Westwood is a good example. Now well-known as a sustainability advocate, her famous phrase "Buy less, choose well, make it last pushes the ideals of slower fashion and capsule wardrobes as a way to lessen waste.

A sustainable future in fashion

Fashion weeks have been long been showstopping moments and obvious platforms for innovative technologies and new fibres. High fashion is having a clear slowdown, with designers beginning to consider textile and water waste in their collections, and fortunately the integration of new materials is only speeding up. Now, as we move into this next week, we are excited to see what sustainability gems the new collections bring.

Read more from The Brief.

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