Why Green is the new Black
We’ve always been fashion conscious. But these days, we’re increasingly conscious of something else: the effect we’re having on the planet. Rarely behind the curve, the fashion industry is also getting its green on.
Last month, at the end of Milan Fashion Week Livia Firth launched the inaugural Green Carpet Awards - saluting eco-friendly fashion. In Paris, Stella McCartney, burnished her environmental credentials further with a catwalk seething with sustainable viscose, organic cotton and synthetic leathers. Meanwhile, H&M – the world’s largest clothing manufacturer - has been making a massive effort to cultivate a green image, from its recycling installation in Kidzania to the eco-friendly range in the shops.
Be it on the catwalk or the high street, ethical fashion is in vogue.
It’s not before time. Fashion is a big business which can cost the planet dearly. From the environmental impact of chemicals used to produce and dye textiles, to the vast quantities of water, energy and sheer manpower it exhausts in order to turn them in to clothes, its footprint on the planet is heavy. In Britain, we purchased about 1.13 million tonnes of new clothing last year, and then what, we tire of a piece, or it falls out of fashion or we wear it out, and then we throw it in the bin. We threw away about 235 million items of clothing during this year’s spring clean. All ended up in landfill.
It seems we have a blind spot. Just as we have a tendency to divorce the neatly wrapped and stacked meat in the supermarket from those living breathing creatures we see frolicking in the fields, so we prefer not to think about where our clothes come from. But each item was made by a person, not a machine. Each shoe and each shirt. Every year, across the world, 1.5 billion garments are put together by an estimated 40 million people, working in 250,000 factories. It’s partly because of the sheer quantities involved, that the apparel industry is the second largest polluter in the world, after oil.
But like one of those oil tankers, the fashion industry is turning - slowly. In some cases, companies are simply paying lipservice to the ethical debate – something called Greenwashing. They talk the talk, because it is fashionable to do so but they do not walk the catwalk in sustainable outfits. Other outfits are simply what Greenpeace would describe as toxic, sitting pretty and doing nothing about their damaging practices.
But many have grasped that the public’s view is changing and that wasteful and damaging practices simply won’t stand. Careless consumerism is being replaced by the realisation that we only have one planet. And innovative manufacturing techniques and the increased use of recycled materials mean that many brands, such as PLAE, aren't leaving such a heavy footprint. PLAE's shoes, for example, are made in a solar-powered, fair-labour factory from recycled milk jugs. The glues are water-based and the leather is ISO certified. The packaging - a particular consumer bugbear - is also sustainable. These shoes tiptoe across the globe.
We’ve certainly come a long way from hemp shirts and espadrilles. Eco fashion today doesn’t simply make us feel good about ourselves, it can make us look good too.