We’ve all heard about the ridiculous amount of plastic that occupies our planet’s oceans. According to UNESCO, between 8 and 10 million tons of plastic are released into the sea every year, which, “if flattened to the thickness of a plastic bag, would be enough to cover an area of 4,250 square miles. That is about the size of small countries like Qatar, Jamaica, or the Bahamas”, states Al Jazeera. While not news, still, pretty creepy.
By pure chance, only a couple of days ago I ended up at a dinner party in Colombian fashion designer Mercedes Salazar’s home. She’s a very interesting and inspiring woman, for sure. Among the things she said, something called my attention: She’s got this dream and plans for turning the ocean’s plastic waste from Chocó, Colombia, into material that she can teach people to build houses with. This idea isn’t new, I know, but it was her approach to it which definitely sounded new to me. She said the idea is to receive the plastic from the sea as a blessing, instead of a curse. You know, it’s about seeing the positive side of things, instead of the negative.
I then decided to investigate about which brands are using plastic from the oceans to create garments and found a few.
French brand Veja (globally recognized for their production of ethical sneakers -referring to their raw materials which they claim are sourced from organic farming and ecological agriculture that avoid chemicals and polluting processes), introduced a material called B-mesh, which means “bottle mesh” and is made from recycled plastic bottles. Each pair of sneakers is made with three plastic bottles and other eco-friendly materials like organic cotton and rubber sourced directly from farmers who are assured a living wage.
There’s also Patagonia, known as pioneers in ethical outdoor wear- who are producing hardy products made from eco-friendly materials such as recycled down, wool, and polyester. They actually used recycled plastic bottles to create fleece and have a repair and reuse program that makes sure nothing goes to waste.
Gucci, for example, was one of the first luxury fashion houses to produce their men outwear line with Econyl, a regenerated nylon yarn made from recycled fishing nets.
Swimwear and activewear brands around the globe such as Outerknown, Vitamin A, Made Trade, Summersalt, Mara Hoffman, RubyMoon, Londre Bodywear, PrAna, Finisterre, Lanasia, Jade Swim, Elle Evans, Stay Wild Swim, Indigo Luna, and SILOU also claim to produce their garments with sustainable materials.
And what about wonderful Stella McCartney? Her brand describes itself as progressive and luxurious, always looking into the future and striving to create beautiful and desirable products with the least impact on the planet (which is why they use cutting-edge and progressive materials that aim to reduce impact on the planet). McCartney even refers to the principals of circularity; circular fashion, to be precise: “Restorative and regenerative by design, with clothes that never end up as waste.”
This sounds pretty interesting, though, my good friends at El Dorado Edit told me, “A lot of brands claim they work with PET yarn, which is made with recycled plastic and deemed ‘sustainable’. However, the truth is many of those fibers end up back in the ocean turned into microfibers, which is way worse because it contaminates the water even more.”
So, what’s the deal? If this is supposed to be Sustainable Fashion but ends up contaminating even more, then what is the fashion industry really doing to save the planet?
I don’t love sports, so I really didn’t know about adidas landmark partnership with Parley, which “drove eco-innovation at all levels of the supply chain and created a global oceans’ movement through the power of sport”. They teamed up creating a space on the adidas’ app where people would sign-up for Run for the Oceans, an initiative where people around the globe would run and for every 10 minutes both brands committed to cleaning up the equivalent weight of one plastic bottle from beaches and islands around the world. That’s a lot of plastic!
When researching the subject, I run into something I definitely wasn’t expecting. While my goal was to write about Sustainable Fashion in relation to the oceans, I run into a bunch of well-sourced articles claiming there’s no such thing as Sustainable Fashion. How is this possible?
There’s a very interesting article by The Harvard Business Review that basically says only a few industries peddle their supposed sustainability more forcefully than the fashion industry. New business models such as recycling, resale, rental, reuse, and repair are sold as environmental life savers. However, the sad truth is all this experimentation and supposed `innovation´ within the last 25 years have failed to lessen its planetary impact. Plus, there are still very few brands who know where the materials they work with comes from in the supply chain, and even fewer have started active relationships with their suppliers in order to reduce their carbon footprint. The urge to sell more and get consumers to buy more is still in the DNA of the industry and even worse, only less than 1% of all clothing gets recycled into new garments.
The Financial Times even claims there’s no such things as “Sustainable Fashion” and adds, “It’s a term now so ubiquitous in public relations and marketing, so liberally applied to any brand that uses organic cotton or manufactures its goods locally, that its fundamental definition has become obscured.”
These are some of the things I learned
Fashion supply chains tend to be very complex because they involve multiple stages of production, transportation, and distribution, and experts argue that achieving real sustainability throughout this entire supply chain is almost impossible due to the tremendous magnitude and interconnectedness of the global fashion industry.
The rise of fast fashion has led to increased consumption and disposal of clothing (think of H&M, Shein, Forever 21, Zara, etc.) which has significant environmental and social implications. Experts argue that the mainl issue lies in the industry’s business model, which encourages constant production and consumption, making it difficult to truly achieve sustainability. And at this point, how could we deny the vast majority of the world’s population is poor and can’t afford clothing? What are they supposed to buy to help save the planet?
This makes it so even when some brands implement more sustainable practices, it’s already too late in terms of consumer behavior and demand for new fashion trends, which often undermine these sustainable efforts. The problem is the desire for constant novelty and social pressure to keep up with fashion trends contribute to the continued cycle of overconsumption and waste. And social media doesn’t help! Think of it, you want everything you see. And you really believe your life will be better (in any sense, really) once you have that. I know I do and that’s why I deleted my Instagram. Sometimes I prefer not to check what new lines my favorite brands have launched because I know I don’t need more stuff. It’s just “stuff”!
Some experts claim the fashion industry’s sustainability claims tend to be exaggerated or misleading and argue that many companies engage in “greenwashing,” which in this case means using sustainability as a marketing tool to create the perception of eco-friendliness without really making substantial changes to their practices. Gosh… it really is just a marketing strategy to make us believe they’re actually doing something. Just like when Pride comes around and all these brands just wrap themselves with the rainbow flag, pretending by doing so they’re supporting the community in any way. It’s all lies!
Another criticism is in relation to the absence of consistent and/or enforceable standards for Sustainable Fashion. This happens because a widely recognized definition or certification system for Sustainable Fashion doesn’t exist, which makes it very challenging for consumers to understand the difference between what brands are genuinely sustainable and which ones are making unsubstantiated claims. (The nerve…)
Why are we still talking about Sustainable Fashion when it seems it’s all just a marketing strategy to get people to buy even more fashion items, making us believe we’re actually doing something for the planet’s sake?
I now believe Sustainable Fashion is actually in our hands: Us, the people, not the brands. And it’s all about: Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling.
We can’t go around pretending we’re all millionaires and judging people who wear the same outfit or garment more than once. I guess it now makes sense when entertainment media point out when the Princess of Wales reuses a dress. I used to think it was stupid to point that out, as if it was a mistake. Instead, that teaches a lesson to all of us mortals around the world! We should imitate her! We should just fix garments when they get damaged. Get inspiration from Kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending ceramics with gold!
My mom will question why I buy a $100 sweater and my answer remains the same: A quality product will always last longer than its cheap version. So that’s one option if we have the budget (yes, I know not everyone can afford a $100 sweater and instead can only buy a $25 one at H&M). Also, buying quality products and taking real good care of them will make them last longer, which is the whole point.
Finally, if you take good care of your clothes, when the time comes when you don’t really want to keep using them (only after many years of use, please!) or maybe you gained weight and a tailor would be of no use, they’ll be in a good enough state to be able to donate them to someone! We all know someone who needs a little more help that we do. Right? I know.
In conclusion, I believe Sustainable Fashion does exist, but only as an action taken by us, the consumers. We’ve got the power to be conscious about why we buy what we buy. What we actually need and how to take very good care of it to be able to donate it with a sense of dignity for the person on the other end. That’s right, Sustainable Fashion is on me. On us.