The old saying goes that when you feel good, you look good. And it’s far easier to feel good when you know what you’re wearing isn’t trashing the planet, exploiting our fellow humans or harming animals. And in some cases, buying a new outfit may actually be doing positive good in the world. Here are five ways the worlds for fashion and sustainability are colliding, with great results.
- Clothes and shoes made from rubbish
Fabrics distilled from fossil fuels or woven from chemical-drenched water-hogging broad-acre GMO cotton are so last season.
The next big thing is clothes and shoes made from waste of many kinds.
Timberland’s X Thread boots, for example, are made with canvas sourced from B Corp Thread, which manufacturers it from discarded plastic bottles collected off the streets of Haiti.
The initiative has also created income-earning opportunities for over 70 people in Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the Caribbean.
Over 115 million litres of water are estimated to have been saved to date compared with using conventional cotton-based canvas.
Adidas has also recently released a range of sports shoes made from 95 per cent recycled marine plastic waste and five per cent recycled nylon.
It partnered with Parley, a collaboration initiative that brings together people across the STEAM [science, technology,
engineering, arts and mathematics] disciplines to find innovative ways to address the multiple threats to our oceans.
There’s also a number of entrepreneurial folk finding new waste streams that can be successfully harvested to create clothing and accessories.
The H&M Foundation’s 2016 Global Change Award Innovation Challenge saw some great examples.
Among the five winners of grants and business acceleration support was a team from Italy led by Rossella Longobardo, which has found a way to make leather from shoes and handbags using the grape waste generated by the nation’s wine-making industry.
Another team from the Netherlands, led by Jalila Essaidi, has worked out how to reclaim the cellulose from cow manure and turn it into a thread that can be used for textiles. Maybe someone saying “that shirt looks like crap on you” could one day be a compliment!
Fabric innovators are finding there’s no shortage of places cellulose can be found.
One of the 2015 Global Change Award alumni, Adriana Santanocito, was still a fashion design student in Milan when she discovered citrus waste could be used as a source of cellulose.
She worked with a lab that was able to produce a silky fabric from waste produced by the citrus food products manufacturing industry – and there is tonnes of the stuff generated every year in Italy.
She then teamed up with another Sicilian, Enrica Arena, and they managed to scale up production of the fabric to the point where a major Italian fashion brand will now be launching a collection made with it this year.
- Get the app and shop ethically
Former GECA board chair Gordon Renouf kick-started the Good On You ethical fashion app in June 2015 when he became chief executive of Ethical Consumers Australia.
- See our story Gordon Renouf launches campaign for ethical clothing app
It’s gone off like a rocket as consumers look to vote with their dollars when it comes to ensuring a clean conscience, for example that their clothing choices don’t involve some child slaving away in horrendous conditions.
The Good On You app went global in conjunction with Fashion Revolution Week last April.
The annual promotion of all things socially responsible in fashion commemorates the Rana Plaza factory disaster in Bangladesh on 24 April 2013, where, due to the building being structurally unsafe, it collapsed and killed more than 1100 workers.
Most people would rather someone didn’t die making them a T-shirt.
“Most people want to buy better, but don’t know where to start. Good On You uses a unique, in depth methodology to show how brands rate on the issues people care about,” Renouf says.
The app provides ethical brand ratings for more than 1100 fashion brands, based on how they treat people, the planet and animals.
It also suggests alternatives to poorly rated brands that might satisfy the shopper’s preferences.
“Great style and beautiful products shouldn’t cost people’s lives or the environment,” Renouf says.
“We want to change the way people buy fashion so that businesses have strong incentives to be more sustainable and fair.”
Some fun facts about the fashion industry overall from Good on You:
- One in six people – and 80 per cent of employed women – work in apparel sector worldwide
- Labour abuses and factory disasters are common
- The industry is worth around $2.5 trillion annually
- It is responsible for 24 per cent of the world’s pesticide use
- It is a major contributor to climate change and water pollution
- Companies prepared to bare all
Transparency is trending, but not in the sense of see-through plastic suits [phew!].
Baptist World Aid’s 2017 annual Ethical Fashion Report highlights the practices of many of the world’s best-known brands – along with some uber-sustainable newcomers.
In total, 106 companies representing 330 individual brands that can be purchased in Australia and New Zealand were asked to respond to questions on 40 criteria across factors including supply chain traceability, living wages paid to workers at each stage of the supply chain and workers rights and empowerment.
Each brand was then awarded scores ranging from A (excellent) to F. Not answering scored an automatic F result, whether that be overall unwillingness to participate, or where a specific category of questions was not answered, giving an F for that category.
Overall, the median score across all the brands was C+, and fewer than 10 brands scored a B grade or higher across all four core categories: policies, knowing your suppliers, auditing and supplier relationships, and worker empowerment.
“An A+ grade is no small feat, and this year three companies share that honour: Etiko, Mighty Good Undies and sportswear manufacturer RREPP,” BWA says.
One thing that is encouraging is that participating seems to drive incremental progress among thinking brands. Fifty-nine per cent of companies surveyed in 2016 and 2017 have improved their rank year-on-year.
The results also showed that the weakest link for almost any company except the A+ trio is the raw materials stage in their supply chains. It seems most companies have no idea if the people growing their cotton, wool or alpaca felt are paid a living wage, and most are not monitoring this part of their supply chain to any significant degree.
“Despite progress catalysed by initiatives such as Better Cotton, the opaqueness of the supply chain still conceals those least visible and most vulnerable,” BWA says.
As consumers, we should use our purchasing power to give positive reinforcement to the companies doing the most to ensure transparent, fair and responsible supply chains.
- Beauty pageants with a green twist
There’s a bit of a cringe factor about beauty pageants like the over-hyped Miss Universe, particularly since the pageant’s most recent owner has done little to endear himself as a man of taste, class and social responsibility.
But maybe Miss Sydney Australia can change all that. Or, at least change it for Sydney.
The annual event has rebranded as sustainable, which meant holding it at the Sustainable Salon in Surry Hills, giving participants and guests information on recycling, a talk by Maria Needless on sustainability, a yoga class as part of the program and a fashion pageant of designer clothes handmade from sustainable fabrics.
“It proves that sustainable fashion is far more exciting than mainstream fashion,” MSA founder Felice Colarusso says.
- Social enterprise fashion
Sydney’s The Social Outfit and Melbourne’s the Social Studio are among a new breed of fashion entrepreneurs that are using the talents, creativity and energy of refugees and new migrants to deliver both social and sartorial outcomes.
Using a not-for-profit business model, they train and employ refugees and new migrants across all stages of the apparel industry, from design of fabrics and styles through to manufacturing administration, marketing, modelling and sales.
First Nations Australians are also finding a niche in the industry, including a brand such as Bundarra Sportswear, which sources its designs from Indigenous artists to generate income for the artists and their communities.
Bundarra is also the official supplier of clothing, accessories and other decorated items such as pens for NAIDOC Week 2017.
AARLI is another, and is believed to be the only Indigenous owned and operated Australian fashion brand. It is accredited with Ethical Consumers Australia, and uses responsibly sourced materials including offcuts, upcycled “dead stock”, hemp, organic and sustainable textiles, and fabric from recycled PET bottles.
Dead stock textiles are also supplied to remote Indigenous communities to create clothing for residents, and to provide materials for art centres.