Fashion says it gives a shit, we geddit. The greenwashing chorus has reached epic proportions with the majority of brands saying how much they care about the *insert - environment/climatechange/sustainability/recycling/ethical/everything - here*.
The latest round of men’s fashion weeks and trade shows were full of it, but it all feels like tinkering. Fashion brands and companies have done most of the easy and cosmetic cost-saving measures. The difficult and expensive bits will be ignored or pushed onto the back burner unless they are forced to, and this is why legislation is so important. It creates a minimum and also a level playing field for all. It also means, as a consumer, you can be assured that these things should and would be adhered to and what the law is when it comes to these topics. It is a bit Nanny State, but unfortunately it’s the only way to make everybody change and conform. Just look at the tax on plastic bags and also the minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland, it changes behaviours, for the better. Taxes and laws force change and post-Brexit legislation needs to be green focused.
In June 2019, The Environmental Audit Committee published the Government Response to the ‘Fixing Fashion Report: Clothing Consumption and Sustainability’. The report published in February 2019 called on the Government to end the era of throwaway fashion through wide-ranging recommendations covering environmental and labour market practices. All of which were rejected.
Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh MP - she has since lost her Labour Wakefield seat to Conservative candidate Imran Khan - said at the time: “Fashion producers should be forced to clear up the mountains of waste they create. The Government has rejected our call, demonstrating that it is content to tolerate practices that trash the environment and exploit workers despite having just committed to net zero emission targets.
“The Government is out of step with the public who are shocked by the fact that we are sending 300,000 tonnes of clothes a year to incineration or landfill. Ministers have failed to recognise that urgent action must be taken to change the fast fashion business model which produces cheap clothes that cost the earth.”
On workers’ rights Mary Creagh said: “We presented the Government with the evidence that it has failed to stop garment workers in this country being criminally underpaid, despite its claim that the number of national minimum wage inspectors has increased.
“The public has a right to know that the clothes they buy are not produced by children or forced labour, however the Government hasn’t accepted our recommendations on the Modern Slavery Act to force fashion retailers to increase transparency in their supply chains.”
The report recommended a new ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’ (EPR) scheme to reduce textile waste with a one penny charge per garment on producers. No detail on when EPR scheme for textiles will be introduced; consultation could run as late as 2025. Ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold stock that can be reused or recycled. Rejected. Government considers positive approaches are required to find outlets for waste textiles rather than simply imposing a landfill ban. Mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36 million. Not accepted. Government points to environmental savings made by a voluntary industry-led programme but fails to address evidence from WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) that the impact of increased volumes of clothing being sold outweighs efficiency savings made on carbon and water.
The fashion industry must come together to set out their blueprint for a net zero emissions world, reducing their carbon consumption back to 1990 levels. Not accepted. Government points to support for the voluntary Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP), co-ordinated by WRAP with the industry working towards targets to reduce carbon emissions, water and waste. The scheme should reward fashion companies that design products with lower environmental impacts and penalise those that do not. Not accepted. Govt will focus on tax on single-use plastic in packaging, not clothing. The report called on the Government to use the tax system to shift the balance of incentives in favour of reuse, repair and recycling to support responsible fashion companies. Not accepted.
The rejections go on. The report made 18 recommendations covering environmental and labour practices. Many are these are common sense and could be the catalyst for big changes. Relying on voluntary actions is slower and is harder to measure.
Somebody needs to pick up the mantle from Creagh and force this through a post-Brexit parliament. If the government won’t even accept even one penny on each item sold to make the producer more responsible for the end of life of a garment then it feels like they are deaf to all suggestions until we all start to shout. Creagh MP, told The Industry’s inaugural ‘Fashion Futures Forum’ in Nov. 2018. “Fashion is the third biggest industry in the world after cars and electronics. If it carries on the way it’s growing we just won’t have enough planetary resources.”
It’s Copenhagen Fashion Week, this week, and they are trying to make it the go-to destination for sustainable fashion. “Highly ambitious goals are required to leverage the influence and impact of Copenhagen Fashion Week” said CEO, Cecilie Thorsmark. It has launched an action plan requiring participating brands to meet minimum sustainability requirements by 2023. If the brands don’t make the environmental cut then they won’t be eligible to show. There is a list of 17 standards to meet. Some examples are pledging not to destroy unsold clothes, using at least 50% certified, organic, up-cycled or recycled textiles in all collections, using only sustainable packaging and zero-waste set designs for shows.
“All industry players – including fashion weeks – have to be accountable for their actions and be willing to change the way business is done. The timeframe for averting the devastating effects of climate change on the planet and people is less than a decade, and we’re already witnessing its catastrophic impacts today. Put simply, there can be no status quo,” said Thorsmark.
The ‘Sustainability Action Plan 2020-2022’ presents how the event will transition to becoming more sustainable, for example by reducing its climate impact by 50% and rethinking waste systems in all aspects of event production, with zero waste as the goal by 2022. Copenhagen is looking at every little detail, they say they will always 'prioritise' selecting sustainable options for supplies, including organic, vegetarian and preferably locally sourced food and snacks, sustainable beverages, no single-use plastic cutlery, straws or tableware, the most environmentally friendly buses available and electric cars. They have stopped using goodie bags and stopped producing new seasonal staff uniforms.
Copenhagen Fashion Week’s own operations have been climate compensated and they support two Verified Carbon Standard and Climate Community and Biodiversity Alliance Gold Level projects through Rensti, respectively tree planting (Tist) and forest conservation (Kariba). They have offset the flights and hotel accommodation of Copenhagen Fashion Week’s invited international guests, their official opening dinner, the press busses (including the organic food and beverages served on the buses), logo stickers for cars and they run a climate-neutral website.
The Scandinavians are leaders here, but other fashion weeks will quickly follow suit. As for fashion businesses, no business wants to be wasteful, it’s a cost saving to be more efficient, but the easy stuff has been done. It’s time to get hardcore and only governments will have the power. The law is the law. When standards are defined in law then there is a understandable definite. Consumers won’t trust anything else.
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A large bulk of the fashion industry is feeling pretty smug with itself. The just-gone G7 summit in Biarritz, France, a meeting of the world’s largest economies, saw French President Emmanuel Macron, accompanied by Economy and Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Labour, Muriel Pénicaud, and Deputy Minister of Ecological and Solidary Transition, Brune Poirson, launch the ‘Fashion Pact’. An initiative to minimise the environmental impact of the fashion industry, the Fashion Pact, signed by various fashion companies and brands, made numerous commitments regarding sustainability, renewable energy and biodiversity.
Left - Tall glass of Pinault?! The 'Fashion Pact' launch at the recent G7 summit
Making plenty of noise, and, while anything in the right direction, particularly while the Amazon rainforest is burning, is welcome, it’s worth looking at some of the detail.
Thirty two companies representing around 150 brands and roughly 30% of the fashion industry committed to:
“100% renewable energy across own operations with the ambition to incentivise implementation of renewables in all high impact manufacturing processes along the entire supply chain by 2030.”
“Protect the oceans: by reducing the fashion industry’s negative impact on the world’s oceans through practical initiatives, such as gradually removing the usage of single-use plastics.”
“Restore biodiversity: by achieving objectives that use Science-Based Targets to restore natural ecosystems and protect species.”
“Stop global warming: by creating and deploying an action plan for achieving the objective of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, in order to keep global warming below a 1.5°C pathway between now and 2100.”
These all feel like the least they can do. Words like ‘gradually’ and ‘ambition’ make most of this wishful thinking. But, waiting until 2050 to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions is laughable. Most of the signatories will be dead by then. It’s 31 years away!!! Who’s to say any of these companies will still be in business?
We live in a very stressful and confusing time. Environmental paralysis is understandable amongst consumers not sure exactly what they can do to combat climate change. But, waiting until 2050 to ‘possibly’ make that new handbag zero carbon emissions ain’t one of them. Green lip service is becoming increasingly frustrating and brands are going to have to give definite and distinct decisions while updating consumers on progress and fact based information much faster than this. People want to see something.
The brands involved include adidas, Bestseller, Burberry, Capri Holding Limited, Carrefour, Chanel, Ermenegildo Zegna, Everybody & Everyone, Fashion3, Fung Group, Galeries Lafayette, Gap Inc, Giorgio Armani, H&M Group, Hermès, Inditex, Karl Lagerfeld, Kering, La Redoute, matchesfashion.com, Moncler, Nike, Nordstrom, Prada Group, Puma, PVH Corp., Ralph Lauren, Ruyi, Salvatore Ferragamo, Selfridges Group, Stella McCartney and Tapestry.
In April 2019, ahead of the G7 meeting, Emmanuel Macron gave François-Henri Pinault, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Kering, a mission to bring together the leading players in fashion and textile, with the aim of setting practical objectives for reducing the environmental impact of their industry. And the Fashion Pact was born.
This goes someway to explain the most noticable luxury absentee from the list, the LVMH group. LVMH, Kering's main luxury competition, announced in May that it was partnering with Unesco on a five-year deal, allowing the fashion houses in the group access to “a network of experts at the regional level and in different disciplines to drive the development and success of their initiatives to protect biodiversity” and secure transparent supply chains. They’ve also recently cemented a tie-up with British designer Stella McCartney to lead their charge in sustainable luxury.
The majority of these brands don’t know what the eco-future looks like, but they know they need to start making the right noises yet want to continue to generate billions of dollars in yearly turnovers. Signing up to things like the ‘Fashion Pact’ focuses minds, but the time frame makes it a case of we’ll start tomorrow, which goes against the current urgent 'Climate Emergency' feeling felt within the wider population.
Kering issued a statement saying, “Private companies, working alongside nation states, have an essential role to play in protecting the planet. With the Fashion Pact, some leading players in the fashion and textile sector are joining forces for the first time to launch an unprecedented movement. A collective endeavour by its nature, the Fashion Pact is open to any company that wants to help to fundamentally transform the practices of the fashion and textile industry, and to meet the environmental challenges of our century.”
If these luxury companies worked as quickly as they did when chucking money at Notre-Dame, after its fire, then we’d really be getting somewhere. Pinault found €100m (£90m) down the back of the sofa and the Arnault family stumped up €200m within hours of the flames being put out.
Governments will need to bring in legislation much sooner to force these companies to do more. We’re going to look back at this period of history and wonder how we got through it sanely, but what we know is, we have to start today.
Founded by footballers, Mathieu Flamini and Mesut Özil, UNITY, is a new men’s grooming brand that has been “designed to put people’s health and our planet on the right path to a sustainable future".
The range is comprised of 11 vegan friendly products that feature the highest grade of up to 100% natural origin formulations free from SLS & SLES, parabens, PEGS, mineral oil, silicones, synthetic colours and artificial fragrance for maximum results and performance.
In a bid to reduce the use of virgin plastic, the brand sought out a bio-plastic alternative made from sugar cane that is 100% recyclable, thus minimising the carbon footprint of the brand. Alongside the product, UNITY strives to keep sustainability at its core throughout the business, with customer deliveries arriving in fully recycled craft boxes with bio-degradable and non-toxic starch chips as packing fill.
The brand also believes in the importance of giving back, with 1% of all company revenues going towards causes that seek to make a true difference to people and planet
Left - UNITY - Hair Boost – Shampoo, £10.95, Body Boost – Shower Wash, £8.95, Skin Defence – Face Moisturiser, £11.90, Skin Detox – Face Wash, £10.95
TheChicGeek says, “In our post Blue Planet world, plastic is vilified as the devil of all packaging. If only solving our plastics problem resolved the whole of our environmental issues… But, we have to start somewhere and these guys seem passionate about this subject.
Surely the most environmentally packaged grooming product ever is the humble bar of soap? Used for millennia, is it not the reason Lush made all their products solid? The problem with trying to care for the environment is - and, let’s be honest, anything in the right direction is a good thing - you put yourself out there to be ripped apart. Anything packaged and part of consumerism can be lambasted for simply existing. I think it’s important to say you care, but you also have to acknowledge you’re part of the problem. People will still need to wash and clean themselves and how a brand facilitates this can be minimised. Ernest Supplies’ pouches spring to mind.
Launching with 11 products isn’t really saying "minimal" to me, especially when there’s a shower wash for the morning and and separate one for the evening. (British people only shower twice a day on holiday, FYI).
The main parts of the tubes are made from sugar cane, - Bulldog is another brand I know who is using this too - but the tops are a 25% mix and there’s a beard oil in a glass jar. This goes back to the main problem we have of mixed recycling issues.
The branding is pretty nondescript - it feels a bit 10 years ago - and the packaging is a bit anonymous and generic. There’s no indication of the main ingredients on each product, leaving you to guess the main scent, and saying ’99% Natural Origin’ just makes you think what’s in the other 1% then?
As for the products, they’re not bad and I think they offer value. I tried 4 out of the 11. I sampled the face wash, shampoo, body wash and moisturiser. It feels natural, hence the looseness of some of the consistencies, and the smells are light and not overpowering.
I like the smell of the face wash and moisturiser. The former is a mineral clay in a light toffee colour and the latter is coconut. There’s no lingering smell from the body wash.
This feels like a reliable range, I just wished they’d tried to be more dynamic with the branding and packaging to reflect the passion they have and also to standout in a crowded market. Whispering your green credentials won't change anything”.
Below - UNITY Founders Mathieu Flamini and Mesut Özil
It was while at the Copenhagen fashion trade show, CIFF, previewing the forthcoming SS19 collections, when I noticed Phipps International. It was a print featuring extinct animals and the quirky and current twist on Americana and the great outdoors that made me stop and take note.
Left - Phipps International - Cotton-terry track top- £620 from Matchesfashion.com
I soon discovered that the previous collection, AW18, had been bought by matchesfashion.com and is available now.
Phipps International was established in 2017 by Spencer Phipps. Born and raised in San Francisco, he studied at Parsons School of Design in New York City graduating in 2008 with a nomination as “designer of the year” for his final year collection - an initial exploration of sustainable fashion.
He started his career at Marc Jacobs as part of the menswear design team and after, relocated to Antwerp to work with Dries Van Noten.
Currently based in Paris, Phipps, was founded on the principles of respect and curiosity for the natural world.
“We are exploring the concept of sustainability and environmental responsibility in the realm of style. Our goal is to change the way we as a culture consume by creating products that are made with respect for the environment, that can educate and enhance lives. We are always striving to improve our practice as we move forward and, as a modern fashion company, we are simply trying to do the right thing,” says Phipps.
Right - Phipps International SS19 - The extinct species print shirt that caught me eye at CIFF
What started as a small T-shirt project between friends has rapidly grown to become a modern, globally conscious fashion brand focused on building a like-minded community with the goal of re-connecting consumers to nature and the world around them.
The products are said to be made with integrity and are created with consideration for the environment using sustainable manufacturing practices and eco-friendly materials. Many of its producers are certified by GOTS or other environmental certification organisations which help to ensure that our products are made ethically.
In addition, most of their garments are made in Portugal which, as a country, is a global leader in the development of sustainable practices. All of their manufacturers there are required by law to recycle their waste appropriately, re-use treatable water, use alternative energy as much as possible, and follow fair trade labour practices.
Left - One of the jackets of the season SS19
What do you get when you cross one of the nicest guys in fashion and a cult British cold water surf brand? The new designer collab. from Finisterre.
Left - CR X Finisterre Scarf - £45
Debuted at London Fashion Week in January 2018, the collection is based upon a shared ethos and rooted in sustainability. Finisterre and Christopher Raeburn have used performance fabrics, sealed seams and recycled insulation throughout the collection, from the Insulated Waterproof Coat to the Albatross Crew Sweater.
Right - CR X Finisterre Intarsia Albatross Jumper - £160
The 20-piece collection features outerwear, knitwear and accessories.
“The inspiration for the collection was the sea and, specifically, immersion in the harshest of conditions. On a more personal level, it’s also about my trip down to Cornwall and to Finisterre HQ where I got to meet Tom Kay and embrace cold water surfing with the team. It really allowed me to ‘immerse’ myself in the world of Finisterre, and the unity was born.” says Christopher.
I particularly like the made in Portugal knits with the albatross silhouettes. I think these are going to soar away very quickly! Soz.
Left - CR X Finisterre Insulated Cocoon Coat - £325
Fashion, in its nature, isn’t logical. Before things are broken or unusable we move onto consuming the next item all under the umbrella of ‘fashion’. It’s a huge, global business which basically comes down to us buying more things than we need and, also, new things before our existing things are redundant or can no longer fulfil their purpose.
It’s also very creative and what makes us human beings.
Left - Northern European fields full of flax
It’s therefore not in the fashion business’ interest to get us, as consumers, to buy or use less. So, what we’ve seen over the latest few years is many retailers using the term ‘sustainable’ to give our consumption the gloss of being better or even good for the environment while continuing to encourage us to buy even larger amounts.
It’s difficult for retailers and brands to tell us to buy less or not at all. They want us to feel good while we are shopping, but can ‘fashion’ ever be sustainable and what does ‘sustainable’ even mean?
Bruce Montgomery, Course leader BA hons Fashion UCA Epsom/Menswear Consultant, says, “While it’s a mammoth task, fashion needs to become sustainable. The industry is over producing, this is leading to excessive consumption with 300,000 tons of clothing being dumped on landfill either by both retailers and consumers rather than recycled. Patagonia’s don’t buy this jacket campaign and Stella McCartney’s fashion campaign shot with models lying in landfill tried to raise awareness to the problem, but much more industry commitment is needed.”
“Brands have understood its positive to be seen as ‘sustainable’. This has led to many jumping on the marketing bandwagon without any commitment and just greenwashing the surface of the topic. The word unfortunately is in danger of being watered down in the same way the word ‘luxury’ is now applied to fast fashion products. Why should consumers believe brands when they discover there is no substance behind a brand’s sustainable stance or strategy?” says Montgomery.
Niche brands with stringent green credentials are really trying to separate themselves from the mainstream ‘sustainable’ bandwagon. Swedish, independent outdoor clothing brand, Houdini, aims to “become fully circular in sustainability - and setting the standard for sustainable fashion and its mission towards ‘impact positive’ status”. Ninety one percent of their product is made from recycled, recyclable, renewable, biodegradable or Bluesign - it eliminates harmful substances right from the beginning of the manufacturing process and sets and controls standards for an environmentally friendly and safe production - certified fabrics.
Eva Karlsson, CEO, Houdini Sportswear, says, "We find ‘sustainability’ not only a boring phrase, but an underwhelming ambition. To be sustainable should be seen as the bare minimum for an organisation’s social and environmental impact. Imagine a world where businesses set out to have a positive impact on the planet, and customers demanded it.”
Can fashion ever be ‘sustainable’? “With the knowledge and available technologies of today fashion (as in apparel) could and should be way closer to sustainable than what is currently the case. The trouble is best technologies and best practices are seldom implemented by retailers and brands, or some are implemented for one specific product or product group rather than for the big bulk. This is true not only for environmental factors, but for social and ethical factors as well.” says Karlsson.
“There are numerous reasons for this. Lack of guts and willpower to change, lack of knowledge, lack of time in an ever speedier fast fashion market. On the systemic level hinders are built into the system – buyers and sustainability managers are often working in their separate silos, the pricing structures of today work against the transition to sustainable business practices and regulations are poor.” she says.
Is the future buying differently then? The Victoria & Albert Museum recently held an exhibition entitled ‘Fashioned From Nature’ looking at the materials and inspiration the fashion industry has taken from nature. It was sponsored by CELC, The European Confederation of Flax and Hemp and they used the exhibition to highlight and promote this natural fibre - linen.
Marie-Emmanuelle Belzung, Director, CELC, The European Confederation of Flax and Hemp, says, “Not many people know – almost nobody – that three countries in Europe are the worldwide leader in flax production: France, Belgium and the Netherlands. More than 80 per cent of worldwide production comes from these three. And the quality from here is far superior to elsewhere, because the climate and conditions are perfect, and the knowledge and expertise are far superior. So, linen production is very local – you can see the fields from the Eurostar.”
Right - Flax - linen - grows naturally with no irrigation
“And there is no irrigation – no water needed, no GMO, no waste, no poison going into the water system, which is vital when you consider the demand for water in the future. Plus, linen is a good local employer: it takes five times more labour than wheat, because flax is a very technical crop. More technical than corn or wheat or other agricultural products that might occupy the fields. Then, the process of transferring the plant to the fibre is purely mechanical, involving no chemistry. Linen is natural, and entirely sustainable.” says Belzung.
Compared to cotton, which uses enormous amounts of pesticides and water, linen is a local European crop and is underused in fashion with many associating it with seasonal summer shirts and suits.
“Linen’s continued popularity is thanks to innovation. In the last ten years, linen the textile has enjoyed two major innovations. Knitted fabric has developed thanks to innovation on the yarn. Knitted linen overturns one stereotype: it is linen that does not wrinkle. Second is washed linen, which gives the fabric some pep and so seduces a new generation of consumers. Makes linen soft and chic.” says Belzung.
“In our special project with Chelsea College of Arts the concept of linen as a sports fabric – natural moisture management, naturally hypoallergenic and anti-bacterial – was one of the strongest ideas. Of course, blending anything with petro-chemicals diminishes the sustainability argument. Flax fibres are also being combined with eco-plastics to create, for example, car interiors, speakers and sporting equipment such as skis.” she says.
Linen is a perfect example of how consumers can swap one fabric for another. If consumers have a choice between a white cotton shirt and a white linen shirt, with this knowledge, they can make a more educated decision with less environmental impact.
Montgomery says, “We are consuming more cotton than we are growing, so materials like flax will need to be used more by designers in the future. An education programme will be needed because, while brands continue to use cotton, consumers will buy it instead of alternatives such as flax because they are familiar with it. The Copenhagen Sustainable Fashion Summit has been very successful in getting high profile leaders from academia and industry together to discuss sustainability, but it is still only covering the converted. The loop from producer to consumer needs to be joined up.”
Right - Raw linen on display in the Victoria & Albert Museum Exhibition ‘Fashioned From Nature’
“We need the whole industry to understand that sustainability needs to be applied to all aspects of the fashion business. Starting from yarns to fabric, manufacture, producing less through better range planning, making more locally, as well as recycling. Technology is being used to resolve the issue and their are new developments coming through such as polymer recycling, but this will take time. A lot more can be done in the short term simply by every brand making a sustainable commitment. The Kering group for example have been very pro active in enforcing their sustainable strategy across the group, while the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is researching new ways to inspire a generation to re-think, re-design and build a better future through a circular economy.” he says.
“If the industry would let go of business as usual and decide on making the transition without compromise it could do so today. With emerging technology it could reach even further, becoming truly sustainable, restorative and even regenerative.” says Karlsson.
I don’t think it’s realistic to ask people to buy less. It’s even more patronising to ask people with less money not to buy cheaper clothes. We need people to buy differently while we wait for technology and economics to close the circle on fashion items.
In the future, I can see us recycling our clothes like we do with other recyclables. Putting them into piles according to their fibre make up. This will satisfy the speed of fashion and also the in-built disposabiltiy.
Things need to go around and around and around. It’s not enough for something to be made out of plastic bottles once. It, itself, needs to be recyclable and then into something else and then something else. We need to close the loop. That is sustainable.