Eco Fashion Week

Sustainability in Fashion: What’s going on and what you can do

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Maja Maj/The Ubyssey

It’s the new year, so you know what that means — deals, deals, deals. Now I can’t resist a good deal as much as the next person, but I’m finding the affordable accessibility of clothing to be a year-round thing. In fact, according to Greenpeace, today we buy 60 per cent more clothing than we did 15 years ago.

The average US consumer, according to The Atlantic, buys around 64 items of clothes per year, proving that the fast-fashion industry is alive and well. What is fast-fashion you may ask? It is an industry where companies continuously churn out on-trend styles at cheap prices. In the beginning, it seemed like a pretty good idea. Companies produce clothes at low-cost and consumers get the hottest designer styles as fast as they want. Everybody wins right? Unfortunately, not the environment.

The fast-fashion industry is incredibly taxing on our environment due to the amount of pollution it creates. In fact, the fashion industry was deemed the second largest cause of waste in the world, next to oil and gas.

It all seems pretty bad right now, but luckily the trend of sustainable and ethical fashion is on the rise. Now more than ever, large fashion brands that you and I shop at are joining the fight to make our world more sustainable.

H&M, for example, launched its Conscious Collection that exclusively uses recycled materials in order to produce their garments. They also launched their Garment Collection program in 2013, which aims to close the waste loop in fashion and recycle unwanted clothing. Last year, H&M even came to the UBC’s Vancouver campus so that students could easily drop-off their clothing.

Birkenstock — who make those hippie sandals that we all wear — has now developed an alternative called Birko-Flor, which is made of acrylic and polyamide felt-fibres that are totally vegan.

Even startups are doing their part. Rothy’s is a San Francisco-based company that creates comfortable and stylish womens’ shoes out of recycled water bottles. So I would definitely be recycling my plastic bottles if I were you. They could end up being worn on your feet.

I know its hard to directly shop for ethical clothing with a tight budget, so it’s good to know that the stores people often shop at are doing their part.

But what about locally?

With Vancouver’s great sustainability culture, a few ethical clothing brands were bound to pop up. If you’re ever in the Gastown area, I’d recommend taking a walk into retailers such as Neighbour, who sells a number of ethically sourced brands, and One of a Few, selling handmade accessories and vintage leather bags.

More notable brands are John Fleuvog. A majority of their soles are made with 100 per cent biodegradable hevea tree latex and cemented using water-based glue.

There is also our beloved Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC)! This brand is known for consistently recycling fabric, and limiting the waste from packaging and shopping bags. They use lower impact options like organically-grown cotton and recycled nylon. A fun-fact is that twice a year, teams at MEC stores don coveralls and jump in their dumpsters to do a waste audit and find ways to improve. They go hard.

Eco Fashion Week, a not-for-profit organization, also aims to present the solutions and innovations that work to develop a more sustainable and responsible fashion industry. Just having its 11th season last November, it has expanded internationally to hosting a show in Seattle and grow the sustainability community.

What can you do?

So there are a lot of cool innovations going on around the world, as well as in Vancouver, but all these things mean going out and buying more. Weren’t we supposed to be reducing the fashion waste? That is definitely doable and here are a few tips:

  • Only buy what you love. If you can’t see yourself wearing it 30 times, rethink the purchase.
  • Buy quality over quantity. If you can hold onto your clothing article for a month longer and not buy anything else, you will actually be reducing your carbon footprint by 5–10 per cent.
  • Finally, if you really want to know if there are some purely sustainable brands out there, check out the B-Corp website. As the website states, b-corps are for-profit companies, certified to meet the rigorous standards of social and environmental performance.

As author Anna Lappé stated, “Every time we buy something, we vote for what kind of world we want to live in.” Our purchasing power as consumers makes us in control of how sustainable the fashion industry and our environment can be. So let’s get on with it and — as cheesy as it sounds — make a difference in whatever way we can, big or small.

*This story first appeared on Ubyssey

Rethink the Runway: Mainstreaming Sustainable Fashion

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Eileen Fisher is just one of many designers working to push sustainable fashion into the mainstream. Image credit: Flickr/Matt Dunham

It is becoming increasingly clear that the public wants to make greener fashion choices. As more people learn about the impact of their clothing, they want to be empowered to make more informed shopping decisions. According to the Savers State of Reuse Report, more than half of North Americans report they are more likely to practice reuse after learning about the clothing industry’s environmental footprint.

But there’s a problem: People can’t choose sustainably-sourced clothing if it’s not available on the shelves.

The clothing industry has quietly become one of the biggest polluters in the world. The public is only now starting to hear about it through the recent wave of events, films, dialogues and research studies. With the production of a single cotton T-shirt requiring over 700 gallons of water, the fashion industry is now being confronted with the strain it puts on our planet’s finite resources.

Eileen Fisher is one industry leader to publicly acknowledge the devastating environmental impact of the fashion industry, and has unwaveringly pledged to change. Eileen Fisher’s Vision 2020 initiative is guiding her business toward 100 percent sustainable practices while still creating high-quality, timeless and fashionable garments.

Although it may not be apparent that Fisher is blazing a trail when you walk into the nearest mall or department store, she is one of many designers and organizations that remained committed to eco-friendly and sustainable fashion for years.

Take Eco Fashion Week, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to discovering solutions and innovations to help advance the fashion industry in a sustainable and responsible direction. Founder and President Myriam Laroche uses her deep understanding of retail buying to empower designers, retailers and stylists to embrace sustainable fashion.

And after 10 successful years in Vancouver, Canada, Eco Fashion Week brought the world’s largest sustainable fashion show to Seattle this year to further its mission – highlighting fashion rooted in zero-waste production, eco-friendly textile treatment and development, and the environmentally conscious disposal of unwanted clothing. Two days of runway shows celebrated unique collections fashioned from sustainable materials as well as reclaimed materials.

These efforts are pushing the fashion industry in the right direction, but there is still more work to be done. With high price tags and limited selection, sustainable fashion can seem unattainable to the average person. To truly move the needle and minimize our clothing footprint, sustainable fashion must become mainstream.

From how cotton is grown, fabrics are dyed and garments are manufactured, to how owners care for these items and whether unwanted garments are repurposed or recycled to ensure a second life, sustainably-sourced fashion begins long before a garment is placed on a shelf. And it ends far after a person no longer wears it. Both shoppers and retailers must acknowledge that the real cost of clothing is more than what’s printed on the price tag.

When over 95 percent of textile and clothing waste sent to landfills is recoverable through recycling or reuse, it’s a huge loss to simply toss these goods away.

Committing to the affordability, availability and increased visibility of sustainable garments is only part of the solution. As Runway Reimagined at Eco Fashion Week demonstrated, it’s also important for designers, artists and manufacturers to consider what happens to their discarded garments. When over 95 percent of textile and clothing waste sent to landfills is recoverable through recycling or reuse, it’s a huge loss to simply toss these goods away. Runway Reimagined challenged designers and stylists to use unsold secondhand clothing and textiles to create new looks, because the most sustainable fashion is fashion that already exists.

From the production of a garment to its disposal, we must continue to seek out innovative solutions. Given that over 80 billion new pieces of clothing will be purchased this year alone – 400 percent more than we consumed 20 years ago – Savers feels this is an important challenge. Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to create a sustainable fashion future, one that fosters sustainable production and distribution while also addressing waste as a part of the fashion industry. How our industry chooses to respond to these challenges is up to us.

*This story first appeared on The Triple Pundit