Through the next two months, GreenStitched sits down with the finalists of EcoChic Design Award 2015/16. EcoChic Design Award is a sustainable fashion design competition organised by Redress, inspiring emerging fashion designers and students to create mainstream clothing with minimal textile waste.
The interviews with these young designers will be posted every Wednesday on GreenStitched.
Today we meet Annie, a Fashion Design student at Central Saint Martins.
What brought you into the world of fashion? That ‘aha’ moment which opened doors to sustainable fashion?
Annie: Honestly I am completely appalled and disgusted by the fashion industry. It is infuriating to see how such a natural and beautiful craft has turned into a wasteful, environmentally and humanly-damaging mess that only cares for the gain of money and popularity, as with most things in the world.
I am trying my best to develop my own practice of work to be as environmentally aware as possible is really the least I can do. I want to be a sustainable fashion designer to raise awareness and change the way people think about consumption and waste and I want to develop alternatives to an industry that is primarily based on ephemeral trends and mass production.
What was your inspiration for the EcoChic Design Award collection?
Annie: The collection was inspired by paintings by Karel Appel, Kandinsky, Kirchner and Matisse, and in particular one of Matisse’s paintings in which naked bodies recline and walk freely around a garden. My collection was based on a series of textiles I created which used up all the waste from the collection by cutting up and fraying all the off cuts and painting over them. These decorated simple silhouettes and all the fabrics used were obtained from old furnishings or off cuts.
3 things you learnt from of the challenge?
– Considering the human conditions of production are just as important as the environmental impact when designing. Because I have never had to design on a huge scale, I had never really thought about how mass production factories work, but visiting one of the largest shirt producing factories in the world during the Ecochic Design Award was incredibly eye opening and shocking.
– There are so many aspects beyond the garment itself that need to be taken into consideration when designing. For instance will the user need to wash or iron the garment often? Is the garment easy to dispose of or transform into something else?
– There are always so many ways to improve the sustainability of a design, so it is a process that keeps growing.
How do you think sustainable fashion can move from a niche to the mainstream?
Annie: There are very few new and exciting designers who genuinely care about sustainability, and it would be great for this to change. Large designers are often guilty of green-washing consumers, or making poor attempts at sustainability that make this branch of design seem like a joke or a fad. Then of course, there is the problem since brands have to sell to make money ; nobody wants to slow down the pace of fashion, or create fewer, longer lasting garments. The whole attitude towards consumption needs to change, and consumers need to start appreciating craftsmanship and slow fashion more.
What is the biggest misconception about sustainable fashion?
Annie: The biggest problem in my opinion is green-washing, and large companies using sustainability as way of advertising and marketing. This sort of false “sustainability” or “eco-friendly” clothing is damaging to those who genuinely care about the environment and workers rights.
What is your advice for the next breed of fashion designers?
Annie: Start learning about ways to be more sustainable as early on in your education as possible.
What is next in store for you?
Annie: This year I will be interning for Bernhard Willhelm, Vivienne Westwood and then a new brand in Shanghai, after which I will go back to university to begin my final collection.
You can follow Annie on Instagram.
Watch Frontline Fashion, a documentary following these talented Asian and European emerging fashion designers determined to change the future of fashion. As they descend into Hong Kong for the design battle of their lives, all eyes are on the first prize; to design an up-cycled collection for China’s leading luxury brand, Shanghai Tang. This documentary is available on iTunes here.
The next cycle of the EcoChic Design Awards is open for application from 3 January to 3 April 2017. Interested students can find more details here.
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
- After a decade in the organic food and beauty industry Marci Zaroff (above) recognized the “missing link” in the supply chain – ethics and sustainability.
- She coined the term ‘eco-fashion’ and set about pioneering a market for organic and sustainable textiles.
- Rethinking the fashion supply chain can cut costs, add value to collaborators and offer better-priced garments.
- She shares her views with Real Leaders on how to keep the fashion industry pure, transparent and authentic.
In your opinion what are some of the obstacles to overcome in the fashion industry?
We have to break stigmas. One of these is the idea that in order to embrace fashion, style, quality, fit, colour and comfort, sustainability must be compromised. These two ideas are not mutually exclusive. People think sustainability costs more, but it depends on how savvy a brand or designer is in navigating a supply chain. A typical garment can change hands 7-10 times within a supply chain and many designers will deal with a factory only, leaving the supply chain to others behind the scenes. For the past 20 years I have gone to the source, starting at the farm gates and cutting out much of the inefficiencies of a typical garment supply chain. This has added value to the products and creates a competitive price.
The fashion industry is the second biggest colluder in the world, alongside coal, for air and water pollution. It represents about 10 percent of the world’s carbon impact and uses three trillion gallons of fresh water every year. Twenty percent of fresh water pollution comes from textile dying and 5 percent of landfills are textile waste.
What are some of the biggest changes and improvements in the industry that you have seen?
The emergence of the organic cotton industry, as an alternative to fibre, is still seen as a niche sector and viewed much like the organic food trend. Studies have shown that 84 percent of American consumers occasionally buy organic food, so I really see organic cotton as the next frontier.
It’s a growing industry that has emerged mainly from collaboration. I was part of a team that developed The Global Organic Textile Standard that saw different organic standards in the U.S. U.K., Japan and Germany come together as one premier global standard for organic textiles. Fashion crosses borders by nature and we’re now able to track material from farm to shelf. If you can’t create sustainability on a financial level, then as much as you want to do good for people and planet, it won’t work.
Who inspired you at a young age?
When I was 15 a friend gave me a book, Living In The Light by Shakti Gawain. It opened my eyes to the fact that there’s more to the world than what we see.
It struck me on a very deep level. I also discovered Aveda, the cosmetic company that uses plant-derived ingredients founded by Horst Rechelbacher. I met him in my teens and he became my mentor for 25 years. He taught me that you can actually align your personal and professional values. My favorite quote is, “Work is love made visible.”
In the very competitive and cutthroat fashion industry, how do you separate your business from some of your competitors?
Staying true to your vision is important. We all create our own reality, because we’re made of energy. Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve todays problems with the same consciousness that created those problems.” It’s about trusting our gut, following our heart and adding social purpose to a business.
Believing that I can create something that doesn’t exist while generating authenticity and true leadership has set my brand apart and people aren’t just buying my products, they’re joining my brand and what it stands for. Consumer products are very powerful in effecting positive change, more so than governments.
In a predominantly female industry such as fashion, do you think more women are gaining the top leadership roles or do you think men still dominate? If so, how do you change this?
We still have a long way to go but progress is being made. I recently attended an award ceremony in New York and saw how empowered women have become. They are joining forces and it’s like 1+1=11. The more that women share success stories and support each other, the more exponential shifts we are going to see. It comes down to mentoring the next generation. A friend of mine is currently producing a movie called Women on Wall Street. In every Wall Street film preceding hers, women are either portrayed as secretaries or wives, yet dynamic and successful women already exist on Wall Street. The more we expose these types of women the more confidence it will give the next generation – showing that gender should never be an obstacle.
How would you describe a real leader?
Someone who has aligned their personal and professional values. As a real leader you need to be both strong and sensitive, empower people and treat others the way you want to be treated – not seeing the top guns and little guys as different human beings – but part of the same family. Embed the same values into your business that you’d find in your home – peace, love and happiness. It will help create an inner connection that makes you aware of our collective consciousness. You should strive to be a role model for others.
What mistakes have you learned from the most?
I don’t see anything as a mistake. I see everything as an opportunity to learn and grow. It’s human nature that until we experience the dark we can’t know the light. There’s no joy without pain. You can’t know what you really want unless you experience first what you don’t want. I achieve more when I build teams, and work with people who are open and communicative. It’s the key to successful relationships, partnerships and businesses. The days of dictatorial and authoritative attitudes are over. It’s about team – the “me” to the “we.”
What are some of the things that you would advise or that you would like to see happen to create a more sustainable world?
We need to create a new normal that doesn’t just consider how things look, but what kinds of materials and manufacturing methods where chosen. Millennials are the first digital generation that can pull back the curtain and ask, “Who made my clothes? Where is it made? What’s in it?”These questions are catalysts for making brands and retailers think about these issues.
After the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, where 1,133 garment workers lost their lives, 60 countries demanded that the industry change. Lives were lost for fashion and people were no longer willing to sit back and support a destructive industry. Everybody wears clothing and if you can add value to these products by demonstrating social and environmental accountable, without compromising great style, price and quality you have a win-win situation – doing good, looking good and feeling good.
*This story first appeared here.