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Sustainable Fashion?

November 9, 2009

As Vancouver Fashion Week winds down today, one might ask oneself what impact fashion might have on the environment and working conditions around the world? What, if any, positive impact would sustainable choices in fashion make to the environment? For the fashionably conscious switching from haute couture to baggy hemp garments doesn’t really seem like a choice. Is baggy hemp the only choice?

Vancouver Fashion Week brought some answers to these question last Friday at their Eco Fashion Show in the Colin Campbell building. Thanks to Paige Donner from Greening Hollywood Reeve Consutling’s Amanda Mungal had the opportunity to attend the show and was quite impressed with the work of our local designers. Not only were the clothes completely wearable and fashionable, each designer considered the environment and working conditions in their choice of textiles.

After the show Amanda met up with Paige to discuss what makes fashion eco-friendly? The most immediate answer was textiles; what is the environmental impact of their processing, what if any employment standards are adhered to in the manufacturing plants, is the resource being used sustainable? But like most things the answer is a bit more complicated.

Bamboo has of late been the hot new trend in sustainable textiles but questions have been raised in regards to its carbon footprint as well as the amount of water and chemicals used during the processing. The proponents of bamboo have argued that at least they are taking steps in the right direction, which is true. All change and innovation has a growth period during which shortfalls will need to be addressed.

Another option is 100% organic cotton. Organic cotton is currently produced in 24 countries around the globe its production is growing at a rate of 50% a year. The switch to organic cotton is important not just for the sake of feeling earth friendly but consider this: regular cotton takes up 2.4% of the worlds cultivated land mass but makes up for 16% of the use of insecticides. Imagine the impact that a large-scale move to organic cotton would have on the planet. Cotton can be grown all over the world, reducing its carbon footprint and with Fair Trade practices in place it would be a financially viable crop that supported local economies. Organic cotton is still significantly more expensive than regular cotton, but as more people get on board production will rise to meet demand and prices will come down.

Possibly the most environmentally friendly ‘R’ and the most overlooked is Re-use. Our consumer society has not embraced this notion to its fullest as we are encouraged to regularly buy the newest item that is better for the environment. Some designers have embraced the concept of Re-using by creating new items out of previously used fabrics. Planet Claire is an example of a local designer who manages to employ the concept of Re-use by selling and/or incorporating vintage clothing, using earth friendly fabrics, including seaweed and employing socially responsible labour practices.

So to answer the question can fashion be sustainable, does it matter and could making sustainable choices have an impact? Most definitely! Furthermore, as discovered at Vancouver’s Eco Fashion Show it can be cutting edge and stylish as well.

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