The problem with the fashion industry

“I like my money where I can see it. Hanging in my closet” those words uttered by Sex and The City’s heroine Carrie Bradshaw have become a mantra to live by for millions of people around the world. But to what cost? 

After the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed in 2013, killing over 1,000 of its worker’s people where left outraged. The problem they’d be ignoring for years had become headline news. High street favourites Primark, Mango and Inditex (the parent company behind Zara) all had their clothing produced in this factory which was not fit to work in.

The Voice of London spoke to Elly, a dressmaker and blogger, from London who had lots to say about sustainability within her industry. She talked about how she first got into sustainability and ethical clothing: “I work as a costume maker for film and TV, so I know the time and skill that goes into creating beautiful garments! After the Rana Plaza factory collapse it dawned on that I was supporting the exploitation of women who essentially had the same job as me. The [only] reason I had more specialised training and a better paying job was simply the luck of where I was born. So, I stopped buying fast fashion, and started looking for ethical alternatives for clothes I needed to replace in my wardrobe.”

Elly recommends vintage shopping, for an ethical but stylish way to replenish your wardrobe: “I’ve always been a fan of second-hand and vintage shopping, and much prefer the uniqueness of the clothes I find, to following high street trends.”

“We have far more clothes than we could ever need but we find them unsatisfying because they are poorly designed and will quickly be eclipsed by another flash-in-pan trend.”

It’s not only the sustainability of brands that frustrates Elly, it’s also the fact that many well-known brands allegedly don’t pay their staff (who make the clothes) the living wage: “It frustrates me that fast fashion brands are being so slow to change their behaviour; the owners of well-known brands top the Forbes Rich List, so if small businesses can pay their workers a living wage, why can’t the richest men on the planet manage it?”

Infographic: Ruby Naldrett created with Piktochart (all stats from Fashion Revolution)

Consumers seem frustrated with the government and the fashion industry both for ignoring the problem. VoL spoke to Madeline Petrow, the CEO and founder of Mamoq – a curated shopping site dedicated to housing ethical and sustainable brands, she told us how she initially got into the world of sustainable fashion:

“My background is in International Development, so it was actually the human element that first got me interested in the fashion industry. The fashion industry has these huge globalised supply chains which could be an incredible source of economic opportunity for developing nations, but sadly it generally uses its global power to exploit instead of empower. I started to get more involved in learning about worker’s rights in the fashion industry, and once I learned about the huge environmental cost as well, it became clear that the industry’s status quo needs to change. In order to demand changes from big retailers, we need to first learn about why it’s important to care, and then have the option to buy from brands committed to producing fashion in the right way. We set up MAMOQ to do exactly that. ”

What does Madeline think of the fast fashion retailers who have no sustainability information or goals on their sites? “I think that cheap, fast fashion retailers are propelling everything that is wrong in the fashion industry.  They lack creativity in their design, and simply copy the latest trends as quickly as possible. They want the latest looks, for the cheapest price, and as quickly as possible. Often this means that workers and environment bear the burden and cost of such expedited, cheap production. Furthermore, fast fashion has fostered a culture of over-consumption, and ushered in a mindset of “disposable fashion”.  Who cares if you only wear that dress once if it only cost £9?  This is unsustainable, and sets unrealistic price expectations for garments that are made fairly.”

Mamoq works with over 60 brands from across Europe that are committed to decreasing the environmental cost of fashion and increasing their positive social impact. Madeline’s top picks for sustainable fashion brands available to shop on Mamoq are:

Zola Amour “[they] work with sustainably sourced, organic and OKEO-Tex certified fabrics and ethically manufactures their garments by hand in their studio in England.”

TAUKO “[they] design contemporary womenswear out of upcycled and end-of-role materials reducing dependency on virgin sources.”

VILDNIS  “[this brand] offers sustainably-made casual wear with scandi-roots.  They use innovative techno-fibres including recycled PET from old plastic bottles”

In regards to high street shops ignoring their ethical responsibilities – Stylist, Daisy Schubert, told VoL that: “High Street efforts are a tricky issue – there is uncertainty how much of their efforts are greenwashing / PR efforts / jumping on the trend and what is done out of genuine brand values. Without customer demand for answers and steady improvements, there is little incentive for big corporations to change their attitudes towards their supply chain and the marketing messages they bombard consumers with.”

Daisy admits that it can be hard to shop a whole new wardrobe whilst being sustainable: “My clients find sustainable accessories brands an easy switch, but sadly the market is still not broad enough to cater for all their clothing needs. We then carefully curate a wardrobe that will last long-term to reduce the need for fast fashion.”

But what do the public think? We asked a selection of people for their thoughts on fast-fashion:

Infographic: Ruby Naldrett created with Piktochart (quotes given to Voice of London)

So what can we do to combat this toxic fast fashion environment?

Shopping second hand in charity and vintage shops is a great way to pick up pieces without being detrimental to the environment.

However, if you do want to shop new but still be ethical these brands come highly recommended by the people we spoke to:

  1. Lucy & Yak – handmade dungarees.
  2. Critically Endangered Socks – 20% of all sales go to helping critically endangered animals.
  3. Deakin & Blue – sustainably made swimwear.
  4. You Underwear – fairtrade and organic underwear.
  5. Birdsong – a brand that connects buyers to the producers.
  6. Sketch – a collection of all things sustainable.

What are your favourite sustainable brands? Or do you have any tips for dressing more ethically? Tweet us @VoiceofLondonUK 

Words & Video: Ruby Naldrett | Subbing: Peony Hirwani
Featured Image: Fashion Revolution

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