CLOSET WITH A CONSCIENCE
– New Zealand brands leading the charge on sustainable fashion
The world consumes around 80 billion new pieces of clothing each year – five times the number two decades ago.
There’s nothing quite like the rush of buying a fabulous new item of clothing, but how often do you think about who made it and under what conditions? Jessica-belle Greer explores the rise of the sustainable fashion movement and showcases the New Zealand brands leading the way.
It creates some of the most beautiful products in the world but the fashion industry has a surprisingly ugly side. In fact, it’s the second-largest polluter globally after the oil industry, according to high-end brand Eileen Fisher. Behind the flashy runway shows lies a path of destruction, especially in developing countries where more than 60 per cent of clothing is made, according to leading sustainability news site Ecowatch.
Crisp cotton t-shirts may look clean, but cotton is one of the most chemically dependent crops in the world, with numerous studies showing a spike in cancer in cotton workers is related to the chemicals used to grow the crop. It also sucks up water resources. It takes more than 20,000 litres of water to manufacture just 1kg of cotton, according to industry resource The Business of Fashion, which is equivalent to a t-shirt and a pair of jeans.
While man-made fibres do not rely on so much water, the manufacturing process and dyes involved harm both people and the planet. Author George Elvin says it takes 70 million barrels of oil to create the polyester used in fabrics each year. It is this fibre that is used to quench global shoppers’ insatiable thirst for new fashion. The world consumes around 80 billion new pieces of clothing each year – five times the number two decades ago, according to The True Cost, a documentary which explores the dirty tactics of the fashion industry. Fast fashion, where clothes are produced quickly and sold at low cost to create constant consumer demand, has left designers relying on cheaper, more damaging manufacturing practices to compete in the market place.
Along with the rise of fast fashion has come the inevitable backlash from increasingly eco-conscious consumers who want to know exactly what’s involved in making the clothes they buy. A positive result is designers are under pressure to rethink how they create clothes. Much like restaurants that focus on farmto-table food, the farm-to-closet fashion movement aims to track the clothes’ manufacturing process from beginning to end in the hope increased transparency will combat poor working conditions and the industry’s environmental impact on the
planet. Sustainable fashion, where brands take responsibility for the resources they use, is gaining ground.
To help consumers identify sustainable brands more easily, a number of organisations, including Child Labour Free and Baptist World Aid, have launched accreditation schemes to support ethical businesses and expose others whose practices leave much to be desired. Baptist World Aid rates a range of New Zealand and Australian companies on how their efforts to reduce exploitation in their supply chains and empower workers. Last year’s report revealed a surprising number of companies are still grappling to understand exactly who makes their clothes.
Tools like the Good On You app allow shoppers to hold brands to account at the touch of a button. The app rates companies on three key principles: how they treat people, the environment, and animal welfare. Users can look up specific brands or search standard online shopping categories to find detailed ratings, including any third-party certificates held. The app also enables shoppers to ask brands questions and give feedback, and it offers sales promotions on top-rated labels.
Leading global fashion chains such as H&M and Zara, often dubbed the Mcdonald’s of fast fashion, are responding to consumer demand with sustainable initiatives – Zara even received an A grade from the Baptist World Aid report last year. H&M, which received a B+, has pioneered a recycled polyester fabric made from plastic washed up on beaches, named Bionic, for its latest Conscious Exclusive collection.
Supermodel and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova, who stars in the Conscious campaign, says: “It’s amazing to see the advances in sustainable fabrics that are used in the collection, pointing towards a more sustainable future for all fashion.” The collection will be on sale in the Auckland store on 20 April.
It’s not just the international fashion giants that are tackling the issue. A number of New Zealand brands are leading the way by producing fashion that doesn’t cost the earth. Here, we take a closer look at six standout labels.