Sustainable fashion is bang on-trend for 2022, but what is it and how do we make sure we are buying it? It is perhaps easiest to think of it as the antithesis and antidote to so-called “fast fashion” and its massive carbon footprint, created by mass production, long shipping distances and, often, a very short life in the wardrobe before being thrown away.
Sometimes referred to as eco-fashion, sustainable fashion tackles clothing production and supply from start to finish, favouring locally made and biodegradable materials that will last.
For Leeds-born fashion designer Laura Pitharas, who launched her eponymous fashion brand last October, fabrics produced ethically and, where possible, locally are the starting point.
“The fashion industry is one of the worst contributors to environmental issues, so shopping small is very important because mass production and this culture that we can buy and wear once is so unsustainable and unethical,” she says. See the Laura Pitharas collection here.
Laura studied menswear tailoring at the London College of Fashion and now has her own luxury womenswear brand, with a capsule collection of tailored pieces crafted in London from wool woven in Yorkshire, at Alfred Brown in Bramley and at Dugdale in Huddersfield. She buys organic cotton from UK suppliers that work with ethical manufacturers overseas. “Because cotton is a natural fabric, we think it’s OK, but it is actually one of the most toxic and chemically made and it has a massive impact on developing countries. Multiple farmers in developing worlds die from this chemical exposure.”
Laura’s advice for those considering sustainable fashion shopping is first to look at the label to check the materials (she personally avoids polyester). Try to shop small, from smaller brands, or check out the sustainable collections of larger brands (such as Monsoon, featured here), and, of course, pick organic fabrics wherever you can.
Famed for its signature, bright, organic cotton dungarees, Lucy & Yak sends its clothes out across the world from its warehouse in Doncaster. It makes much of its clothing, including pinafores, cargo pants, sweatshirts and crop tops, ethically in India, but in 2019 the brand launched its Made in Britain range, which is manufactured in Barnsley, where CEO Lucy Greenwood was born and raised.
“Barnsley had a lot of big sewing factories – my mum used to work at one called Corah, and SR Gent had a factory around the Barnsley area, so we knew there would be people around there that were skilled,” she told The Yorkshire Post.
People Tree, meanwhile, has been at the forefront of sustainable Fair Trade fashion for 30 years and takes pride in setting the highest ethical and environmental standards while offering innovative and affordable fashion using organic cotton, Tencel, Lyocell and responsible wool, made using artisan skills such as hand weaving, knitting, embroidery and block printing. It was the first fashion company to be awarded the World Fair Trade Organisation product label. Creative director Tracy Mulligan says: “Our organic denim is long-lasting and durable. The less you machine wash them, the better – try putting them in the freezer as an alternative.”
We wear a lot of cotton, so its production is vital to ensuring sustainable fashion. Ilyanna Peters, of climate protection campaigner Treepoints, points out that cotton tends to be grown in dry environments, so requires huge amounts of water to produce. “If we stop buying poor quality, it will push brands to improve the quality of their garments,” she says. “It will also allow us to keep our clothes longer, which is good for our wallets and for the environment. In the meantime, take care of your items, wash your clothes in cold water and repair them yourself if you can.”
But do customers want sustainable and organic fashion, given its added costs? Laura Pitharas believes that, increasingly, they do. “I think, when I explain, and go into detail about how just choosing an organic fabric can make a massive difference, they understand,” she says. “From what I am seeing, people are starting to care.”
HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR CLOTHES AND DROP THE WEAR-IT-ONCE HABIT
Lucy & Yak research has found that one in eight British people say they will wear an outfit once only, because they don’t want it seen twice on social media, and more than a quarter say they judge other people who wear the same outfit twice. Here are Lucy & Yak’s top tips on how to upcycle the look and the life in your clothes:
■ Dye it. For example, if you have a white T-shirt you are considering getting rid of because it has some slight discolouration, try experimenting with fabric dye to give it a new lease of life for summer, perhaps a classic tie-dye, or dip-dyeing.
■ Repurpose it. Check out Pinterest or Instagram to see what influencers are wearing and whether you have something similar in your wardrobe to recreate the look. Lucy & Yak says: “We love seeing eco-conscious influencers reuse their clothes in fun ways. This is a great way to look at all your clothing in a new light.”
■ Mix and match it. Rethink your teaming of separates and even dresses, which can look completely different with heels and a sparkly bag or dress down with a white T-shirt under it and sneakers. Take all your clothes out of your wardrobe (or at least the ones you’re bored of), put your favourite happy playlist on and dance about your room trying on different outfits, seeing what sparks joy and what creative combinations your happy mind comes up with.
■ Rethink how you wear your accessories. Renew outfits with layered necklaces, a vintage rucksack, or charity shop hat. Take out all your accessories and lay them out on the bed, look at the colours, shapes and patterns that pair well, matching or clashing, to pull together outfits you might never have thought of.