Fashion Under Capitalism: An Unsustainable Consumer Culture

In a world consumed by Capitalist ideals, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of the season’s latest trends, discarding them like shed skin once they are no longer popular. The fashion industry doesn’t make this any easier. Although they are portrayed as creative and free, in the end, they are still a business, one which is worth $1.5tn a year. It is one of the most globalised trades in the world which continues to hide under the guise of a non-commerce industry, selling their wares as something that is a necessary part of our lives. How can this be right? Sure, with any economic system comes with it its pros and cons, but fashion especially has been stretched and moulded into something less than savoury under Capitalism. Granted, it may seem natural for us to strive for prosperity and wealth – our culture in fact praises those who are driven towards success – but some say it has not always been this way. With an incentive for personal gain through ownership and profit, people are encouraged to own more than they need, continually striving for ‘the next best thing’, never being truly satisfied with what they already have. Of course, wanting to be successful and appreciated for one’s work is not in itself a bad thing, but when it is motivated purely by monetary gain, that is when problems begin to arise.

Image: Mak Remissa/ Shutterstock

In a way, the fashion industry has taken advantage of this Capitalist culture, realising that wherever there is demand, there will always be opportunities for increased profit. It may be hard for us now to not identify fashion with fast fashion chains like H&M and Zara, but it hasn’t always been the case. Before industrialisation, the production of anything, especially clothing, took a much longer process. It was a practice which required years of skill and expertise to master, where each piece was made to endure the harsh elements of weather, and last for a person’s lifetime. With the rise of technology, clothing could be produced at a much quicker rate, allowing for mass production and with it, mass discarding of goods which were in perfectly adequate condition. Clothing companies recognised this as an opportunity for further profit, and eagerly latched on to the increasingly materialistic values of a consumer society.

Image: GQ

Perhaps machines cannot create pieces as unique as individuals can, but this became less of a problem with the arrival of consumer culture. Not only are we encouraged to consume relentlessly, we are forced to then throw away those things we replace and see them as ‘broken’. We are essentially buying without the intention of keeping things for the long haul. Even I am no stranger to this mentality – I have definitely fallen into the fast fashion cycle, purchasing and discarding with the seasons. Even if you donate these unwanted clothes to second-hand stores, the reality is that most just end up in landfills. Within Australia alone, only 15% of clothing donated to charities are resold.  And what happens with the rest that are conveniently dumped? Clothing made from polyester can take up to 200 years to break down, and natural fibres such as cotton and wool, although able to biodegrade and compost, are not supplied with the right environment to do so in the landfill. In fact, wool secretes ammonia into the air when compressed in landfills, further damaging our environment. Not only do our materialistic values contribute to the waste in the world, but the production of clothes and accessories to keep us happy is in itself unsustainable. Incredible amounts of water and energy is needed to produce clothes, and in the process, pesticides are dumped into the environment, polluting air and waterways. According to McKinsey, 23kg of greenhouse gases are produced when making only 1kg of fabric! Who knew looking good would cost so much?

Image: Pixabay/ Prylarer

Of course, as with any issue, there is a flip side of the coin. Without an incentive for efficiency and innovation, fashion may not be an expression of creativity that it is today. We just have to find a middle ground where it can be beneficial for people, as well as the environment.

 

Written by: Tiffany Ko

Sources:
https://www.citysmart.com.au/blog/unsustainable-impacts-fast-fashion/

We Are Allbirds

TIME magazine labelled New Zealand company Allbirds’ shoes as the most comfortable shoes in the world. Co-founders Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger developed an approach to footwear that uses natural and recycled materials to create stylish ‘runners’, ‘skippers’ and ‘loungers’ while remaining true to mother nature during production.

Image: Mor Shamay

Wool was the first primary material to be incorporated into Allbirds’ shoes as an alternative to synthetics more commonly used to make footwear. ZQ-certified Merino wool is used, which means the fibres are softer, more breathable and are odour and stain resistant. ZQ merino also ensures that the wool used meets the highest standard of farming, land management and animal welfare. Consumers are even encouraged to forgo the use to socks because of the softness of the insoles, also lined with merino wool. Laces are made from recycled polyester and plastic bottles.

 

Image: Allbirds

The eco-friendly company also produces footwear made from treessourced from South-Africa. The trees rely only on rainfall in the region and not irrigation and are Forest Stewardship Council® certified, which means Allbirds stands to support the sustainability and responsible management of the world’s rainforests.

Image: Allbirds

Allbirds aims to manufacture its products with as little environmental impact as possible. Its proprietary merino fabric used in the Wool Runners and Loungers was produced in the only wool mill in Europe certified for the European Commission for environmental sustainability. In addition, the fibre created for the Tree Runners and Skippers was done so by a fibre producer called Lenzing, who received the European Award for the Environment award for their sustainable manufacturing.

Allbirds’ shoes cater to all ages and are machine washable. Orders are shipped in boxes made from 90% recycled cardboard. Any returns are donated to charity Soles4Soles that distribute shoes to communities and people in need.

Image: Allbirds

Comfort and style meet eco-friendly with Allbirds’ shoes. It’s another step toward a fashion industry that’s conscious of its environmental impact. This company contributes to making dressing greener from head to toe a definite reality.

Find Allbirds here.

 

Written by: Celina Foong

 

 

 

H&M: Planet or Profit Conscious?

Old candlesticks and sea-worn rope fishing nets may not instantly inspire thoughts of glamorous high fashion, but according to Ann-Sofie Johansson, creative advisor at H&M, they represent a new way forward for the industry.

“The way the materials feature in our Conscious Exclusive collection shows how the latest technology can be incorporated with time-honoured techniques for spectacular results.” Johansson says of the fast-fashion giant’s newest ‘eco-positive’ undertaking.

Inspired by the early 20th century Arts and Craft movement, the 2018 Conscious Exclusive collection features rich emeralds, dusky blues and neutral tones, showcasing the unusual recycled materials.

Image: H&M

The Conscious Exclusive line was spawned several years ago when the company recognised growing social pressure to change their unsustainable practices. “Our size, scale and influence mean we have both a responsibility to do the right thing and an opportunity to create real lasting change.” acknowledges Anna Gedda, the head of sustainability.

Recycling-focused Conscious Exclusive was their solution. Now on their seventh collection, the line has garnered a sizeable following with celebs and eco-minded customers.

The move was met with such a success, in fact, that the company announced in December a brand new progressive range, lauded by designer Petra Smeds as ‘the way forward’ for fashion.
The big innovation? Activewear, made -wait for it- from recycled materials. And of course, we can’t forget H&M’s October sustainability initiative “Close The Loop”: cutting edge, state of the art denim looks… made from recycled materials.

Image: H&M

To quote The Devil Wears Prada: groundbreaking.

It seems H&M have found a niche that ticks all the boxes in moving away from their damaging ‘ruthless fast-fashion mill’ image. But is this really the revolution they claim it to be? The prices in the ‘exquisite, premium’ Conscious line, as H&M’s website describes it, are drastically higher from the stores usual offerings — on average retailing around $200-$400AUD. Meanwhile, a run-of-the-mill, non-‘eco’ t-shirt will still only set you back little more than $5.

When we look past the novelty factor of clothes made from fishing nets, it begs the question: what is being done to address the very real and very unsustainable production practices that enable such appealing low prices?

H&M defends its use of developing countries for production, arguing the company is ‘supporting’ growth through ‘mutually prosperous partnerships’. Furthermore, H&M attests that “We only allow our products to be manufactured by suppliers and factories that commit to our values and sign our strict code of conduct”.

Image: H&M

However, H&M concedes that suppliers have often broken their ‘strict code of conduct’ in the past. A Cambodian production factory rated ‘Gold’ standard by H&M revealed 8000 of their workers had collapsed of malnutrition since 2010. Most recently, the brand made news in February when an exposé alleged a major supplier to H&M used Chinese prisoners as labour to make packaging for the brand, paying them just $19USD a month. Meanwhile, the same amount could buy Aussie customers a nice H&M top.

Not only are at-risk workers losing out in this race for volume, but so is the planet. H&M proudly boasts it has been certified as the world’s No.1 user of organic cotton; a fact that distracts from the reality that H&M is one of the biggest consumers of cotton, period. Cotton crops, organic or not, require colossal amounts of water and energy in their production: it takes 20,000 litres to produce enough cotton for a single t-shirt.

Image: H&M

H&M’s intentions seem undeniably noble, taking measures toward production transparency and conscientiousness far beyond those of their fast-fashion competitors. However, the issue lies in mass fashion retailers’ driving motivation: ‘quantity, quantity, quantity’.

Whilst this remains the ethos of these brands, sustainability will never be achievable, and author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? Lucy Siegle advises we take so-called “green or ethical collections” with a pinch of salt.

“The biggest of the fast fashion brands are keen to show us that they are not just cleaning up but leading the charge. But behind the scenes the business model remains intact, predicated on producing ever-increasing volumes at lower prices and faster speeds.” She says.

Image: H&M

It may seem as though all hope is lost for a sustainable future for the industry as long as the appeal of trendy, cheap fashion reigns supreme. But Siegle has one solution for budget-conscious consumers who can’t afford the eco-friendly boutiques but still want to make a difference. “Buy fast fashion for slow reasons.” She implores; “Keep [it] in your wardrobe for as long as possible and commit to wearing until it’s fit for dusters”.

So next time you feel tempted by that $5 shirt destined to be thrown out in your next spring clean, or are drawn to that magic green sticker that makes you look great AND feel good, stop and think: what’s the real cost here?

 

Written by: Kate Nightingale

Sources:
http://money.cnn.com/2018/02/22/news/companies/hm-3m-ca-china-prison-labor-allegations/index.html
http://www.businessinsider.com/hm-vows-to-improve-working-conditions-in-its-factories-in-cambodia-and-india-2016-5?IR=T
https://www.vogue.com.au/fashion/trends/how-your-fast-fashion-habit-is-harming-more-than-the-earth/news-story/b67985de72be083a05570255ee8bdc2c
https://www.vogue.com.au/gamechangers/Fashion-and-Culture/hm-are-set-to-launch-their-latest-sustainable-conscious-exclusive-collection/news-story/9bf78e608fe81a61dffee840b523073b
https://www.worldwildlife.org/industries/cotton
http://about.hm.com/en/sustainability.html

Tom Ford Goes Vegan And The Fashion World Gets Better

We are no strangers to veganism – from our colourful Instagram feeds, to the trendy cafés popping up all over the place, even to our close friends ditching meat and animal by-products, one thing is clear: veganism has taken the world by storm. Celebrities and ambassadors alike have advocated for the positive health and environmental benefits of this plant-based diet. But how has this movement changed the fashion industry?

Tom Ford, founder of the eponymous multi-million fashion label, is one example of how this trend is influencing the way high fashion is being produced. Always mindful of his health, Ford says he was inspired to take the leap and become vegan after watching the documentary What The Health. “I’ve been vegan for about the last year. When you look at how most of our meat, our animal products, are raised, from a health standpoint, I didn’t feel that I should eat those things anymore.”

Image: Landon Nordeman

Although initially health-related, Ford says that since going vegan, he has become more conscious of the unethical use of animal products in fashion. It goes without mention that the fur controversy is heading this debate, and Ford is proud to be limiting the use of fur in his collections, embracing faux fur and clothing pieces made from food by-products instead. “That means cowhide, it means shearling, it means not doing fur that is raised purely for its pelt…whether I’m consuming meat or not, other people are, so these are things that are collected.”

Image: Alessandro Garofalo

But is using faux fur instead of real fur a change for the better? The production of faux fur itself is an unsustainable practice, as most fake fur is produced with petroleum, a non-renewable resource. Creating synthetic fibres to imitate fur also requires chemical reactions which release toxic substances into the environment, and so many designers are torn between the unethical practice of using real fur, and the unsustainability of faux fur. Ford himself is ambivalent regarding this topic, “I’m also very torn about this because fake fur is terrible for the environment. People think of fake fur as a disposable thing. They buy it, they wear it a few seasons, they throw it away, it doesn’t biodegrade. It’s a petroleum product. It is highly toxic. And then, you could argue that tanning leather is a highly toxic process. A fur coat gets recycled. People wear them for 30 years, they give them to their kids, then they turn them into throw pillows. So I don’t know the answer to that.”

Image: Landon Nordeman

This uncertainty in which course to take is by no means a harmless one. Ford recounts the time when a woman at an event was so distraught by the use of fur in his collections that she poured tomato juice over him in protest. Although a frightening experience, it did not convince him to ban fur from his label. He goes on to explain how many customers are loyal to the brand because of its fur and leather pieces, and how it is ultimately a difficult decision to make for the business.

Image: Yannis Vlamos

So, has veganism saved the day? We don’t know for sure, but it has definitely made heads turn and minds think about the future of the fashion industry. Even though progress is slow, we are for sure heading towards a more sustainable future. Let’s hope we will soon be saying goodbye to fur and leather, for good!

 

Written by: Tiffany Ko

Sources:
http://www.latimes.com/fashion/la-ig-wwd-vegan-tom-ford-20180206-story.html
https://www.wmagazine.com/story/tom-ford-vegan-fur
http://www.truthaboutfur.com/en/questions-answers-about-fur

Art For Veganism

In 2018, everybody is scrolling past content that is infinite. Sharing information on the internet and social media has become the norm. Among that information, opinions, ideas and beliefs are riddled within cyberspace for anybody to find. Movements are started with hashtags and art becomes a mouthpiece for communities.

With over 600 posts on Instagram, CJ Jacobs (@cynical_coyote) uses her talent to spread awareness about the oppression of animals to non-vegans. Based in Albany, New York, the artist creates striking images detailing the harsh reality of animals raised and slaughtered for human consumption. Jacobs began incorporating the theme of veganism into her artwork a short time after she began the vegan diet herself.

Image: Cynical Coyote

“I felt an urge to talk about everything I’d learned. I’m not well spoken so art was the natural outlet, and it became an addiction.”

Jacobs encourages anyone who visits her account to ask questions they may want answered about veganism. The artist also allows others to share her art, believing that if she were in the animals’ position, she’d hope that the few who did know the extent of her abuse would speak out about it.

“I want to be the person who I would listen to when I was not vegan, and I want to share the information I believe is hidden.”

Image: Cynical Coyote

Jacobs describes the account as an obligation to the vegan activist community. By interacting with the commenters on her paintings, conversations are ignited, encouragement is given and the argument for veganism gains more momentum.

“It’s important we all do out part to spread awareness to counteract campaigns companies can afford to run.”

Image: Cynical Coyote

The account is thought-provoking and yearns for empathy from whoever visits. Jacobs’ creations are sure to extract emotions from their viewers – the pieces do not shy from colour and are bold and confident in their messages. Although the vegan population around the world is the minority, Jacobs’ message to her followers is to stay hopeful.

“I think it’s important to not only accept negative realities but the hope to change them.”

 

Written by: Celina Foong

Select works can be purchased here

A Fashion Reformation

Making waves in LA, Reformation is the new go-to label of fashion’s best and brightest. With minimalist staple pieces and luxe basics, it’s been snapped adorning the likes of Margot Robbie and Emily Ratajowski. But this isn’t your average trend alert. The brand, established in 2009, has a mission. Conscious, persistent fashion made for real people, by real people.

Image: Fashionisers

“Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We’re #2,” the brand’s website boldly quips. So you might be surprised to hear that Reformation is, by definition and self-professedly, fast fashion.

“The prevailing sustainable platform—‘Buy less, use less’— isn’t a scalable strategy,” explains the label’s founder Yeal Aflalo. “You buy clothes because you really want them. The sustainability part is for us to figure out.” And they have. Reformation chases sustainability across the board, from recycled hangers in their stores to paying their workforce to use public transport instead of cars. Employees shouldn’t expect a sad cupcake on their birthday, with the company instead planting a tree in their name to commemorate the occasion. All whilst releasing new collections weekly.

Image: Observer

It almost sounds too good to be true- in a world of “green” and “eco” buzzwords, it can be hard to assess the true extent of a brand’s impact. This is where Reformation put their money where their mouth is.

Their online ‘RefScale’ feature tracks their environmental footprint on every article of clothing, adding up the pounds of carbon dioxide emitted, gallons of water used, and pounds of waste generated. When compared against the average article of clothing, the impact is startling.

Image: Eluxe Magazine 

With such extreme scrupulousness, Reformation is definitely a labour of love for Aflalo. However, she remains driven by her frustration at the inaccessibility of many sustainable clothes. “First and foremost, we’re trying to make great clothes that everyone will love, which also happen to be sustainable.” She says, “At the time [Reformation was founded], there weren’t many other brands who were making sustainable clothes that I would actually want to wear, so I created Reformation to fill this void at the intersection of design and sustainability.” 

Image: Fashionisers

However, the brand is so much more than just ‘cool and green’. Reformation consistently pursues body positivity- a rare find for a Hollywood label of such celeb status. Designs are released in capsule collections, each with different bodies in mind, with a recent a petites collection designed for ladies 5’2 and under, as well as a collection specially designed to fit women with a full C-DD cup. The brand has now gone even further in their push for social change by announcing more inclusive sizing, ranging from US size 0-22.

Image: Culture Map Dallas 

Aflalo hopes Reformation will be they first of many labels to adopt progressive social and environmental attitudes. “The industry will have to change given resource constraints and other environmental and social constraints,” she says. “I think the question is more “when” – when will big brand leaders respond proactively, or will they wait until it’s a matter of compliance. We’re really excited about the future of sustainability and the technology that comes along with it.”

 

Written by: Kate Nightingale

Find Reformation here

Sources:
https://www.vogue.com/article/reformation-eco-fashion-ethical-label
http://www.buro247.com.au/fashion/insiders/how-yael-aflalo-turned-reformation-into-an-it-girl.html
https://www.thereformation.com/pages/sustainable-practices