is sustainable fashion strictly for the wealthy?

This week on the blog I’m so pleased to share with you that I have a guest writer Chloe Hill. Chloe is a 3rd year English student at Royal Holloway, the lifestyle editor of Orbital Magazine & freelance online fashion writer for Debut Magazine.

One of the highest contributing factors to the future of retail is the growing sensitivity towards sustainability and pollution. Consumers continue to fall out of love with fast fashion companies such as Primark due to its inability to adopt a more ethical and eco-friendly strategy towards manufacturing. Yet, these ethical items are often paired with a significantly higher price point and therefore pose the question: is sustainable fashion strictly for the wealthy?

elizabeth stiles - chloe hill - sustainable fashion

Unfortunately, the pace of fast fashion has begun to warp our idea of value. Although we are all prone to purchase that £5 t-shirt, it has a huge cost, both socially and environmentally. According to the WWF, one cotton t-shirt can use up to 2,700 litres of water, with jeans using approximately 11,000 litres. If fast fashion didn’t satisfy the general consumer’s needs of purchasing little and often, then we would undoubtedly be able to afford more ethical products. Albeit, we would purchase fewer, but they would be of a far better quality and therefore have a greater longevity in our wardrobes – not to mention the significant improvement it would have on materials and working conditions. So the idea of a capsule wardrobe is particularly relevant, and many YouTuber’s and bloggers have jumped onto this hype, showing that a few basic items of good quality can go a long way. Livia Firth ran with this idea and coined the ‘30 Wears Campaign’, which helps to end the culture of quantity over quality. However, some high-street retailers have noticed the detrimental nature of fast fashion and are making small changes and starting new initiatives. For example, The ASOS Green Room compiles a collection of sustainable fashion and beauty brands, whilst H&M have a Conscious Collection and a ‘Clever Care’ initiative, to help customers to reduce their carbon footprint, as care instructions such as washing and ironing further contribute to this.

sustainable fashion - elizabeth stiles- chloe hill

The past few years in particular has seen a new generation of designers, seeking to challenge the British fashion industry regarding ethical and sustainable issues. Second to oil, the clothing industry is often labelled as one of the biggest contributors to pollution. At today’s pace, I-D recognises that the textiles economy is expected to release 20 million tonnes of plastic micro-fibres into the ocean by 2050. Earlier this year, Burberry was exposed for destroying almost £30 million worth of clothes, bags, perfumes and shoes. Although they were exposed as monstrous, they aren’t alone in this tactic – burning dead stock is one of fashion’s most common secrets. The indulgence and luxury that is associated with high-fashion is completely built on a brand that celebrates rarity and exclusivity. If sales weren’t bad enough, further discounts would only serve to dilute the luxuriousness of brands. It goes without saying that although this logic makes sense, burning leftover items cannot be the answer, especially when we consider the biodegradable nature of zips, plastic, sequins and other synthetic fabrics.

A fashion house that has complete control over its supply chain is Hermès, where everything is hand-made – only making a limited amount of products per year. This is where the infamous waiting lists come into conversation and how Hermès has created a name for itself as one of the top ways to invest your money in this day and age. The brand also promotes the initiative called ‘petit h,’ where fabric/leather scraps are transformed into accessories and small goods.

Hermes petit h shoelaces - £95  Each petit h piece is unique. The colour or the pattern of your product will be a surprise

Hermes petit h shoelaces - £95

Each petit h piece is unique. The colour or the pattern of your product will be a surprise

Although it may seem ironic, Burberry have now come full-circle and alongside labels such as H&M and Nike, have signed a pledge to make this approach obsolete and instead committing to being renewable by 2030. There will always be other options when it comes to designer products, such as the ever-increasing resale market. Websites such as Vestiaire Collective and The RealReal sell luxury items at a reasonable price and consist of extremely high quality. Stella McCartney has even collaborated with The RealReal to promote the recycling and resale of her products, offering customers a £100 voucher if they upload one of her items.

Stella McCartney, along with designers such as Vivienne Westwood, prioritise a sustainable and cruelty-free brand. September 2018 saw the release of the first ever vegan Stan Smith trainer. To create this shoe, Adidas collaborated with Stella McCartney. They kept the same style that has been iconic since the 80’s yet added a few little twists to make them unique to Stella’s brand. Ultimately, the shoe looked effectively the same, yet retailed at £235, which was just under £200 more expensive than the original. This certainly suggests that only the wealthier consumer can purchase the ethical version of the trainer and those who can’t afford it have no choice but to continue buying the unethical.

Vegetarian Stella McCartney X Stan Smith - £235

Vegetarian Stella McCartney X Stan Smith - £235

Undoubtedly the most effective way forward when it comes to the future of sustainable retail is the growing awareness that fast fashion does more harm than good. The promotion of fewer essential items that boast a higher quality is a far more effective route to go down when putting together an ethical and environmentally-friendly wardrobe.