Friday, September 19, 2008

Tune in, turn on and shop out!

The U.S. debut of Topshop in New York, is yet more proof that when it comes to new fashion and retail innovation, the British highstreet is the international King. What often gets overlooked, however, is the cost of a constant desire for fresh fashion – namely the environmental impact of disposing of yesterday’s trends. Last year the clothing and textile industry created 2m tonnes of waste, 3.1m tonnes of CO2 and 70m tonnes of waste water(1).

Like Britney Spears, the British highstreet is finding out the hard way that with celebrity status comes a certain amount of responsibility. If Britain is going to avoid the global warming equivalent of a head shaving, public nervous breakdown, media feeding frenzy, and a restraining order against seeing its kids, it must start to see itself as a role model on the international fashion stage and make a serious commitment to the development of a sustainable and responsible fashion industry.

The TNS World Panel reported that 7.1 million consumers think that ethical clothing is quite/very important but find availability poor or very poor. Nevertheless, if the Feelgood Fashion Conference on Wednesday night proved anything, it was that sustainable fashion is moving actually away from what Mary Portas so aptly terms ‘knitted muesli’. From Gap’s pioneering of Corporate Social Responsibility and mavericks like People Tree (who are the self-titled ‘Trojan horse’ in TopShop), to innovative online boutiques like Aidli and emerging eco-design collectives like ReVamp, a clothing revolution certainly seems to be looming large on the horizon.

It is how that revolution will unfold, however, that has really got me in a spin. The big retailers are like politicians, thinking only in terms of their short time in power. At the end of the day it’s always going to be about winning points, increasing sales and boosting brand awareness in the short term. To make a change in the long-run you need the passion and dedication of grass-roots organisations – the underdog who taps in to an underlying sentiment and causes an uprising.

If we plan on securing a future for this vulnerable planet by focusing on smart consumption, it has to be the end of fashion as we know it. Trying telling that to the millions of shoppers who visit the value retail giants Tesco, Primark, George at Asda and Matalan (3) every single day – and who contribute to 1.2 million tonnes of landfill in the UK alone (2).

As the average cost of clothes drops year on year, the fight to make sustainability sustainable isn’t going to be a competition, it’s about the best man winning.

(1,2)Defra Sustainable Clothing Roadmap 2007
(3) Mintel Report: ‘UK Clothing Report 2005’.


‘Fashion and Sustainability: A Snapshot analysis’. Report from The Centre for Sustainable Fashion at LCF.

New Generation Ethical Fashion

NB Author's note: I am aware that this blog is also known to champion the very retail giants derided above, but how better to highlight the tension between an arising ethical consciousness and a Londoner's insatiable hunger for fashion?

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