Sustainable fashion is no longer an oxymoron. It is transforming from a fad into a permanent business practice in the fashion industry. It represents a paradigm shift in design philosophy and trade practices of an extremely polluting industry. Earlier, the only form of socially conscious behaviour in the fashion world was represented by donations made to a charitable cause, but now designers are taking matters into their own hands and developing clothes that are produced in an eco-friendly and humanitarian manner and also have a significantly lower carbon footprint than garments that are produced by the conventional, chemical-intensive methods.
A Shift towards Fair Trade
The most significant change is seen in the form of a shift towards organic cotton. Currently, about 25% of the total pesticides used in the world are required to produce non-organic cotton. Approximately 8000 chemicals are used in the production of textiles. These chemicals later find their way into our ecosystems and are a huge source of pollution and contamination.
In response to this problem, many designers have started using organic cotton, which is grown without the use of pesticides and is a better fabric than non-organic cotton in terms of comfort for the wearer. The main issue with organic cotton is that it requires a lot more time and effort to grow and hence ‘organic’ clothes are much more expensive than clothes made of non-organic cotton. Apart from this, a few facilities have cropped up around the world for recycling scraps of discarded cloth and reprocessing them for spinning into a new yarn.
Some designers are trying to find an alternative to cotton, such as bamboo fibre, which is easy to grow without using pesticides and also absorbs greenhouse gases while it grows. But for processing bamboo fibre into textiles, chemicals need to be used. Hemp is considered to be one of the most optimal raw materials for creating eco-friendly fabrics, but its cultivation is illegal in many countries.
A new technology called the AirDye technology can be used on synthetic materials, thus making the process of dying and printing free of water consumption, although this technology results in the use of a lot of chemicals. A better practice to adopt is the use of vegetable dyes and other natural pigments, to prevent chemicals from infiltrating into the natural environment and also to reduce the level of chemical pollutants present in water.
A number of designers are furthering the cause of sustainable fashion, with international celebrities and models such as Natalie Portman, Cameron Diaz, Alicia Silverstone, Adrian Grenier, Jennifer Aniston and Salma Hayek spearheading this campaign. Designers Stella McCartney, Rogan Gregory, Peter Ingwersen, U2 front man Bono, his wife Ali Hewson and model/activist Summer Rayne Oakes are other prominent pioneers in creating awareness about sustainable fashion practices.
The New York Fashion Week displays a number of collections by designers who follow ethical, eco-friendly and fair trade practices in their work. Indian designers Abhishek Dutta and Soumitra Mondal also displayed their stylish creations made of hand spun khadi and organic dyes at the Lakme Fashion Week recently. Samant Chauhan, Anita Dongre and Lecoanet Hemant are some other designers of note who have come up with ‘green’ collections.
A number of clothing giants such as ‘People Tree’ use fair trade as their motto and have roped in celebrities such as Emma Watson of the Harry Potter fame to help in designing their collections. Cosmetics brands such as Lush Cosmetics and the Body Shop have long followed a policy of using natural ingredients and not testing their products on animals to ensure that they do not harm the environment, unlike the conventional producers of cosmetics.
All these changes in the fashion world bring to light a heartening trend towards conscious and responsible industry practices. The tag of being a ‘green’ designer may serve as a tool for gaining publicity but if environmentally conscious practices are actually followed, it is all for the best. The high cost of producing organic raw material may act as an impediment to the commercial success of such fashion lines, and it is up to the consumers to make a responsible decision, now that fashionable and environmentally responsible apparel is slowly being made available to us.