With sustainability at the top of the global fashion agenda, read on to discover how Sook is helping apparel brands make better environmental choices.
Fashion show season is upon us (with a few alterations to the published schedule), but while we’ve got one beady eye on what’s new, we’ve got the other firmly on what’s right. For us - and many, many others - this means watching to see what brands are doing to achieve the ultimate goal of a sustainable fashion industry.
Sustainability is, thankfully, right at the top of the global fashion agenda, so we’re taking the opportunity to look specifically into the ideal of longevity in our clothing: what it is, how we can help it along, why it’s important - and how Sook is here to help.
But first: what exactly is 'sustainable fashion'?
‘Sustainable fashion’ is a broad term. It refers to the eco-credentials of the product itself, how it’s made, what it’s made from, who made it and how, how the brand behaves and acts, how it can be disposed of, and the role of the consumer in it all. The aim of creating sustainable fashion, or eco-fashion, is to achieve ‘carbon neutrality’, ultimately lowering the impact the fashion industry has on our environment. And the impact is still scarily huge. It’s estimated that 80 to 100 billion pieces of clothing are produced every year, with most of them ending up in landfill, according to McKinsey’s The State of Fashion.
How can we tackle the problem?
While the strategies for improving fashion's huge carbon footprint are vast and complicated, the very short answer to the problem lies in production, or, rather, overproduction. So much churn of clothing and accessories across every price point, from £3 fast-fashion dresses, to £3,000 trench coats… it’s just too much. The result is mountains of deadstock: clothing that nobody wants to buy because it’s ‘past season’ or no longer on trend. The fashion industry has to shrink significantly.
The argument leveraged by fashion producers is that they are creating to fill a requirement - which is massively flawed, but they’re right to highlight that the problem isn’t their responsibility alone to solve. Consumers need to change their ways too. We need to buy less. Much less. As in, only-buying-three-new-pieces-of-clothing-a-year, less. Could you do it?
To answer all of this is the fashion trend we’re hearing again and again: longevity. It’s an essential piece of the circular fashion puzzle, and it’s, thankfully, something we can partly take into our own hands, right now.
But just how do you make fashion last?
Here at Sook, we are privileged to be connected with the independent business community - particularly small fashion retailers who make up over 50% of our event holders - so we’re at the forefront of change as it happens in this sector. A while ago we noticed a big uptick in brands coming into our spaces who specialise in the resale and upcycling of secondhand clothing, from small start-ups like The Cirkle and Style Swap, to Depop 'influencers' whose coveted vintage pieces and dedicated fans cause huge queues outside our spaces.
For some, it started as a way to make a quick buck, albeit with a strong set of optimistic Gen Z values underpinning it all, but as the conversation around the environmental impact of the fashion industry has widened, the big dogs have been getting in on the act - including Selfridges, who recently announced plans to increase sales made under their Reselfidges initiative (where they sell pre-loved items, mainly bags at the moment) from 1% of total transactions currently to a whopping 45% by 2030…pretty punchy.
…but what about Reduce?
So, resale = great. Recycling = fab. What about reduction? Reports of brands committing to reducing output are difficult to find. Carbon offsetting, yes. Improving supply chain, yes. Recycling fibres, yes. Saying “You know what, we’re going to stop making so much stock because we admit it’s ridiculously wasteful”? Nothing.
Granted, they’ve got a lot to do, and it’s not always practical to tackle every systemic change that needs tackling, all at once. But it’s almost like they think they won’t need to change the amount they’re producing, as long as everything they are producing is adhering to guidelines set, ten year prior, on parts of their manufacturing practice. Less produced means less to landfill, or less into the recycling process, which in itself consumes valuable resources.
Of course, should the industry truly become circular, consumer demand for new clothing should naturally decline, so perhaps it’s a case of waiting to see.
Of all the modes of extending the life of our clothes, we are excited about repair the most. Maybe because it’s something we can do ourselves, or maybe because it feels like this is the one area of the story where the results are felt immediately.
Repairing your clothes is not a new concept, but one that has fallen by the wayside since the rise of wear-break-chuck culture, perpetuated by cheap-as-chips fashion peddlers and the pressures of social media to never be seen in the same thing twice.
Over the generations, we’ve lost the skill in basic seaming that our thrifty great grandmothers all seemed to possess. Why bother darning a pair of socks when you can buy seven for a fiver? Here’s why: because extending the life of an item of clothing by nine months can cut the garment’s environmental impact by up to 10% (Wrap, London). Times that by the billions of items being produced every year, or the amount of clothing already in existence, or the number of items sitting in your wardrobe right now, and the argument for picking up a needle and thread is irrefutable.
Education is key. Educating ourselves on basic techniques to alter or maintain what we have is a great place to start, and short courses are popping up all over the place, like this excellent value one from sustainable living platform, Slow Circular Earth.
And finally (for now)
As consumers we are able to control what we buy, but brands ultimately have control over what they put to market, and have a responsibility to stop churning out rubbish that they know will be worn a couple of times and then thrown away, destined for landfill. Put pressure on them by repairing, reducing and reusing; shop from better-for-the-planet fashion brands, like the ones that pop-up with Sook; and - even better - if you have fashion brand and you feel inspired to make it better for the planet take a read of our five top tips to build a sustainable business here.