This shift in consumer behaviour and preferences has prompted the industry to regenerate itself. Sustainability does not only concern the environment; sustainable practice also means a growing ethical approach to lessen the negative social and environmental impacts the industry has brought. This remodelled fashion industry is about giving more opportunities, empowering workers and resetting the consumerism trend.
The reshaping of the fashion industry
The sustainable fashion trend is fostering changes to fashion products and the fashion system towards greater ecological integrity and social justice. The UN reports that the fashion industry is the second biggest consumer of water, and that about $500 billion is lost every year due to failure to recycle and disposal of brand-new clothes in landfill. Even more worryingly, fashion also contributes over 8 percent of all greenhouse gases.
With the growth of ‘fast-fashion’, the industry has been under scrutiny and pressure to be more mindful of its effects on climate change and human rights. Famous brands and high-street chains like Levi’s and Zara have publicly revealed sustainability plans goals, while designers like Stella McCartney –a pioneer of ethical fashion – are finding ways to ditch the products that contribute to climate change effects.
As well as the big players in the industry surrendering to the sustainable push, the movement has also given voice to many emerging designers who have put these values at the core of their businesses from the start. ELLISS is a London-based brand designing sustainably produced clothing using organic and recycled fabrics. Organic cotton, recycled polyester, and bamboo are some of the brand’s preferred materials. French Marine Serre is another name emerging in the space. Concerns about the environmental impact of the current fashion environment have led the designer to use recycled materials in her designs, a method often referred to as ‘upcycling’, such as using end-of-life denim to craft brand-new jeans with a new lease of life, and vintage silk scarves to create a dress.
More than just creating sustainable clothing, the movement also calls for increased recycling, use of vintage clothes, and second-hand shopping. Second Hand September is a campaign started by charity Oxfam in hopes to address the 11 million items of clothing that end up in landfill every week. In September 2019, an incredible 62,000 people pledged to say no to new clothes for 30 days.
Ethical and sustainable jewellery
Beyond clothing, jewellery is another space embracing conversations about positive impact. Globally, about 90 million carats of rough diamonds and 1,600 tons of gold are mined for jewellery every year, generating over US$300 billion in revenue, the HRW reports.
The production cycle and supply chain of jewellery pieces are complex, and very often extend to many countries around the world, starting with the mining of gold and gemstones in developing countries, reaching all the way to the windows of luxury stores on the Champs-Elyseés and Fifth Avenue. This multi-layered supply chain means it is easy for designers and end-consumers to lose track of where their product truly comes from, and what conditions the workers might have been subjected to.
While mining is an important source of income for many workers in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, poor regulations and lack of accountability mean that human rights are often breached. It is not uncommon to see child labour, labour exploitation, exposure to toxic chemicals, and displacement of local communities, just to name a few of the common practices.
Many designers and brands have woken up to these facts and are working to make sure their raw material is sourced in an ethical and sustainable way. The Fairmined initiative was created with the purpose of addressing these concerns and raising awareness about the role the industry can play in curbing malpractices. Fairmined is an assurance label that certifies gold from empowered, responsible, artisanal and small-scale mining organisations.
Fairmined is backed by a rigorous 3rd-party certification and audit system that ensures that artisanal and small-scale mining organisations meet world-leading standards for responsible practices, delivering organisational and social development and environmental protection.
The Fairmined Initiative was created by the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM), a non-profit organisation globally recognised as a leader and pioneer of responsible artisanal and small-scale mining.
Some jewellery brands are embodying sustainability by creating unique pieces from recycled materials, such as Article 22, whose pieces are handcrafted in Laos using remnants from Vietnam War bombs, plane parts, military hardware, and other aluminium scraps. Emma Watson, a head figure in the women’s empowerment movement, said about the brand: “it’s such a lovely idea to turn something so negative into something beautiful.”
Similarly, jewellery brand Nowa, which stands for No Waste, has started using precious metals from old smartphones to create beautiful and sustainable jewellery. Nowa’s creators say they envision a world where everyone sees the importance of recycling e-waste. Inside many electronics, especially smartphones, there are precious metals such as gold, copper and silver, which can be reworked into an accessory.
Fine Jewellery embraces sustainability: Meet Annoushka
One of London’s leading jewellery designers, Annoushka Ducas, is committed to creating positive impact through her fine jewellery brand: Annoushka. Having worked in the field for 30 years, the designer ensures that all diamonds used in her pieces come from fair and transparent trade. On her travels, she personally collects many gems, visits the mines and local people, and values personal relationships with stone dealers. “Taking care of the environment and respecting the people I work with is of great importance to me. Sustainability and origin are of central importance to my design process,” she says.
The new Annoushka’s Reef Collection pieces are crafted with sapphire formations as an ode to life beneath the waves. Ten percent of all Hidden Reef sales will be donated to the No More Plastic Foundation.
Beyond its engagement in environmental protection, Annoushka is also involved in initiatives promoting women’s empowerment. Inspired by precious jewellery designed by women for women, Annoushka currently supports 650 women within the scope of the charity “Give a Future. On International Women’s Day, 20% of all sales were donated to the organisation”.
Liz Olver, Design Director at Annoushka comments:
“Sustainability cannot be ignored, though it is a concept that is still new for too many. The critical need for sustainability has made me conscious of my impact on nature and the environment, both personally and at Annoushka.
While the jewellery industry has led the way with social responsibility through The Kimberly Process, it recognises there is much to be done and has embarked on the journey towards better practices. Fortunately, there are inherent positives in that fine jewellery has intrinsic value, ensuring gold and gemstones are likely to be recycled, while excellence in craft and design helps to assure the longevity of a piece in a world where ‘disposable’ is sadly the norm.
We cannot succeed alone, though we can all make a difference and we must try.”
Liz Olver was one of the speakers at the SteffyB; launch event, which took place during London Fashion Week on February 16th. The event celebrated inspirational women in the fashion and luxury sectors and praised the new revolution into sustainability and empowerment in the industry.
SteffyB; is a newly launched forward-thinking hub for fashionistas and innovators in the fashion and luxury space. Inspired by the sustainability trend in the industry, and through the creative use of social channels, SteffyB; is using innovation to reshape the fashion narrative, embarking on the reinvention of the industry.
Empowerment and inspiration are at the core of the hub’s philosophy, along with a mission to build a community in the R/Evolution era of fashion.