According to the UK Environmental Audit Committee global fashion is on a crash course. Each year, in the UK alone, 300,000 tonnes of clothing ends up as household waste. Useless goods that began life in an industry that contributes more to climate change than aviation and shipping combined. One that uses rivers of fresh water and creates wildly unnecessary amounts of chemical and plastic pollution. In other words, a completely unsustainable future for an already consumption-focused industry. Over the past few years ‘sustainable fashion’ has reverted to a buzz phrase, causing it to lose much of its impact for cause. It’s commonplace to hear of indie brands being ‘sustainable’, for certain fabrics to be ‘sustainable’ and that big corporations are on a ‘pathway to becoming sustainable’. At its core, sustainability means to “avoid depletion in order to maintain an ecological balance”. Something of a kryptonite, then, for fast-fashion, maximum-turnover, high-street juggernauts.
This year’s International Woolmark Prizes for womenswear and menswear were awarded to two labels who keep sustainability at the forefront of their practice. Colovos, a denim-core architectural women’s label started by husband and wife team Michael and Nicole Colovos (who once co-directed Helmut Lang) was rewarded for its commitment to impressive future-proofing systems while Edward Crutchley, was not only awarded for innovative menswear design but also for his focus on sustainability across production, materials, textile design and product design. On the home front, annual fashion showcase Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival awarded Melbourne-based label Arnsdorf an honorable mention in its National Designer Award for its increasing dedication to sustainability.
So, what was once a stem of hippie commune culture is fast becoming a non-negotiable part of ongoing business structure. In the UK, activists have called for a complete ban of fast-fashion businesses responsible for draining resources they can never replenish. Perhaps the key to a consumer mindset change is a blend between increasing PR for ‘slow’ fashion labels and the eventual pointed boycott of establishments that do nothing but fuel the problem.
A widespread ‘slow’ approach to fashion trending will mean withdrawals for shoppers accustomed to the insatiable wear-once-throw-out habit. You only need to watch a couple of episodes of Marie Kondo to realise most of us hoard far more than we need (or realise we have) in our closets. So, if change starts at home, resisting mass-consumerism and instead taking the careful purchasing of long-lasting, good-quality goods tact, is an environmentally conscious place to start.
GRAZIA spoke with the Colovos duo to find out more about the sustainability of, well, sustainability and the realities of driving a conscious brand into the future.
You mention in your Woolmark interview that you’re committed to principles of zero waste in manufacturing. Is this consciousness difficult to sustain as a practice? Do you think it’s something more fashion businesses could be applying?
Once you make a commitment to working in a certain way then all the actions that follow have to support that commitment. We’ve eliminated certain choices and are setting up new methods of transforming post production scraps. It’s helped us to focus on certain factories and suppliers. It always takes time in the beginning when you start to work in new ways, but once you set up systems then it starts to get easier. The hardest part is knowledge on where to go. We are still working on the process and replacing items we use everyday to a more sustainable option.
And the technology is getting better and better, it’s scaling to a point that it does not increase costs and there are amazing fabric options that don’t sacrifice the look and feel of the garments. Most of the environmental damage comes from the wet processing of fabrics both in energy and harmful chemicals. There are many mills that are eliminating harmful chemicals from the wet processing and are switching to solar power to reduce energy wastage. It all comes down to where you choose to put your dollars. We are choosing to work with mills that are working in this way, we are working with factories that pay fair wages to all of their employees. I think consumers are making more conscious choices when deciding where to spend their money as well. It happens at all stages of the supply chain to the consumer.
Does having a focus on sustainability in any way limit your design aesthetic? Or does it instead temper unique inspiration?
We don’t find it limiting. It helps to edit what materials we work with and who we buy from and produce with. I think that setting limitations and narrowing our focus helps spark creativity.
Do you think slow fashion is the way of the future? steering the fashion market to focus on core, forever pieces and move away from the fast, high-turnover, high street conglomerates?
We hope so. We don’t need more disposable clothing. Consumers are demanding more, and smaller brands who are making well made clothing using durable fabrics are able to respond and react to the conscientious consumer.
What are your plans for the future of Colovos? Will denim continue to be a key feature?
Ready-to-wear has always been an important component of what we do and tailored items work back to the denim. Natural fibres like cotton, wool, denim and silk or fabrics from recycled sources are our main focus. We hope to continue to evolve, and expand into accessories and menswear.
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