Whatever it is haute couture or prêt-à-porter, combining fashion and sustainability is probably one of the biggest challenges of fashion brands. Fashion and sustainability sound more like antagonist concepts. Usually in the fashion world, haute couture collections and designers are the trendsetters, where prêt-à-porter brands are followers. But in sustainability, who-started-the-first is difficult to define. Although designers Annika Sanders and Kerry Seager have paved the way of sustainable fashion by starting upcycling in 1997, some prêt-à-porter brands have included sustainability practices at the inception of their brand’s concept such as Patagonia. Besides, prêt-à-porter brands seem to have more embedded sustainability policies in their creation and production over the last decades.
Prêt-à-porter, between follower and trendsetter
Among the clothing brands having well communicated on their sustainability strategy, there are Patagonia, TOMS, Marks & Spencer, H&M or Nike. However, we can also observe a trend in other – more or less famous and specialized – brands that include sustainability practices in their way of conceiving garments. For examples:
- The Swedish fashion chain Lindex has recently increased its use of recycled and sustainable materials in most of its products.
- The 21-year-old yoga apparel retailer PrAna has turned to use organic cotton for all future cotton based clothes. In PrAna’s latest collection organic cotton use represented already an increase of 11%.
- The German home wear Gerhard Rösch has created a collection made of 100% Cotton made in Africa, which can be traced right back to the region of growth.
Going through a Uniqlo shop in France recently, I was agreeably surprised by the broadcasting of their CSR movie, “The Power of Clothing”, on the screens of the shop. The videogame-like-designed spot tells visitors commitments undertaken by Uniqlo. Like M&S and H&M, customers are invited to give their clothes they no longer need for reuse and recycling purposes.
Besides, like M&S, Uniqlo is committed in many initiatives related to sustainability. The Japanese retailer:
- promotes diversity and inclusivity with wheelchair tennisman Shingo Kunieda,
- works on projects related to children development with tennisman Novak Djokovic,
- and has launched Grameen Uniqlo in Bangladesh to address issues related to poverty, public sanitation, education, gender issues and the environment, by establishing a sustainable, community-level business cycle.
The Power of Clothing is also a magazine, where Uniqlo reports the progress of its actions, accessible to all its shareholders.
Sustainable haute couture has however expanded
What better ambassadors than famous people on red carpet? Livia Firth – actor Colin Firth’s wife – understood it well. With her brand consultancy firm Eco-Age, the Green Carpet Challenge (GCC) has been created in 2010, aiming to raise awareness in changing fashion industry by promoting Sustainability Style using the spotlight. To do so the GCC has worked with famous designers for both clothing and jewelry, with models such as Marion Cotillard, Emma Watson or Cate Blanchett.
In September 2013, the famous online retailer Net-a-porter has collaborated with the GCC project and launched a collection of clothing made by top British designers: Victoria Beckham, Christopher Kane, Roland Mouret, Christopher Bailey and Erdem. This collection was created provided that it matches with the sustainable standards set by GCC. The minimum being:
- “Use of the lowest possible ecological footprint materials as confirmed by lifecycle assessment;
- Use of an acknowledged and transparent supply chain to create GCC pieces; which means that all producers and every worker along the supply chain has been paid what constitutes a living wage and worked in appropriate and verifiable working conditions;
- All materials used in the piece are traceable and free from deforestation, pesticide abuse, toxicity.”
The increasing trend of being more sustainable seems to gain more importance in the fashion world. A year after the terrible collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, sustainability awareness in fashion seems to have taken another pace among consumers.
With the Fashion Revolution Day initiative (FRD), Carry Somers, founder of Pachacuti, has challenged people: they are pushed to ask both brands and themselves “Who made your clothes?” On 24th April, people were invited to wear their clothes inside out and post selfies with their brought out clothes labels on social media. The FRD longs for becoming an annual operation and a global platform sharing all best practices in textile industry.
Hopefully this will lead to more transparency!