Sustainable fashion is a massive topic of debate these days, and it seems that nobody can agree on how best to tackle it. While some preach for the use of organic materials and Fair Trade garments, others denounce the high price tag that naturally comes with pieces of this nature. Some advocate only buying from charity shops, so as not to further contribute to the fast and irresponsible production and consumption of fashion in this day and age. Others, however, maintain that we should support small and independent designers who are making conscious efforts to make a change. All the above have some validity to them, but either way, the fact that we’re even debating this subject to begin with is a great sign.
There’s no denying that there’s been a recent wave of environmental consciousness in Gibraltar, from the championing of the ban of plastic straws, to the recent initiative introduced by the government for a more ‘clean’ disposal of cigarette butts at our beaches. It seems that the constant news articles about the dire state the world is in, as well as our sense of responsibility as a very small yet capable country, has really started to hit home.
It’s easy to maintain a disconnect, but the fact is that animals are still among the most commonly used materials in the fashion industry. From leather shoes and sheepskin jackets, to woolly winter knits, every year over 60 billion land animals are reared, mostly in awful conditions, and then slaughtered, to meet the increasing demands of the human race. This, of course, carries many moral issues, but the environmental impacts alone are jaw-dropping. Believe it or not, the fashion industry is the 2nd most polluting industry in the world, and shockingly, animal agriculture contributes to a higher level of greenhouse gases (approximately 18% in total) than the entire travel and transport industry combined, as well as accounting for the use of more than 30% of the land on Earth, and a vast amount of global water use.
At the end of the day, every piece of clothing we buy will have an impact on the environment in some shape or form. For most of us, it’s easy to remain blissfully ignorant, but I think it’s worth at least educating ourselves on the basics regarding the production and disposal of the fabrics we use on a day to day basis, so that we can then go on to make informed decisions.
Cotton is a material that we absolutely take for granted, but it is in fact, a natural plant-based fibre, which constitutes an entire quarter of all fabric used across various industries. As consumers, we love it because it’s breathable, durable and extremely versatile, but it’s also biodegradable.
In a similar vein, waxed cotton has been on the scene for a good while now, and is currently being used by many designers as a leather alternative. Visually, it’s extremely similar to patent leather, but unlike real leather, it requires minimal upkeep, and is easy to wash. The main issue with cotton is that it requires a great amount of water, pesticides and land for its production, which makes it a substantial drain on resources.
Linen is another fantastic material; a plant-based fabric made from flax, which can be produced on non-arable land and processed without the use of harsh chemicals.
Wool, despite being an animal product is actually a fairly environmentally friendly option, so it all depends on where you stand on that particular issue. Wool can happily replace many of the environmentally damaging synthetic materials we wear throughout the winter months; many of those which are vegan, but environmentally-speaking, can wreak absolute havoc.
The main issue with wool is, like most animal-derived products, be it for clothing or food, the animal in question also contributes to this industry’s carbon footprint, by way of methane emissions.
Unfortunately, if you’re environmentally conscious, the majority of options available to us on the high-street won’t do much to benefit your cause. Most leather alternatives are currently made from plastic materials like PVC or Polyurethane (PU), both of which create a great deal of toxic chemicals in their production, as well as taking hundreds of years to break down once discarded. Faux leather isn’t the only culprit; faux fur, too, is mostly made of chemical-based, non-biodegradable synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester.
It can often feel like we’re in a catch 22 no matter what we decide to do. But you’ll be happy to know that there are in fact many companies, scientists, and entrepreneurs who are absolutely committed to this issue of sustainable fashion, and the creation of non-animal and non-toxic alternatives.
Scientific developments in biotechnology, coupled with the need to meet growing demands for ethical fashion, means that we may have several tangible solutions in the not-too distant future, and our succeeding generations will be able to experience a completely different reality when it comes to fashion and its damaging consequences.
Muskin is a biodegradable vegetable ‘leather’ alternative, made from the mushroom caps of a certain inedible mushroom native to subtropical forests! Aside from the obvious, it has many other advantages over animal leather, from its non-toxic tanning process (which massively diminishes environmental impact), to its breathability, and its sheer softness, which means it can often closely resemble a suede-like texture.
Piñatex was developed by Spanish designer, Carmen Hijosa; founder and CEO of socially-conscious textile company Ananas Anam. It is made purely from the waste plant fibres of pineapples, and has the leather texture we all desire. Not only is piñatex much more cost-effective than animal leather, it is also extremely durable, environmentally friendly, and of course, biodegradable. International giants like PUMA and Camper have already started introducing piñatex, and we can expect their products to hit the market soon.
It’s easy to lose hope and feel overwhelmed by the issues at hand, but I think all we can do as individuals is educate ourselves, and begin taking small steps to a more sustainable future. Every material has its advantages and disadvantages, but the two key aspects we need to consider are its toxicity, and end of life – i.e. what happens to it when you throw it away.
If you really like a brand this is by no means perfect, but is making steps to improving in the sustainability department, continue to support the brand while voicing your opinion. We all have to start somewhere! If you can afford to opt for organic fabrics occasionally, buy them. As a society, we need to break free from the shackles of fast fashion, buying copious amounts of disposable clothing every season to keep up with trends – and in many ways feed our addictions – which end up causing a huge burden to the environment. Ultimately, we need to remember that consumers absolutely hold the power to demand and make change.