Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Making fashion sustainable
(Osklen) In the space of just three days I received emails from two university students asking me to help them with their respective coursework. The students were from different UK universities and both were writing essays on Brazilian fashion. I always find it exciting and reassuring when subjects that I’m interested in are picked up by students. I get a sense of longevity, as if these topics will continue to be discussed and not ignored as soon as something else starts to grab the headlines. I often feel this way about sustainable fashion and admire the work of the London College of Fashion, in particular. LCF is just brilliant when it comes to encouraging its students to consider sustainability in their work, demonstrating that it doesn’t have to come at the expense of creativity or commerciality. In fact, I think fashion students will play a vital role in helping to create a truly sustainable fashion industry in the UK. And I think it’s by embracing sustainable fashion that the Brazilian fashion industry could really distinguish itself from other countries, too. Brazil’s fashion industry is relatively young; until the 1990s, for example, import and exports were illegal. But youth, as far as sustainability is concerned, has its advantages. The concept of sustainable fashion – in the mainstream at least – is also relatively young and, therefore, problematic when it comes to incorporating it into the fashion supply chains of such mature markets like the UK, which has relied so heavily on price in recent years. Businesses are certainly making progress. Only this week, the Financial Times reported on how Marks & Spencer, H&M and Gap are in talks to launch a universally-recognised garment labelling scheme showing the environmental impact of individual garments. But because Brazilian fashion – at a directional, creative and (in some cases) international level at least – is so young, it can arguably embrace sustainability more easily at the source. One of Brazil’s most successful designers, Oskar Metsavaht, is among the country’s pioneers in sustainable fashion, and one of the first designers to invest in organic cotton and use materials developed from recycled PET bottles for his Osklen label. Even huge fashion manufacturing companies like Neotextil (which is ancient at 70 years old) are at it. Neotextil is due to open a new factory in Pernambuco, in the north east of Brazil, which has been built using recycled materials. The concept of sustainability in fashion has yet to gather the sort of momentum that we’ve seen in the organic and fairtrade food industry, but if fashion students and young entrepreneurs (who are the future of our industry) continue to make it their priority, then it has the potential to reach such levels of importance, both for the trade and consumers alike. And the youthful Brazilian fashion industry will be there to capitalize on it. Happy Fairtrade Fortnight.