Episode 14: Was sustainability still a top priority at the SS22 Fashion Weeks?
Fashion Design, Research, Sustainability, Fashion, Sourcing, REACH, GOTS, FSC, B-Corp
Welcome to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host Belinda Humphrey and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet and product.
Hello, and welcome to episode 14 of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. Today's episode is about something that I got thinking about as I was researching the recent Fashion Week's in the northern hemisphere. But before I get into that, I wanted to remind you that I'm looking for questions to answer for the sustainable summer series of the podcast, which I'll be releasing over December and January. So get your questions in and I'll answer the most popular ones over those six weeks. You can email them to email@example.com and if you're into the latest developments within fashion and sustainability, I send out a monthly newsletter which you can sign up to as well on the website belindahumphrey.com.
So onto today's topic, sustainability in Fashion Week's. Was sustainability still a top priority at the Spring Summer 22 Fashion Week's? What do you think about Fashion Week's do you find them inspiring, unnecessary, perpetuating the buying cycle? A climate protester from extinction rebellion crash the Louis Vuitton runway at Paris with a sign saying "overconsumption = extinction"? How do you feel about that? Do you agree with the sentiment?
Like I said in the intro, it was while I was researching trends in the fashion weeks that I got thinking and looking for what had changed with sustainability are brands still as committed as what they were 12, 18 months ago to make a change? There was a lot of talk from designers about doing things differently and taking the opportunity to rethink things. So I was interested to see what had eventuated. Also, as a disclosure, I don't actually attend any of these weeks, I'm not that connected and I've been stuck in the latest three month lockdown in Melbourne, Australia. So much of my research has come from online articles and talks.
As a bit of background, traditionally, the main Fashion Weeks start with New York, then London, Milan and Paris. But I really wanted to start with a focus on Copenhagen Fashion Week actually. This is a fashion week that is usually in the weeks before New York Fashion Week and the reason I wanted to start there is because they have set the bar when it comes to running a fashion event and what they expect from the designers participating in the week.
What sets it apart from other fashion weeks is the way the Danish Fashion Institute has prioritised sustainability. Most labels on the calendar already have responsible protocols in place, but from 2023 they're introducing an ambitious new framework that will require brands to meet minimum standards in six key areas, including environmental strategy, smart material choices and working conditions. Within each key area, there are minimum standards and also additional actions to earn extra points. For example, under the smart materials choice the minimum standards listed are:
- at least 50% of the materials are certified eg. GOTS, Fair Trade, Cradle to Cradle, Organic, upcycled or recycled.
- They have a preferred materials list in place,
- and they have a list of restricted substances in place following the requirements of the EU REACH directive.
Then the additional actions for additional points are things such as:
- using an assessment tool to monitor and minimise negative impacts throughout the entire garment lifecycle,
- sourcing raw materials from regenerative agriculture, or
- ensuring that their supply chain is deforestation free by working with the accountability framework FSC or other certifications.
An interesting key area is within the fashion show section where the minimum standard includes the set design to be zero waste, offset the carbon footprint of the show, no single use plastic, all food and beverages to be served in recycled or reusable packaging qnd finally that there must be a signatory of the Danish fashion ethical charter and consider diversity and inclusion when casting models.
It's a really inspiring plan and I'll put the link to it in the show notes. It might seem an ambitious target however, Ganni has shown that change can be rapid. The label has reportedly gone from just 4% of its collection being made from responsible materials, such as organic, certified or recycled in 2019 to 73% in Autumn Winter 21 and at the time of the article being written they were predicting to get to 80% for spring summer 22.
Baum und Pferdgarten has 52% of their collection made from responsible fibres and have laid out clear goals over the next three years.
Some other Danish brands with some great initiatives include SKALL studio, who since they've launched their knitwear has been made in Denmark, sourced and spun in one of two remaining spinning mills, and knitted in one of the few remaining knitting factories. They report that by doing so, they support animal welfare and local production craftsmanship and ensure a transparent supply chain. Craftsmanship is so essential to them, they launched their own knitting kits to encourage the customers to do local production and keep craftsmanship alive. They focus on made to last classic essentials craftsmanship and are soon to be GOTS certified.
Day Birger Mikkelsen, apologies to any Danish people listening to this as I struggle to pronounce these names, feel free to message me and correct my pronunciation. They have highlighted that they have a testing strategy where they do random tests to ensure that their products live up to REACH which is an EU initiative.
Another brand, The Garment, highlights that one of their sustainability initiatives is carbon offsetting. They offset the CO2 impact of each garment they produce, which represents a tangible way of combating climate change.
Nikolaj Storm Copenhagen, are working on their in house factory where they offer their customers alterations of the products if needed, or if their customers would like a redesign of some of the old styles, they do upcycling of the outfits for a small fee.
So after hearing all that, I'm sure you can agree that Copenhagen is serious about the commitment and after going through the shows that week, I was very optimistic that a change was on the horizon.
Which brings us to New York, I eagerly read through reviews of shows by journalists who would have received press releases and to be honest, it was hard to find a lot of information about what designers had incorporated this year when it came to sustainability. I read one suggestion from Vogue that proposed that the reason for this was that last season, the shows were more intimate via zoom, we had more time with the designer and were able to understand more about the collection. Whereas this season with real life being back the spectacle of the show drew the main attention, and journalists had less time to delve as deep with only a few minutes backstage with the designer. I can understand the point but at the same time I wonder why that information wasn't in a press release all the booklets or information handed out at the show.
There was a bit of talk around diversity and inclusion, but I struggled to find information on what people were doing differently when it came to executing the product. That being said, I did find an interview with Collina Strada, which reported that sustainability is at the heart of the collection with pieces made from deadstock fabrics, upcycled, or recycled fabrics, and the designer looked to employ ethical materials and business practices where possible.
Next up on the fashion calendar was London Fashion Week. According to an article from The Independent they were disappointed with how few designers grappled with sustainability. According to them, the subject was seldom mentioned in the huge amount of press releases in the fashion packs in boxes. Some notable mentions were Vivienne Westwood. The total amount of low impact and cruelty free materials used was 98% with Westwood utilising materials such as organic cotton, recycled cotton, organic silk, recycled polyester, responsibly sourced viscose and mulesing free wool, or in some cases, a combination of these. More than 90% of the designers fabrics are made with monomaterial, or blended with materials coming from the same category as a way of making them all the much easier to recycle. Similarly, the brand's long term goal of eradicating virgin synthetic fibres has been reached with his collection. Just one material contains elastane however, it's recycled.
All that being said Vivienne Westwood's global brand director, Christopher Di Pietro, isn't convinced will ever make a significant enough shift. He says, "I'm not sure there will ever be a truly sustainable fashion industry, but we can make massive reductions to our impact on the planet". He says "In order to make any progress we need to re examine the core tenets of consumerism, circularity, resale and repair need to become central parts of the industry. Government regulation is also essential, something in which he believes the United Kingdom is leading the charge in by investigating greenwashing claims on various consumer products including clothing".
Roksanda was another brand among those utilising fabrics such as organic cotton, recycled polyester taffeta and environmentally friendly satin.
The next one I wanted to mention was PREEN, who for the past few seasons has been building in more considered elements into their collections. This season was the most environmentally friendly yet. Recycled wool, single use plastic transformed into a fluid Georgette, as well as a limited edition dress made up from a patchwork of previous season prints. Even down to the trims, they had nut buttons made from leftover pulp and reformed as a plastic replacement.
Rejina Pyo highlighted that her spring summer 22 collection was the most sustainable yet, which included two toned orange and pink swimwear, made from Italian recycled nylon and jeans crafted in organic denim.
Osman Yousefzada created 15 looks that were made from Tencel Luxe and the resulting clothing was certified as biodegradable. He believes that biodegradability is key. He says it's the only way he thinks we can consume. He has also said he is going to bury a dress from the collection and then unearth it next season and have it analysed by biotech professors and share those results. "It's a process but it's important to start somewhere" he says.
Phoebe English unveiled her new collection at the British Library in a series of installations called An Alternative Route to share her research and development from the past year. Which included investigations into plant tie dye, regenerative agriculture, carbon sequestration, and reusing textile waste. She was trying to answer the question, how can we put more back in then we take out of our natural systems with our design process?
Thinking back to those new requirements that Copenhagen fashion week are introducing I guess it was no surprise that the British Fashion Council CEO Caroline Rush recently revealed that London Fashion Week is now looking at how it can adopt that same sustainability framework and hours after the last models hit the catwalk of London Fashion Week she told fashion firms that their reliance on customers buying new clothing is unsustainable.
Ms. Rush told brands they should cut the consumption of new clothes by half and pivot to making money by offering clothing rentals, repairs and upcycling services in store.
It sounds like things are on the move in London. But next up is Milan where it also had a bit of silence. I did find that Loro Piana was the only European fashion company to spin fabric from Lotus plants apparently reporting it takes 6500 stems to make enough fabric for a jacket. This is a very rare and expensive fibre that could only be extracted by a few expert crafts people around the world. Extracting enough Lotus silk for one scarf can take two months or more and the final product can cost 10 times as much as regular silk. I'm not surprised that this is the only European fashion brands using this material.
So finally Paris. Just in time for Paris Fashion Week, they officially inaugurated a new space that bills itself as the largest sustainable fashion accelerator hub. It's backed by industry heavyweights including Kering who's a founding partner, Louis Vuitton and the Woolmark company.
But back to the actual Fashion Week, Gabriela Hearst at Chloe showcased artisan pieces handmade from leftover fabric. Hearst and her team believe luxury fashion has become overly industrialised. So the rainbow bright vest dresses on the catwalk were crocheted by hand, necklaces were made from seashells knotted onto twists of leftover fabric from previous collections, and bags were created by knitting more strands of deadstock fabric and had hand braided leather handles. The Artisan produce pieces which the House believes are innately low impact will be given the highest status in boutiques and embossed with the "Chloe Craft" logo. The Artisan methods being used cannot be transferred to fast fashion. Hearst hopes that by putting hand knitted and crochet dresses under the Paris Fashion Week spotlight, they will have a trickle down effect on fashions culture by making sustainable clothing aspirational.
Other changes within the brand include switching clothing and bag linings to be linen instead of cotton, the production of which emits fewer greenhouse gases and requires less water. Basket bags are now constructed with a mix of straw and recycled wool and the chunky soles of platform sandals are made from upcycled flip flops, or thongs as we call them in Australia. This is done in partnership with Kenyan social enterprise Ocean Sole which employs around 90 People from low income areas to reshape the flip flops or thongs washed up on beaches.
A couple of days before recording this I also read that Chloe was the first luxury fashion house to be certified as a B-Corp.
I also wanted to mention Stella McCartney, who made headlines by unveiling the industry's first commercially available bag in Mylo, a leather alternative grown from mycelium the root structure of mushrooms. The collection also included viscose sourced from sustainably managed ancient forests and Cupro, a byproduct of cotton harvests.
Balenciaga's incredible red carpet and Simpsons episode aside. Spring Summer 22 may have been Gvasalias's most sustainable collection yet. 95% of the materials were certified sustainable, including organic cotton, recycled polyester and nylon and upcycled leather and embroideries. The opening gown and explosion of black lace was a blend of 63% recycled nylon and 37% responsibly sourced viscose while there was also a leather bomber made of a vegan alternative derived from cactus leaves. The extra long Loafer slippers everyone was Instagramming were actually a leather like EVA.
Coperni, presented their collection in a self constructed Hempfield and was said to be inspired by the healing powers of the material. That it was at the core of all the designs. The idea of freedom and nature as the new future. But it wasn't really clear if hemp was the material they actually used or was just using as a muse.
In summary, I think Copenhagen had the strongest and clearest message to the industry and to the participants of the shows as to what their expectations are. Perhaps they knew they could go out with a bold move like that, knowing that brands were already on that path, but I still think it's a gutsy move.
Elsewhere, it didn't seem as united. It seemed like a lot of brands were focusing on the big return to real life shows, which isn't to say they weren't still committed to it behind the scenes, it just seemed like they weren't talking about it in Fashion Week and focusing more on inspiration and storytelling of a collection.
The ones that were still talking about it were often the ones that have embedded sustainability into their businesses for years such as Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney.
Finally, I wanted to leave you with the words of Caroline rush. She says "We're at a point in the fashion industry where we are going to have to go through quite significant transformation and systemic change, that is going to take some time, but we need to start and we need to start that now".
I hope you enjoyed today's episode, and also forgive me and some of my pronunciations. I would love to hear any of your thoughts on Fashion Week, you can DM me on Instagram @belindahumphrey_, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, a reminder to submit any questions you might have for the sustainable summer series of the podcast, email me at email@example.com. and if you're interested in the latest developments in fashion and sustainability, be sure to sign up to my monthly newsletter by heading to belindahumphrey.com. and finally, as always, you'll find the show notes and any links on the website to in the podcast section. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change.