Sustainability, fashion & future trends with Style Expert, Roberta Lee
There’s a lot of talk about sustainable fashion – but is that enough? Roberta Lee, London’s sustainable fashion stylist and style expert shares with us some of the recent conversations she’s been having with industry insiders and journalists when it comes to sustainability, fashion, and future trends.
Why do you think sustainable fashion is trending more now? What has changed?
I think campaigns like Fashion Revolution have been pivotal in educating the consumer about the fashion industry, and the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh in 2013 was really the start of things changing. Of course, documentaries like the True Cost have been instrumental in bringing both ethical and sustainability issues into consumer awareness. When you know how much water it takes to make a single T-shirt (around 2,700 litres) it’s pretty shocking.
Sir David Attenborough has spoken out about the detrimental impact that human behavior is having on the planet, the BBC and Netflix have given shows that discuss the environment and fashion prime air time. Awareness has been slowly bubbling away, the plastic problem really triggered a strong emotional response from the public, so it wasn’t going to be long until the media started to focus on the fashion industry.
Television programmes like Fashion’s Dirty Secrets have also helped raise awareness of our consumer buying habits and the problem with so called ‘fast fashion’ clothing production. But it’s not all doom and gloom, the problems the industry have created also present plenty of opportunities for growth and development.
The spotlight on the industry has provided independent fashion brands an opportunity to enter the market, using sustainability as a positive and providing conscious consumers with garments that are aligned with their values.
Are sustainable fashion brands surviving, making money and thriving?
When you think of successful sustainable fashion brands it’s probably names like:
Stella McCartney, Mother of Pearl, Eileen Fisher, Tome, Patric McDowell and Raeburn that spring to mind. Luxury brands can, of course, afford to invest in sustainable alternatives, brands like Reformation, Ecolaf, People Tree and Komodo who don’t have a luxury price tag have also shown levels of success that many fashion brands aspire to. Multi-award-winning Elvis & Kresse was founded in 2005 to save London's decommissioned fire-hoses going to landfill; their latest collaboration with luxury brand Burberry has taken them to new heights, showing sustainable practice can be very profitable.
And it’s not just clothing and accessory brands that are combining sustainability and innovation and seeing their profits soar. All Birds and Veja are two very successful footwear brands that are seeing tremendous growth and both have a strong focus on sustainability.
What unites all of the brands is a ‘clear why’ and their commitment to reduce their negative impact and contribute to the world, not just take from it. They own their story and make it part of their brand DNA. Sustainability isn’t an afterthought.
Do consumers expect brands to produce products that align with their beliefs?
Brand values are essential when you run a business, they act as a moral compass. It’s the same with personal beliefs. They determine where you feel comfortable, where you want to shop and what brands you want to support. More of us are looking for ways to identify with ourselves and those around us. Brands that push a clear social or environmental agenda through their business, make it easier to build a rapport with. When a brand's values align with our own, it reinforces trust. We find our tribe, we buy into it. We’ve been highlighting brands on Ethical Brand Directory (based on their values) for our website visitors for over 2.5 years now. The website gets thousands of visitors every month looking to find brands that are aligned with their beliefs.
What material trends should we be looking out for?
Recycled materials continue to be big news. Econyl (recycled nylon) is being used by Stella McCartney, Burberry and Prada, and indie brands like Ipsilon Paris. However, the issue with man-made fibers, even recycled ones is microfibres.
We’ll see a lot more materials made from the ‘by-product’ of food, like Piñatex which offer an ethical ‘leather’ made from pineapple leaves.
Material made from plastic bottles called rPET continues to be popular - but again the issue here is microfibres. It is estimated that washing synthetic items can release up to 6 million microfibres per wash!
My view is that any brand that works with man-made fibres should team up with Cora Ball or GuppyFriend. It is common knowledge now that microfibres are in our oceans, so brands do have a moral responsibility to make sure consumers know how to protect the environment when they wash their clothes.
What trends should we be expecting to see in the fashion industry in 2020 and beyond, if we are truly embracing sustainability?
So many, but here is a list in no particular order of trends I expect to see:
- Capsule collections - pieces that can be worn together in multiple ways
Style essentials pieces that ignore ‘trends’ and stay on the rails all year round
Fashion made to order by the consumer
Demand for local sourcing in the UK, especially after Brexit
Return and repair services
Reinventing past season stock, upcycling into new pieces.
Buying back material from customers to recycle and reuse
Renting instead of selling garments
Using biodegradable materials that can be composted in domestic composters once they’ve come to the end of their life
Brands to issue home care guidance to help customers prolong the life of clothes.
Consumers are wanting to see more transparency from brands, that’s for sure. Whilst consumer demand is important, government legislation has to play a role in regulating the fashion industry so unethical and unsustainable practices are a thing of the past. It’s a shame the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are optional right now, however I am very inspired by the work Kerry Bannigan is doing over at Conscious Fashion Campaign. If we all work together, sustainable fashion won’t just be a ‘trend’ but the new norm.
Roberta Lee will be on the Pure London main stage on Monday the 10th of February at 12.30 pm and again at 2.45 pm with her live styling & catwalk presentation: Transitioning towards a sustainable wardrobe.
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