What is sustainable fashion and why it is important

fast fashion protest

Climate change protest

For many decades, since artisanal tailoring has gradually given way to serial productions, the fashion system has been characterized by a great rush to create, produce and buy more and more and more frequently. The rapid rise of the great fashion houses in the eighties of the twentieth century before, the era of supermodels, and later the explosion of the fast fashion giants, have created a system in which the collections follow one another rapidly and it is necessary to continually renew the your wardrobe to stay up to date with new trends, which themselves become obsolete within a season or even a few months. This institutionalized consumerism has inevitably led to a lowering of quality, but not only to this. Millions of people have been employed to maintain these high production rates, displacing the productions in the so-called third world countries, without adequate guarantees and often also employing child labor. Furthermore, the amount of production destined for an almost “disposable” use had a huge cost in terms of pollution and waste of resources, especially water.

Finally and with increasing frequency, for some years now, attention has been focused on the social significance of one’s choices in terms of purchasing clothing and accessories, as well as on their environmental impact. Eco fashion, slow fashion, conscious fashion: these are all ways to define the various facets of a great change taking place in the fashion industry, which involves various production levels and, in an unprecedented active position, also the final consumers. It is about sustainable fashion, or a new way of understanding industry in an ethical way and tending to cancel its environmental impact. The guidelines that mark the way of this epochal change are essentially two, namely the protection of workers in the sector and the protection of the environment.

Why sustainable fashion is important

The fashion sector is a sort of sprawling entity that includes textiles, manufacturing, leather goods, but also the entire production and transport chain, up to retail, that is to say the points of sale. According to recent estimates, the global fashion industry is worth 2.4 trillion dollars, employs about 50 million people and is considered by many to be the second most polluting industry in the world (second only to oil). Although the latter figure is particularly difficult to find, and although the rankings can vary based on a huge number of factors, there can really be no doubt that the environmental impact of the fashion industry is really very high. Rethinking the way of understanding and creating fashion, on a global level, therefore means making a huge, substantial difference in the economic and social system that directly involves a huge number of people, and indirectly all of us.

Rethinking such a vast sector means, in short, reconverting a large portion of the world economy in an ethical and sustainable sense. Furthermore, since we are all inevitably involved in the matter, both for the basic need to dress and because, as the iconic Miranda Priestly teaches a still immature Andy Sachs in the film The devil wears Prada, anyone, even in spite of himself, is at the same time an actor and victim of this industry, rethinking the approaches to the fashion system means being able to be part of a global change simply by buying a t-shirt. This gesture, carried out with awareness and repeated millions of times by millions of people, could really make a real difference for the protection of the environment and the well-being of individuals. In short, fashion is not just (or not at all) frivolity and appearance, but economy, ethics and society.

Initiatives at a global level

Since the fashion sector is extremely vast and articulated, the approaches to sustainable fashion are also diverse and include a large number of very different projects but all aimed at making the sector more ethical and eco-compatible. In general, it can be observed that, in a transversal environment ranging from large companies to consumers, some strands of ethical and sustainable behaviors that follow the two great lines of change in the fashion system have been consolidated. With regard to the protection of the human component of the fashion industry, together with the ever increasing attention to the living conditions of workers and the request for transparency in this sense that is addressed to companies, there is the recovery of craftsmanship and the enhancement of small brands or independent designers.

The fashion system has certainly changed since, in a now mythicized Rome, the Fontana sisters hand-sewed an iconic wedding dress for the divine Audrey Hepburn, yet the ultimate sense of fashion is still linked to the talent of those who imagine, design and sew . There are platforms like Etsy where independent designers offer their creations, but also a giant like Asos, a very popular online shopping platform, has long since equipped itself with a marketplace section dedicated to small independent brands and even vintage boutiques. The side that is attentive to the environmental impact of fashion, on the other hand, is declined in recycling, which has its apotheosis precisely in the redevelopment of vintage, as well as in the recovery and reuse of materials.

In this sense, the axiom that fast fashion cannot be sustainable is being undermined, since H&M, one of the largest low cost fashion brands, has long since implemented a line of “conscious” clothes produced using at least 50% sustainable materials, such as organic cotton or recycled polyester. Just H&M, but also other brands such as Intimissimi, involve the consumer in this virtuous circle of fashion, allowing them to bring their used textiles into the store, receiving in exchange vouchers to be used for future purchases. In these ways, a dress can have a second life either on the second hand market or by reusing the raw material. Obviously, the big Maisons do not lag behind, but sponsor capsule collections with recycled materials and even invest in the search for new eco-friendly materials. Only in recent months, for example, Balenciaga has launched a foldable and reusable shopping bag in 100% recycled nylon and plastic, Louis Vuitton a line of accessories signed by Virgil Abloh in organic cotton and recycled wool and polyester, and finally Hermés has announced that by the end of 2021 it will put on the market, starting from a new version of the classic Victoria bag, accessories in vegan leather made from mushrooms.

Sustainable fashion initiatives in Italy

But how and how widespread is sustainable fashion in Italy and the initiatives connected to it. Obviously, in the globalized world from which it seems difficult and perhaps even counterproductive to go back, all the sustainable initiatives of the big brands and fast fashion giants pour into our country: from conscious collections to capsule collections in recycled materials of the big brands; the possibility offered by some brands to bring their used textiles to the store with easier access to the creations of independent designers through the large e-commerce platforms. In short, even from this corner of the world it is possible to have access and be an active part of an overall change, informing oneself and choosing as conscious consumers in the great global offer. In the homeland of tailoring, however, it is reasonable to expect that we will not be limited to this.

The new lifeblood brought to the fashion sector by the demands of ethics and sustainability has generated a great ferment among designers and small entrepreneurs, leading to an almost infinite series of initiatives. In terms of attention to pollution and saving water resources, for example, the Bergamo-based Denim produces jeans using organic cotton, innovative washes with a reduction in water consumption and without the use of chemicals. On the reuse and recycling side, just to name a few, we have the Rifò Lab brand, which uses the Prato textile circuit to create garments in precious and regenerated fabrics; Ecodream, which instead uses waste materials recovered in the Florence area to produce bags and wallets, and Regenesi, the brand of Maria Silvia Pazzi that was born from the idea of ​​”transforming waste into beauty”.

A particular reality is that of Quid, a brand born in Verona that collects production waste from various Italian companies and transforms them into new garments through the work of women with a past of fragility and violence, who thus find their redemption. Still on the recycling side, declined in a vintage fashion version, there is no shortage of markets and small shops, but there is also a chain like Humana Vintage, now present in several Italian cities, which sells second-hand garments and with the proceeds supports humanitarian projects in Italy. and in the southern hemisphere. Because a vintage garment is unique and, if Italians have fashion in their blood, they can use it to create a personal, but also ethical and sustainable style.

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