INTERVIEW / Center for Sustainable Fashion
Fashion and the industry it forms is frequently associated with opulence, grandeur and perhaps waste due to the ruthless world where its inhabitants have never cut corners or, until now, even thought about re-evaluating its process and effect on the wider sphere.
At the birthplace from where some of the most influential, new creatives of the fashion industry have emerged, LCF (London College of Fashion) have homed the Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF), a team dedicated to embedding new ways of thinking and approaching the design and construction process that alleviates the industry’s environmental damages in forming more sustainable practices.
It is a common conception that the entire notion of the fashion field has an unsustainable surface in that one collection wipes out its predecessor – it is disregarded, no longer ‘in style’ and therefore superfluous. However, Alex McIntosh, Business Support Manager at the CSF explains the opposite, “If you’re interested in sustainability as a concept in terms of how we consume and interact with the natural environment and the people around us, fashion is a really interesting area to work in because it’s both entirely unsustainable in its current form but also absolutely necessary part of our culture. It’s the way we express ourselves, it’s the way that we form tribes and basically demonstrate what sort of section of society we’re part of, it’s something that everybody uses and interacts with and it’s actually a hugely important part of culture so you can’t just disregard it or say well it’s something that’s essentially unsustainable, it’s the just way that fashion has come to be viewed – it’s seen as being something that’s about frivolity and constant change and actually I think of course there is an element of that, and there is also an element of it being about actually really telling the world what you really believe in.”
For many designers, the vision of their artwork is what creates the final piece, what pumps the artery to the heart of each collection and the sceptics of fashion becoming cast under a more eco-friendly light are rest assured that teaching and advice to designers isn’t in place to limit practice, more a revised way of working and thinking. Where sustainable tactics can be put in place whether with the use and production of materials and labour or, like Puma’s recent initiative in keeping check on the use of resources such as water and energy, the wider belief about the efforts of the Centre of Sustainable Fashion is that every little helps.
McIntosh draws on the problem of “the culture of egos” that he sees as deep-rooted in the fashion industry, whereby there is an acceptance that one person’s creative light bulb is taken without consideration of the multiple inputs from other fields and skills in creating the final product. “I think anybody who is a designer who has got half a brain and half awareness and half a kind of process, understands that you set yourself a brief, you set parameters within which you’re going to work and you draw your influence from all sorts of different places and actually limitations can actually be the most, the greatest stimulus for creativity.”
It has been known in the eco-aware sector of fashion that some designers are held at the helm of showing sustainability functions both economically and socially to an audience. Designers such as Martin Margiela who is respected for his genius of deconstruction and reconstruction, with recycling materials and whose previous collections have included clothes made from old wigs, silk scarves and vintage furniture to name a few. Today, the Centre for Sustainable Fashion has worked with many up and coming designers including Royal College of Art graduate Christopher Raeburn whose ethically-sourced materials – vintage and disused, are turned in to runway-worthy garments, typically parkas, and thus highlighting the ways in which being sustainable as a fresh starting talent who has gone on to produce many collections, can be successful.
However, critics of sustainability in fashion, in particular bigger brands who work on a business model of cutting time, decreasing money and labour and increasing output and therefore profit, may suggest that approaching their business with sustainable measures would be a financial disaster. The CSF’s Alex McIntosh comments that, “…materials and resources are becoming increasingly expensive so the pressure is more and more on the labour to try and bring down the cost and labour costs are going up in China. There isn’t actually the capacity to produce fashion in the way it’s being produced now anywhere else. It’s just going to become really, really difficult and operating in that business model where the margins are really slim and it’s all about mass producing and selling huge quantities, it isn’t sustainable economically, environmentally, socially, it really has no place in the world, it’s just a reflection of a consumer madness.” The CSF act as a reminder to industry to keep inputting sustainable elements to products and business but it appears that besides the money that needs to be invested in schemes like this, there needs to be a shift in culture and in consumer demand to make sustainability become a thriving implementation.
By approaching and tackling the issue of becoming more eco-efficient and therefore sustainable through a design-led process, the CSF is simultaneously, but perhaps unintentionally, going about changing the image of the words “eco”, “green” and “sustainable” from dull and monotone to everything fashion is and has always been loved for – the avant-garde, outrageous and aspirational magnificence – without the unnecessary waste.
Article by Selina Makin
Illustrations by Ilyana Kerr
for the Center for Sustainable Fashion
Posted by Luigi V.