Unfortunately, the fashion industry is not the most environmentally conscious. Dyes pollute waterways (responsible for almost 20% of our industrial water pollution), chemicals hurt workers and textiles destroy our natural resources. It seems fashion is detrimentally bad for the environment. However, thanks to a shift in customer ethics, realising the effects on the environment has come to the forefront and many fashion producers are converting to a more eco-friendly and sustainable future. Supply chains are radically changing by the need for transparency, understanding the process of creating materials encourages conscious consumerism.

In a recent report by Pulse The Fashion Industry, it is revealed that 75% of fashion companies have improved their environmental and social performance in the past year which is a huge improvement.

The report also shows that 73% of millennial shoppers would be prepared to pay more for their clothing if they knew it was made from sustainable materials and ethical practices. This not only shows consumer habits are becoming more aware and conscience.

Shining beacon of ethical and sustainable fashion, Stella McCartney, started her namesake line 17 years ago with the mission to not sacrifice sustainability for style. The designer has just won the 2018 VOICES Award for “outstanding achievement in fashion and exemplary impact on the wider world”.

“There is so much we can do together, there are so many different elements that affect the industry that we don’t think about,” said McCartney.

With so much information on how to buy and dress sustainably, we thought we would break it down into simple categories for clarity:

Buy Key Pieces

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One problem is the “fast fashion” consumerism we are expected to indulge in every season. With an increasing list of responsibilities and social events, the idea of ‘the bigger the wardrobe the better’ might seem appealing. However, by embracing a minimal wardrobe, (also known as a “capsule wardrobe”) it makes it easier to decide what to wear, saves time, and keeps you organised.

Investing in a core wardrobe of key pieces means that constant buying to update your wardrobe is not on your mind and wasteful buying is reduced.

Key items that we recommend for every wardrobe: 

  1. Crisp white shirt
  2. A well-fitted blazer
  3. Pair of jeans (not ripped)
  4. Bateau shirt
  5. Little black dress
  6. Black pants
  7. Cashmere crew neck sweater
  8. Pair of white sneakers
  9. Strappy heels
  10. White/black t-shirt
  11. Wrap coat
  12. Black heeled boots
  13. Classic leather (or faux leather) belt
  14. Leather moto jacket
  15. A staple bag

With a strong wardrobe of key pieces, they can be paired with seasonal pieces that reflect your personality without overhauling your wardrobe every few months.

Second-Hand Shopping

Second-hand doesn’t necessarily mean second best. Thrift shopping might seem daunting as the racks are jam-packed with unwanted clothing and a variety of sizes, but going in with a clear vision of what you want will help keep you focused and prevent over-buying.

One of our favourite second-hand stores in New Zealand is Recycle Boutique. With seven stores across the country, Recycle Boutique sells a wide range, from luxury names to high street heroes. They sell items on your behalf which gives you extra funds to keep the cycle of recycling going.

Tips for second-hand shopping: 

  1. Repurpose pieces that may not be exactly what you want to make it your style and updated look.
  2. If the item does not fit (and you have no intention of altering it) leave it in store. Larger sizes are not always accommodated in thrift stores.
  3. Don’t buy it for its price. Yes, it is tempting to buy a whole rack of discounted clothing but do not buy if you don’t absolutely love it as it will only contribute to more waste.
  4. Buy quality brands and fabrics that will last.

Luxury Brands

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Luxury brands are at the forefront of the sustainable movement. With more brands turning fur-free and an increasing number turning to recycled products to create their new season materials. Investing in well-made luxury brands may seem like an expensive decision but will be beneficial when the items are still hanging in your wardrobe years from now.

Local designer, Maggie Marilyn, is making waves in the international scene not only for her colourful, feminine pieces but for her innovative use of recycled materials. This includes her new Season Six collection which debuted at Gramercy Park Hotel New York. Collection pieces are made out of recycled plastic, ethically produced silk, local New Zealand wool and natural dyes that also require less water. All of her practices put the environmental impact at the forefront of her design process and show that fashion and style do not have to be compromised.

Italian fashion house Gucci has pledged to initiate a conversation about the impact of the clothing industry with the launch of its latest endeavour, an online platform known as Gucci Equilibrium. The platform is a new initiative from the fashion house to embed a 10-year plan of sustainability in the house’s mission to bring positive change to secure a collective future.

Parent company Kering is pushing this change by having a sustainable division in their company and by implementing their own sustainable policies to meet targets. Although the use of leather is still prevalent in most Kering brands like Bottega Veneta and Saint Laurent, they have implemented new strategies to make it as sustainable as possible, by developing a metal-free tanning process which is more environmentally friendly as it reduces pollution, water and energy consumption.

Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer at Kering acknowledges that sustainability is a pivotal change that needs to take part within the industry, “If our aim is to protect the planet and we only look within our own operations, we aren’t doing our job – the whole supply chain has to be taken into account.”

Brand Education

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The price tag doesn’t always correlate to the sustainability of the brand. It is important to educate yourself before buying off the rack to ensure you know who is making the product and where the materials are coming from; after-all change is made with how we choose to spend our money.

The Tearfund list is released every year and rates brands on worker exploitation and supply chains. It is an easy-to-follow unbias guide and features 144  New Zealand and Australian brands. Otherwise, doing a little bit of brand research before purchasing and looking at the brand’s ethos will give you a good indication on the sustainability of the brand.

It’s up to us all to embrace sustainability. And this includes our sustainable fashion purchases.

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