Last week a host of entertaining and informative events were brought to Edinburgh by International Fashion Festival Director Anna Freemantle and her talented team. The events, run in association with Zero Waste Scotland, challenged my thoughts on sustainability, deepened my understanding of the circular economy and educated me on the incredible achievements of the late Louise Wilson OBE, a British professor of fashion design whose contribution to the world of design can never be overstated. Below is some of what I learned from this extraordinary series of events;
Future of Fashion – Love, Lease, Lend and the Sustainability Synopsis
These panel discussions brought together an international group of entrepreneurs and sustainability experts who share one common belief; the fashion industry as it is today cannot be sustained, radical change is needed. A study undertaken by circular economy experts WRAP found that an estimated £140 million worth (about 350,000 tonnes) of unused clothing goes in UK landfill every year. The fact that we throw away so much recyclable fabric without a second thought is all the more shocking when one considers the volume of water (8.000L per pair of jeans on average) and energy (0.45-0.55 KWH of electrical energy and 4500-5500 KCAL of thermal energy per meter of cloth) that is required in order to produce the textiles that we wear. Further more, WRAP found that by extending the average life of clothing by just three months, a 5% reduction in each of the carbon, water and waste footprints could be achieved. In short, our buying habits and the notion of ‘fast fashion’ needs to change.
Entrepreneur and textile aficionado Bert van Son, a panellist at both discussions, created MUD Jeans in order to challenge accepted patterns of consumption and put the idea of a circular economy into practice. The concept, on the surface, is simple; the jeans are bought but the cotton is leased. When the customer no longer wants to wear the jeans, they are returned to the supplier to be recycled and rewards are earned.
In addition to turning the concept of ownership on it’s head and working to promote the idea of waste as a resource, MUD Jeans creates high quality, flattering, wearable clothing that even those without any conscious desire to support an ethical brand ought to check out. The Skinny Hazen jeans and the Dennik sweater are at the top of my
shopping leasing list. A ‘home try’ service (order three pairs of jeans, try them on, send back what you don’t want at no extra charge) and a repair service are also on offer, leaving me to wonder if there is anything that this trail blazing brand has failed to think of.
Also on the panel at the Future Of Fashion discussion was Rentez-Vous COO Claudia Domokos. While the idea of renting formalwear is nothing new, Rentez-Vous is unique in that everything from luxury dresses and designer handbags to basic bomber jackets and sweaters are available, transforming the idea of luxury daytime and casual clothing in a rental option. This concept automatically appealed to me for several reasons. Firstly and practically, it eliminates the problem of storage. As just about anyone living in a city centre can testify, storage space is sold at a premium and personally, there are times when I struggle to see what I even own because I have stored it so efficiently that I have rendered it invisible. This leaves me rotating the same outfits again and again for no reason other than they are the items closest to hand. I know I’m not alone in this as the WRAP study cited above also found that within the wardrobe of an average UK household, around 30% of the clothing has not been worn for at least a year. The total cost for this unused clothing nationwide is an estimated £30billion. The Rentez-Vous philosophy of enjoying new pieces without owning them echoes the MUD Jeans philosophy and eliminates the issue of storage.
Secondly, Rentez-Vous provides a solid solution to the dreaded phenomenon of ‘holiday dressing’. It is, at least, dreaded by me. I don’t really believe in ‘seasonal clothing’, in summer I wear what I wore in winter, without the coat. I have a well documented dislike of most summer clothing styles and frequently thank my lucky stars that Scotland enjoys, for the most part, one crisp, clear season for the entire year. My seasonal ideal is one that allows me to wear both sunglasses and a coat at the same time. However, I do sometimes venture to sunnier climes, and, as a result, have been known to find myself facing a choice between overheating to death in the clothes that I already own and love or spending money on a new ‘holiday dress’ that I will wear once and resent forever. Rentez-Vous provides the perfect solution to this issue, allowing summer dissenters like me to rent what we need to endure the season in style without amassing a lorry load of purchases that are purposeless once summer has passed.
Thirdly and most importantly, I enjoy putting together new outfits. I get a thrill from adding to my wardrobe, deciding how to style new items and appreciating how they inject new life into the pieces that were already there. This is not to say, however, that I technically enjoy owning new things. This is an important distinction that I had never given thought to before sitting in on these discussions. On deeper reflection, it occurred to me the act of buying expensive pieces can often translate into pressure to wear the pieces again and again in order to justify their expense, turning them into an obligation rather than a means of self-expression and fun. Rentez-Vous provides a never-ending stream of newness at a fraction of the purchasing cost, alleviating this pressure and maximising style freedom.
Many more interesting initiatives were highlighted and discussed at these talks; I have chosen to focus on MUD Jeans and Rentez-Vous only because they were the most relevant to me and offer services that I plan to personally avail of. More information on who else contributed to these incredible discussions can be found here.
Film Screening: The True Cost
This heart-wrenching documentary is one of the most thought provoking I’ve ever seen. By shining an unflinching light on the production of ‘fast fashion’, The True Cost highlights the human suffering that underpins our high street. I will avoid discussing the content at length as I would advise everyone to see it for themselves but, suffice it to say, this film has radically transformed my perception of the clothing industry and made me infinitely more conscious of my clothing choices.
Full information on the documentary is available on The True Cost website.
Louise Wilson Remembered
Chaired by Vogue Chief Critic Sarah Mower, this moving panel discussion highlighted the enormous contribution made by the late Louise Wilson OBE to the fashion industry. As a lecturer at the prestigious Central Saint Martins University, Wilson is credited with helping to shape a host of world-renowned designers including the late Alexander McQueen, Christopher Kane, Richard Nicoll, Sophia Kokosalaki and discussion panellist Jonathan Saunders to name but a few. Her fiery personality, her forthrightness and her legendary passion were evoked by the speakers, all of which had known her personally. The talk concluded with advice for aspiring designers and an uplifting synopsis of what extraordinary one woman was able to achieve.