Over the last few months we have been talking a lot about sustainable fashion, and the difference buying Fair Trade or sustainable can make to the planet. So imagine how happy we were when this month H&M were making waves by turning discarded plastic into clothing. Yes, you read that right. In a bold move, high street fashion retailer H&M are taking on the environmentally friendly challenge with their ‘Conscious Exclusive’ collection, which takes discarded plastic shoreline waste and turns it into beautiful evening gowns.
Honestly, that was the first question I asked, so I’m guessing it will be your first too. The new collection, to be launched at the end of April, has promised to provide stunning evening dresses made from plastic. But far from the blocky, stiff material you might be thinking of, the new collection is all fluids fabrics and floaty, natural lines to emphasise its natural origins. Honestly, the collection is just stunning, and far from the bland, crunch granola stigma of some eco-minded clothing.
It turns out, H&M’s scientists have been very busy. The Conscious Exclusive collection includes a pioneering new sustainable material known as BIONIC® – recycled polyester made entirely from recovered shoreline waste. Creating recycled polyester is actually a fairly simple process. Once the PET plastics have been collected, they are washed, sterilized, dried and crushed, before being heated and spun out to form strings of yarn. This material is then wound into spools and passed through a crimping machine to create a fluffy, woolly texture. It’s then baled, dyed and used to create polyester fabrics.
What Does This Mean?
This new collection is fantastic for a number or reasons, but we mustn’t forget that recycled polyester is not a new product. In fact, it’s been around for a number of years as a way to reduce waste going to landfill. But what H&M are doing is taking a truly sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to fashion, which as such a big business makes a significant difference. Their partnership with BIONIC® means that they are funding recycling and plastic recovery infrastructures in over 35 countries, using the materials collected to create new goods through their plastic recovery initiative.
What H&M are doing is truly admirable – drawing attention to the issue of shoreline and sea pollution and turning such a tragedy into something beautiful, and it’s not the first time. Across all of their product ranges, 20% are made from sustainable materials, and they are now one of the world’s biggest users of recycled polyester and the biggest buyer of organic cotton. H&M are the perfect example of an environmentally friendly, sustainable large scale fashion business, and I hope to see more news like this in the coming months.
Do you know the difference between ethical fashion and fairtrade fashion? Don’t feel bad if you don’t – you’re not the only one. The lines between fair trade and ethical fashion are often blurred, combined and crossed, to the point that many people don’t have a clue what the terms mean anymore. But despite sounding similar, there is a difference between ethical and Fair Trade fashion, and that difference matters when you’re trying o make smart shopping decisions. That’s why we want to take this opportunity to clear things up.
According the Fair Trade guidelines, only products that come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated are allowed to bear the Fair Trade logo. This is the main way to identify Fair Trade clothing and products. Ethical fashion simply represents an approach to the design, sourcing and manufacture of clothing that maximises benefits to people and communities while minimizing the impact on the environment.
It’s all about sustainability and damage limitation. There is no official branding or logo for ethical products, and it is open to interpretation as to whether your ethics match those of the company. In short, Fair Trade focuses on the treatment of the people producing your clothes and is independently verified by the Fair Trade Association, while ethical companies strive to reduce the impact we have on the environment and native cultures when producing clothes, applying their own standards to the term ‘ethical’ which you can usually find on their website.
When Something is Fair Trade/Ethical
In Fair Trade, it’s all down to the workplace. According to the Fair Trade Association, garment factories must meet minimum workplace requirements based on the core conventions of the International Labour organisation to comply with basic Fair Trade standards. So when you buy Fair Trade, you know without doubt that the conditions and compensation for the workers creating those garments are good. In ethical fashion, the entire production process makes the best attempt to provide the maximum benefit to the people producing the products, while minimising their impact on the environment at the same time.
Factory conditions are where there is a really clear difference between the two sides. With Fair Trade, the companies must provide workers with a good wage and safe working environment. They must provide a place to see their children, allow time to see their families and have a working bathroom facility. These are just some of the very strict requirements that Fair Trade companies have to meet. But ethical fashion is still a little ways behind on this one. There are no set requirements, but rather guidelines about providing a safe and hygienic work environment with regular health and safety training, adequate facilities and no child labour.
Sadly, we still have a long way to go before the entire fashion industry switches over to Fair Trade and consistent ethical production. But the good news is that, for shoppers willing to put in a little time, there are plenty of signs and guidelines to allow us to shop ethically, and Fair Trade.
How often do you think about where your clothes come from?
I don’t mean which shop you bought them in or even which country they shipped from. When was the last time you gave any thought to how much the people who physically made your clothes were paid for their efforts? I know it’s an issue many people would rather not think about – which is why it’s my job to drag it kicking and screaming into the light.
What Is Fairtrade?
There is no better way to answer this question than with the mission statement of the Fairtrade foundation:
“Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.”
Each country has different Fairtrade standards, and businesses who participate have to abide by these standards of treatment, minimum pay and environmental impact. Thanks to the efforts of The Fairtrade Foundation there are thousands of Fairtrade products out there today being sold through supermarkets, independent shops, cafes, restaurants, wholesalers and more.
The Fairtrade Impact
It used to be that farmers or factory workers in third world countries used to be paid a pittance to mass produce things for the first world countries – including clothes. But over the last decade or so the awareness of the injustice of this soared. Consumers didn’t want to buy clothes from retailers that were paying factory workers 5p an hour and selling on the results of their labour for £19.99 or even higher.
The Fairtrade movement focuses on making sure that everyone within the production process of your clothes – from the farmers who rear the sheep to the workers who sew and cut the fabric – are all justly compensated for their work at a fair rate. Since Fairtrade came into existence, the lives of thousands of farmers, factory workers and field hands have been vastly improved – with better pay, working conditions and trade deals. But sadly, fairtrade is a long way off being a legal requirement.
So the next time you buy a £1.50 jumper from your favourite shop, stop and think of how much effort real people put into making it, and how little they were paid so that the business could make a profit. At bakuba, we are big believers in ethical, Fairtrade fashion. We’ve talked before about our love for recycling fashion, or for reusing and renewing old pieces instead of throwing them away. That’s why we lovingly create tailored business clothing for women, with fabrics bought at above Fairtrade minimum prices and sourced ethically.
And believe me, there is a big difference between ethical and Fairtrade fashion. But if you want to know what that is, you’ll have to wait until next month!
Over the next month or two, I want to ask you a favour. It’s quite a simple one, honest! All I want you to do is think about where your clothes come from and what they’re made of. It might not sound like much, but being more aware of what you are buying can make a huge difference to the way you buy clothes. For example, how much thought do you give to whether you are buying a top made from natural or synthetic fabric?
Natural Or Synthetic Fabric?
In general, clothes are made from either natural or synthetic fibres. Natural fibres are extracted from plants or animals, so think of your wool, cotton, linen and silk. Synthetic fibres are exactly the opposite. These fibres are not found anywhere naturally, and instead have to be created by an artificial or man-made manufacturing process. Examples of synthetic fibres are acrylic, polyester and nylon, commonly used in cheap jumpers. Generally, clothes made from natural materials are more comfortable to wear and are less irritating to the skin than synthetic ones, but they can sometimes be more expensive. The sources of natural fibres are often limitless and don’t hurt the animal they are taken from (for example wool is sheared from sheep regularly), and farmers of plants grow in a sustainable way. Natural fibres are available in a very limited range of colours (whatever they naturally grow in, usually white) but dyed and tints are added in the manufacturing process to add colour.
Now, there is one exception to the ‘natural or synthetic’ categories, and that’s viscose fibres. Clothing made from viscose fibres is naturally occurring, but the fibre itself needs to be put through a chemical process before it is suitable for weaving or sewing. A good example of this is bamboo, which in its raw form is a thready, woody substance rich in cellulose – the element that makes it good for making clothing. But once it has been treated and processed, the resulting fabric is very similar in texture to cotton or silk. It’s fine, soft and often used for making t-shirts and dresses.
The type of fibre your clothing is made from might seem trivial, but it makes a huge difference to how comfortable the item is, how expensive it is to make and buy and how it affects the environment we live in. If everyone made the choice to only buy clothing made from natural, sustainable fibres from now on, we could send a clear message to the fashion industry that we care about providing work for the people who farm, cultivate and harvest these fibres, and the wellbeing of our world. As always I would love to hear what you think, so please do get in touch with your ideas and tweet me some more of your wonderful photos!
Where Do Your Clothes Come From?
The #FightFastFashion campaign was designed by the group Ethical Consumer as a way of highlighting just how much of an effect ‘fast fashion’ is having on our environment. Because fashion trends are changing quickly and clothes are so readily available, they are seeing an increase in the amount of clothing waste. We’re not just talking waste from the manufacturing process here either, we’re talking about clothes thrown away by stores and consumers when they aren’t wanted any more. Over 350,000 tonnes of clothing ends up in landfill each year just in the UK, making fashion the second biggest polluter in the world.
Ethical consumer has done some wonderful research into this problem, including a ranking of high street shops in terms of ethical responsibility and what steps have already been taken to address this issue. Take a look, you may be surprised by your favourite clothes shop! But what their research also showed is that while shops could always be doing more to reduce the waste, it’s consumers like you and me who can make the biggest difference.
Be Part Of The Solution
No, you don’t have to start making your own clothes or anything quite that extreme. Instead, simply making the decision to reject this ‘fast fashion’ narrative and choosing to shop more based on ethical production and responsibility, consumers can send a clear and powerful message to clothing retailers – we want ethical fashion. Of course, to do this, thousands of people need to get on board and support the movement. So this week, really look at how your clothes are produced, and join the fight against fast fashion. What we would love you to do is take a photo of yourself in your favourite piece of second-hand gear and share it on social media using the #FightFastFashion hashtag. If you want to know more about the #FightFastFashion movement, you can also see their video here.
In my next few posts I will be talking more about ethical fashion, including a hard look at where our clothes come from, what they are made of and how your decision about where to shop makes a real difference to somebody’s life. So stay tuned!