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Why Sustainable Fashion Has to Be About Individual Style

3p Contributor | Thursday February 27th, 2014 | 7 Comments

Fashion By Ceri Heathcote

For a number of years now, I have been trying to be sustainable with my style–not buying too many clothes, buying clothes to last and focussing on natural, organic and ethically made fashion.

Gradually the number of labels offering timeless and sustainable styles of clothing has increased, and I have found it increasingly easy to satisfy my desire for amazing clothes without indulging in fast fashion at all. But the transition hasn’t been completely painless. At first I found it difficult to move away from the lure of the latest trends. It is pretty tough to get away from them, when you are bombarded by style advice from magazines and retailers advising of the season’s latest “must-haves” and “essentials.”

But without making that transition from following trends to developing my own individual style, I don’t think that I could ever really have been able to describe my wardrobe as sustainable. Following trends meant that I was highly susceptible to the marketing put out there by the fashion industry to convince me that the clothes that I bought last season were no longer “fashionable” and that I needed to buy new clothes.

Each Fashion Week we see magazines showing their take on the latest catwalk shows and summarizing their takes on what will be the key looks for the season ahead. While many of us just can’t afford to buy expensive designer clothes, let alone invest in these “new looks” for each season, we are sold more affordable versions (some might say ripoffs) via the high street, which allow us to keep up with trends at a fraction of the cost. Although many will choose to ignore it, we all know there is a significant cost to these clothes in terms of the human rights abuses and environmental impact associated with their manufacture and disposal. From a style sense of view, many of the features that made the piece of designer clothing desirable in the first place–the great cut, the luxurious fabric and the huge attention to detail in the construction–are lost in the high street copies, leaving little more than a superficial or watered-down representation of the original “trend” or “look.”

Slowly but surely, I think individual style (and common sense) is winning over. People are looking to street-style blogs and photographs featured on sites like Pinterest, Instagram and lookbook.nu to get their inspiration. Someone who is rocking their own unique and very stylish look in the real world is proving to be highly inspirational for many. London Fashion Week is now as much about the unique and individual style of the people photographed outside of the shows as it is about the collections being shown on the catwalks. The trends for vintage, secondhand, upcycled and DIY clothes is also a great example that many are fed up with the bland, reproduced looks on the high street and would rather do their own thing.

It can be difficult to step away from the cycle of trend-led clothes that fill the high street shops. But once you do, you will see how many more satisfying possibilities there are. Fast fashion is a bit like a drug: You are constantly needing your next “fix,” but it will never really satisfy you for long. The only way to be truly sustainable with the fashion that you wear is to develop your own individual style–to buy the clothes that work for you and make you feel good but will also do so for years to come. I couldn’t put it any better than Vivienne Westwood when she said, “Buy less, choose well.”

It just so happens that there are plenty of innovative and socially and environmentally responsible fashion brands with their own unique signatures. These brands are great for anyone who wants to create their own unique and amazing style that won’t ever go out of fashion.

What do you think? Can trend-led fashion and sustainability ever go hand-in-hand? Could catering to individual style make for a more sustainable fashion industry? Join the conversation in the comments.

Image credit: istockphoto.com

Ceri is the founder of www.style-is.co.uk, a search engine for sustainable and ethical fashion featuring fair trade, organic, vegan, vintgae and recycled clothes, shoes and accessories for women, men and children. Ceri also blogs at www.ethicalfashionblog.com and Oxfam Fashion and writes for the Ethical Fashion Forum’s Source Intelligence magazine.


▼▼▼      7 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • http://www.purakai.com/ PuraKai Clothing

    What do you think?
    I’m working on it but my wardrobe isn’t totally made from sustainable fashion yet either, but as the father of three children and the co-founder of a Sustainable Surf/Yoga Fashion brand I believe there is no option but to move to sustainable fashion. If we continue to produce unsustainable products I believe the future generations are screwed. And yes Sustainable Fasion must appeal to an audience beyond the small percentage of eco-minded shoppers.

    And the problem is not so much the companies making the garments, yes their complicit, but they’re competing in a cut throat race to the bottom. In other words they need to make the cheapest garment to compete in the marketplace, adding costs for worker safety and eco-materials could put them out of business. The bar must be raised and minimum standards must be set for all companies. How does that happen? Consumers must push back and say no to products that aren’t sustainable. And smaller companies like ours must provide sustainable fashion that is trendy and at a price point that is as close to conventional clothing as possible.

    Can trend-led fashion and sustainability ever go hand-in-hand?

    We need to lead with trendy fashion. If we can’t make a trendy shirt with a nice hand feel from eco-materials we’re screwed. Which is why we’ve chosen the litmus test of Amazingly Comfortable, Made in the USA and Eco-Friendly Fabrics, if it doesn’t meet those requirements we don’t make it.

    Could catering to individual style make for a more sustainable fashion industry?

    To me fashion is about individual style. I don’t want to be known as the eco-fashion entrepreneur that has no style, we want to reach the masses and that requires getting beyond the eco-minded, it almost has to be an after thought.

    You should be able to say: Wow this is so comfortable.

    You should step in the front of the mirror and love how the garment looks.

    And then when you look at the tag and you see organic cotton and made in California you should glow with the realization you’re now part of the eco-revolution. That’s the formula!

    • http://www.style-is.co.uk/ style is…

      Thanks for your comments.I definitely agree that sustainable fashion has to be desirable or no one will ever buy it. For me the point is that we should love the clothes because of how they look and how they feel rather than because we have been told that a piece of clothing is ‘on trend’ but even so I do think sustainable fashion needs to be fresh, innovative and contemporary to sell. Your website looks great btw, definitely another great example of how great sustainable fashion can be and affordable too.

  • Two Birds Apparel

    Great article Ceri! As a sustainable clothing company, we can’t agree more http://www.twobirdsapparel.com

    • http://www.style-is.co.uk/ style is…

      Thanks. Have just checked out your website and it is great to see that there are plenty of stylish and sustainable choices for men too!

  • http://www.bboheme.com Alicia @ Bourgeois Boheme

    The masses are now used to buying a pair of shoes for £8 and a tee for £5. Paying anything higher than this is considered expensive. It is increasingly hard and frustrating for small companies like ours who are trying to tick as many boxes as possible for a more sustainable industry. It is more expensive to produce in this way and I hope that the masses start to understand that their current choices are not sustainable.

  • http://www.encircled.ca/ encircled

    Thanks for this article. Well written and speaks to the trend which is/has had a massive negative impact on our planet, fast fashion.

    I’m the Chief Fashionpreneur of Encircled, we make versatile, ethically made designs from eco-conscious fabrics. As much as our customers love the eco-friendly elements to our business as well as all of the charitable/ethical work we do, I do know that their number one motivator for buying is our designs themselves. (www.encircled.ca)

    I recently did a survey with women aged 30-55 primarily as to why they don’t buy sustainable/green products. The number one reason cited was cost. Unfortunately, eco materials just cost more, as does producing locally so there will always be that price gap unless we can get more production back here, and more volumes to drive the price down. I try to sell value but being a relatively unknown brand, it is more difficult. I applaud any fashionpreneur in this space, because it is emerging still and every sale is a hustle.

    It’s a catch 22 but articles like yours above help spur conversation which is a great fit start!

  • Heart Ethical Textiles

    Great article. You’re right that fast fashion is like a drug, your next purchase as your next fix. Developing your individual style also takes courage, but it is empowering not to be hanging onto the latest trend.

    I’m the founder of http://www.heartethical.co.nz which produces print-to-order fully customisable, eco-ethical textiles (bit of a mouthful!). I firmly believe there is a sustainable path to be made. We have to start somewhere to change our mindsets. Choosing longevity and quality with individuality is the perfect place to start.

    Margot