An insatiable appetite for disposable fashion means that non-biodegradable textiles are clogging up landfills at an alarming rate. These ethical designers have vowed to take on fast fashion with their groundbreaking sustainable brands. By Charlotte Ward
His clothes are worn by James Bond actor Daniel Craig, Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, and singer Rod Stewart, who could all easily afford to replace their wardrobes constantly. But as fashion-forward consumers rush to snap up the latest collection from British designer Tom Cridwell, the ethical fashion entrepreneur has one goal in mind – to bring back an era where well-made garments could last a lifetime.
Like an increasing amount of ethical designers, and the celebrities adorned in their wares, Tom is concerned about the impact disposable fashion is having on our planet – with good reason.
Each year 80 billion items of clothing are consumed across the world – that’s 400 per cent more than two decades ago. The uncomfortable reality of such throwaway fashion, is cheap clothes often require cheap labour, with countless workers exploited for the bargains first world consumers can’t get enough of. Then there’s the certainty that poor quality, non-biodegradable fabrics are headed for landfills, where they often linger, releasing harmful gases and toxins into the environment.
30 Year Collection
Determined to counter this unsavory side of the fashion industry, Tom, 27, who has dressed stars such as musician Brandon Flowers, and actors Ben Stiller and Hugh Grant, has launched his new sustainable 30 Year Collection featuring sweatshirts, T-shirts, shirts and jackets that will last for decades. The secret? The fabrics are handmade with luxury Italian fabric and protected with a special treatment to stop them shrinking.
One of London’s top ethical designers, Tom is so confident of the endurance of his garments that he has included a signature 30-year guarantee to mend or replace any items that don’t age gracefully – setting a new high standard for his fashion peers.
‘In an era when 13 million tonnes of clothing end up in landfill annually, it is essential that we fight back against planned obsolescence in the fashion industry,’ he tells The Ethicalist. ‘Too many fast fashion retailers are deliberately making clothing to fall apart after just a year or two of being worn.’
‘In an era when 13 million tonnes of clothing end up in landfill annually, it is essential that we fight back against planned obsolescence in the fashion industry. Too many fast fashion retailers are deliberately making clothing to fall apart’
This is a designer whose first ever shirt, The Entrepreneur’s Shirt, came with that 30-year-guarantee and also donated 10 per cent of the sales for every shirt between Young Enterprise, to provide business training to young people in the UK, and DEKI, to give funding to impoverished entrepreneurs in the developing world.
‘I want to make sustainable fashion fashionable,’ Tom said. ‘At a time when fashion is the world’s second most polluting industry, I offer a 30 Year Guarantee to underline our pledge to make truly durable clothing to save natural resources.’
And, it seems, fashionistas are impressed – and willing to pay more to buy clothes from ethical designers that care for the planet as well as aesthetics.
In a recent Ipsos poll, 70 per cent of those surveyed said they would be willing to pay extra for ethically sourced apparel. Another survey, by Nielsen, revealed that 66 per cent of global respondents were prepared to pay more for products and services that came from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact – up from 55 per cent in 2014, and 50 per cent in 2013.
It is a belief shared by the founders of ethical e-commerce fashion site Zady.com, who warn that low-quality goods are not only bad for the environment but can affect our health as harsh chemicals find their way into our skin.
‘We as a generation are so thoughtful about what we put into our bodies, how we exercise and live our lives more broadly, but the things we wear every day? We don’t seem to have that same thinking or mentality,’ says Zady founder Maxine Bédat.
Maxine, and business partner Soraya Darabi, created Zady (dubbed the Whole Foods of fashion) with a determination to offer sustainable clothing, created by ethical designers with honesty and quality in manufacturing. Since its 2013 launch the site has gone from strength to strength, with the eco-fashion influencers even collaborating with sustainable star Emma Watson to create a collection.
Meanwhile, Madrid eco-fashion designer Javier Goyeneche is busy taking sustainable fashion to a whole new level by transforming other people’s waste into sought-after products.
Celebrating Ethical Designers
His concept flourished from frustration at the amount of waste produced by industrialised countries – especially the fashion industry. He launched his Ecoalf brand in 2010, vowing to do better than other environmentally minded manufacturers who were making recycled fabrics that contained just 15 or 20 per cent old materials.
Javier has been as good as his word, taking the likes of discarded tires, leftover coffee grounds and old fishing nets to craft chic clothes and accessories that contain 80 to 100 per cent recycled materials.
‘Ecoalf was born with the idea of creating a truly sustainable fashion company,’ he told an audience at The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. ‘To create a new generation of recycled products with the same quality and design as the best non-recycled products.’
His products are certainly living up to the hype, with Javier partnering with the likes of Apple, Barneys and actress Gwyneth Paltrow.
Like Javier, New York-based lingerie designer Mariana Hernandez thought carefully about how her products should align with her ethical stance on fashion.
Her brand White Rabbit NY makes garments from bamboo – one of the fastest growing, least thirsty plants in the world. Together with her co-founder, Cristian Rios, she also chose a manufacturer who shared their passion for women’s empowerment.
‘We partnered with a family-owned manufacturer in Mexico City that pays fair wages and offers above market benefits like paid vacation and social security because we believe it is fair,’ she told The Ethicalist. ‘We also donate a percentage of our sales to an organisation that helps female artisans in rural communities earn fair wages.’
In a world where people are beginning to care so much about what they consume and the impact it has on the environment, Mariana and Cristian spent well over a year looking for a luxurious, soft and sustainable fabric to make their first collection. They finally chose bamboo after discovering that bamboo grows quicker and needs far less water than cotton.
Likewise, they commissioned responsible textile manufacturers who cared about their environmental impact and did not release harmful chemicals into the environment.
‘Today’s consumers increasingly expect more from the products they buy,’ she says. ‘They read labels more carefully, choose to buy organic, local, and socially responsible products. Forget fast-fashion, lasting, sustainable pieces are in.