Slow Fashion: the new wave of sustainable clothing

With the start of 2018 very nearly here, many of us will be thinking about resolutions, aims or intentions for the coming year. Along with the more common goals of getting fitter, being healthier and learning a new skill, there is a growing interest in becoming a more conscientious consumer. Being 'Green' is not new, and many of our lifestyle changes have now become the norm: recycling at home, reusable bags instead of plastic carrier bags and composting food waste. But there are still so many other ways that we can be more 'eco-friendly' and the keyword for 2018 is Sustainability.

Image from The Centre for Sustainable Fashion, a branch of the London College of Fashion


According to figures provided by WRAP "By 2050, the world will be home to nine billion people in need of shelter, food, water and energy... It would require the resources of nearly three Earth-size planets for future populations to consume at the rate we currently do in Europe. ‘Manufacture, use and dispose’ is no longer a viable model for our world. We must work together to re-think how we use resources."

The clothing industry has a huge impact on the environment; listed 4th after housing, transport and food, with 6 million tonnes of clothing produced in Europe alone in 2015. There have been some improvements over the last couple of years though, and things look set to continue this way as more people want to become informed about where to buy their clothes, and of course, many of us are making our own. Trending hashtags such as #whomademyclothes have helped to make the industry more transparent in recent years, and the growing success of #memademay celebrates the handmade wardrobe as a possible everyday staple.

In the past, 'eco-fashion' and handmade garments had connotations of being anything but 'trendy' or high-end, but the new wave of fashion brands look set to change that. Bottletop is a company that was started after a collaboration with Mulberry, and makes designer handbags using waste drinks cans. Not only do they use waste materials to produce their bags, but they are made by artisans in developing countries who are paid fair wages, they also support education programs with their charitable foundation, the interior of their Regent Street shop has been 3D printed using recycled plastic to make it zero-waste but even more surprisingly, the company is not driven by profit (20% goes into the charity foundation.) Founder Oliver Saul believes that "sustainability is starting to matter in the broader world... People are looking for brands that have those values."

We thought we would share a few of our favourite new brands that are challenging the way fashion is made, sold and purchased. There are actually so many exciting things happening that this list is just the start. We would love to continue the discussion and exploration of these ideas in the coming year, so please let us know your thoughts too.

P.i.C. Style is a London based label "born out of an obsession to do fashion the right way. Put simply, people want to know where their clothes come from and who makes them." Their garments are designed and made in a London factory, using locally sourced, organic and sustainable fabrics but the really innovative USP is that the collection is totally flexible. Over 50 looks can be created from just 8 items, for example, a jumpsuit becomes high-waisted trousers with a detachable bib. Clever and very versatile.

Birdsong is a female fashion brand that goes one-step further - not only are their clothes made by talented women's groups often in London (from migrants to grannies), paid fairly and working in good conditions, but they use real women to model their garments and never edit the images. Their slogan of 'No Sweatshops & No Photoshop' mean Birdsong really is a standout brand amongst other fashion labels. Working with a wide range of women's groups with such varied talents means they produce a whole range of garments, including knitted jumpers, tailored trousers and dresses, coats, even bags, jewellery and underwear. Our favourite is this handpainted sweatshirt... be proud of your eco fashion choices and tell the world!

A city like London often has a sense of progress and optimism that isn't reflected everywhere across our country, or so Saville Row tailor (and Great British Sewing Bee judge) Patrick Grant believes. He created Community Clothing in 2016 to fill the gaps of quiet periods of British garment factories caused by seasonal fashion manufacture. “The whole reason you can’t fill the gaps in fashion is because you don’t know what you’re going to be making in six months’ time – the product is only being designed and shown now” says Grant. These gaps mean seasonal hiring and firing, unfavourable zero-hours contacts or even closure of the factory altogether (such as the Cookson & Clegg factory in Blackburn, bought and rescued by Grant.) His solution was to design a range of classic 'basic' garments, to be produced in a limited range of fabrics. Being standardised and not 'in fashion' means they won't go out of fashion and can be produced by any factory whenever they have a quiet period. Community Clothing really lives up to its name - it was started by a Kickstarter campaign, and operates with the motto of 'Making Clothes; Creating Jobs; Restoring Pride'. Prices are reflective of the cost of manufacture but not prohibitively expensive so these garments can become part of a daily wardrobe. Items are sold via an eBay shop (yes, really!) and we love the jeans and Breton tops.

Of course, sustainable fashion is a global concern and there are many international brands producing great Green items. Organic Basics are a Danish underwear company and their About page on their website spells out their ethos load and clear: "The fashion industry is a dirty bastard. We don’t like it that way. We believe in setting higher standards when it comes to sustainable production. We are constantly challenging ourselves and our partners to go that extra mile; it may be painful and it may not pay off right away, but we are in this game for the long run. We want to make fashion sustainable and sustainability fashionable." You can't argue with that, right? As much as we like our lovingly handmade wardrobes, making underwear is a real skill. If you are looking for great basics such as socks, bras, pants and vests Organic Basics have a good solid range.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that there are some big clothing manufacturers that are also embracing this new philosophy as a viable and responsible business model, and are making changes to the way they work. American outdoor clothing company Patagonia has been very clear that they did not always do things right but they now offer their workers fair pay, better conditions and many more employment rights such as paid holiday and maternity leave. They have also worked to reduce the energy consumption of manufacture and ethically improve in other areas. Refreshingly, they are also encouraging their customers to not buy so much by introducing the Worn Wear programme - through their site you can buy worn and vintage (second-hand!) Patagonia garments, trade in old items for credit plus there are loads of tips and a forum to show you how to care for and repair your clothes instead of buying new.

Ray Stitch believes strongly in sustainability, slow fashion, and making informed choices that filter into all aspects of our life, whether it be clothes, food, something to read, or even something as overlooked as a spoon: choose well, make it with meaning and make it last. Or as Sarah Corbett from the Craftivists says "Use Head, Heart & Hands" A good philosophy at any time, but especially going into a new year.

We wish you all a fulfilling and happy 2018!