A sustainable trend

Fiona MacDonald's picture

Despite popular thought, there is a more down-to-earth side of the Sydney Fashion Weekend, it's a new trend which has been labelled 'eco-fashion' presenting the sustainable side of fashion.

With Rosemount Australian Fashion Week (RAFW) over for another year and every self-respecting style enthusiast left dreaming of a new wardrobe, Fashion Weekend descends upon Sydney. It’s a glamorous experience with runway shows, champagne and designer pieces. But at heart, it’s a shopping event – an excuse for Sydney-siders to put their money where their mind is and consume.

But with the glamour comes a darker side to shopping – the problem of sustainability. Fashion, by its very nature, is bad for the environment. And seeing as though everyone (porn stars and Victoria’s Secret models excluded) has to wear clothes on a daily basis, making the industry eco-friendly could provide some much-needed relief to the environment.
The way that we currently make fabric is extremely damaging – growing cotton alone uses 22.5% of the world’s insecticides and 5% of its land. At the other end of the journey, clothing takes up a large amount of landfill. Factor in the environmental costs of packaging, transport and washing, and it’s a wonder we didn’t destroy the planet with our sartorial lust a long time ago.
But what does 'sustainable' mean? And how do you know if your wardrobe is bad for the environment?
Perhaps the most common way that brands become more sustainable is by using eco-friendly materials. Organic fabrics in particular have been steadily creeping into high street stores and designer collections over the past five years. Australian brands Bassike and Gorman, and New Zealand designer Kate Sylvester, all favour using organic materials to craft their modern and beautiful pieces. Organic cotton is a particularly common choice, and is good for the environment because it reduces pesticide use and is usually created sustainably, with better trade practices.
Although organic is a big step up for the planet, cotton still requires a large amount of fresh water to grow – something that is in short supply in a lot of regions around the world. Alternative materials such as bamboo and hemp are more sustainable because they grow rapidly (and can be quickly replaced) and don’t require as much water. And fabric manufacturers have finally worked out how to make wearable materials out of these harsh plants. At RAFW, Melbourne designer Roopa Pemmaraju showed a beautiful collection containing bamboo, among other fabrics, that was dyed with materials such as tumeric, indigo and eggshells.
But although some fabrics are better than others, creating any type of material has an impact on the environment, and one of the quickest, and also easiest, ways to shop sustainably is to buy second hand. Shopping at op shops, in markets or at antique fairs is the best way of reducing your wardrobe’s footprint – there is no new environmental impact and you’re also reducing waste by stopping something from being thrown away. And it’s also one of my favourite ways to buy beautiful and unique pieces.
Clothing swaps are another great way of finding second hand, yet usually modern, items – and getting rid of your unwanted fashion sustainably; and there are also designers such as Rachael Cassar creating modern pieces out of vintage materials, giving old clothes a new life.
With all of the talk about climate change, trying to live sustainably can seem overwhelming. Making your wardrobe environmentally friendly is an easy way that you can significantly reduce your impact on the planet (while still looking chic) and ensuring that this sustainable trend is around for many fashion weeks to come.
Fiona MacDonald is the assistant editor of Cosmos magazine. She has a Bachelor of Science with first class honours in zoology and a Graduate Diploma in Journalism, and has been writing about science and the environment since 2007. She has written for publications such as Popular Science and ABC (Science) Online. She was further named '2010 New Journalist of the Year' at the Publishers Australia Magazine Excellence Awards.