21 Dec 2016

In December 2016, Environet Cymru attended Cynnal Cymru’s first sustainability in fashion event. Environet’s Chloe Jenkins has been reflecting on industry’s role in delivering Wales’ Wellbeing goals.

The Well-Being of Future Generations Act has provided a renewed focus on sustainability but it is clear that its aspirations for a more resilient, equal, healthy, prosperous and globally-responsible Wales cannot be met by the public or third sectors alone. Industry and consumers are key parts of the picture so it was fantastic to hear inspiring talks from industry experts and get the chance to network with local people interested in sustainability.

What's so unsustainable about fashion now and where does the environment come in?
For a bit of context there are aspects of the current fashion industry which are considered economically, socially and environmentally unsustainable - clothing waste in particular is a huge problem in the UK. Traditionally the UK manufactured and exported clothing from natural fibres, like wool, hemp and linen, but as global industry developed the trend is now reversed and we now import more clothing than we export. Having our clothes made across the world has thrown up a lot of issues around transparency of production and the cost of shrinking what was once one of our biggest domestic industries. Clothing makes a big environmental footprint but there are designers, buyers, organisations and educators working hard to reshape the UK fashion industry to become more sustainable and resilient.

An Academic Perspective

The first talk was from Sally Grant, senior lecturer of textiles and fashion at Cardiff School of Art & Design. She gave us an insight into her students' project in collaboration with Hiut Denim to upcycle a pair of jeans into another garment. The students displayed their work at an exhibition in the National Botanic Garden of Wales - giving the students a chance to show-case and network with industry experts. Creating partnerships between education and business enables future innovation within industry and provides future generations with a support network. There was a distinctive natural theme to many students' work which is unsurprising as the course lecturers embed nature in the curriculum and encourage students to sketch in local nature hubs, including Roath's Botanical Garden and St Fagans. There is also a small campus garden for natural dyeing projects. Encouraging students to think critically about their choice of materials can help eliminate problems further down the line (i.e. by using natural materials and dyes instead of chemicals which can cause water pollution).
Tent Jacket
Sally told us about her Masters dissertation which focussed on 'How Protectiveness Feels', exploring aspects of wearable technology, traditional techniques and mythology around notions of protection. She showed us her influences from where fashion meets humanitarianism in the form of Lucy Orta's wearable shelters, and the Japanese designers using recycled plastic in textiles long before it was trendy here. Her final designs were a collection of jackets made from sheep-skin (which as she highlighted are currently a waste product of the meat industry), sports-wear cut for comfort and movement, printed with sketched-outlines of Newport's industrial history and accented with Shibori panels. They really were beautiful and globally conscious garments, with minimal waste or carbon footprint, and reflected the local natural and cultural environment. Sally stressed the importance of research in sustainability and the significance of culture to create great change.

Sustainability from the get go?
Xandra Jane is the relatively young brand from a local fashion graduate who returned to Cardiff after studying in London. She talked about the high pressure of fashion houses, their demands on interns and how that led her to starting her own brand with sustainability considered from the start. Alexandra manufactures her clothes in the UK; her unisex jumpers and shorts are hand knitted in Cornwall before final labelling with 'journey cards' and delivery organised from her studio at Cardiff's Inkspot. She talked about the struggle of trying to be sustainable on a budget and that her cotton is not currently organic and is imported because of the costs involved with domestic materials - something she is hoping to change as her business grows. Her focus on the sustainability elements she can control include ensuring her designs use zero waste, transparent pricing and, for her Spring collection, upcycling unwanted clothing. She would like to see more collaboration between charity shops and fashion students to upcycle donated clothes to reduce waste and better treatment of fashion interns. Her work highlights the potential in Welsh innovation and prosperity.
Xandra Jane








Truly green or just 'greenwashing'?
Charles Ross gave us an insight into the sustainability commitments of brands and how sportswear is responding to shifting market demands towards counting the environmental cost by adapting to long-term thinking. He talked about Patagonia's sustainability values; including their use of recycled polyester and marketing campaigns encouraging thoughtful buying such as their Black Friday donation of profits to climate change charities (totalling $10 million). He defined the different kinds of durability sports-wear brands were now considering in their products; physically, emotionally and fit. The physical durability has been improved through technology breakthroughs and in depth research, emotional durability requires changing consumer purchasing habits to continue loving their clothes for longer. Initiatives like GiftYourGear encourage continuation of product lifespan through donating your old outdoor clothing and gear for others to use again. He wants to see the information gap between how clothes are made and consumed lessen as brands become more environmentally conscientious and consumers start to ask Who Made My Clothes?

Love Your Clothes
Creating a clothing knowledge hub

Cecile Martin, textile specialist from WRAP talked about their actions to improve fashion sustainability by working with businesses and changing public attitudes. Cecile has a background with Levi jeans with a focus on recycling. WRAP's Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) enables businesses to monitor, understand and improve their environmental impact by measuring energy, water and resource use from material choices, manufacture and transportation. Over 80 organisations across the UK have so far pledged to hit the SCAP 2020 Commitment targets which will involve integrated ways of working. WRAP aim to improve the quality of and relationship to clothes. Their LoveYourClothes campaign provides the public with information on extending the life-span of clothes; including repairing skills advice videos, 'super crafters' networks and a care label quiz competition in partnership with Ariel. WRAP aims to revolutionise the clothing industry, using collective action to minimise the environmental impact of our clothes.

Future Steps

I was thrilled to be part of this event, put on by Cynnal Cymru, as developing partnerships between fashion and sustainability focussed stakeholders is exactly the kind of integration and collaboration necessary to ensure the resilience and prosperity of Wales going forward. Cardiff already is taking bold steps to revitalise small businesses with affordable local workshop space available at The Sustainable Studio and independent fashion available at Cardiff Fashion Quarter. If you are interested in sustainability and want to meet others that do to, sign up to our Environet mailing list.   

Environet will continue to highlight exemplars of sustainability and practical demonstrations of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act - may there be many more to come!