Sustainability in fashion

In the fashion industry, innovation and increased production is a double edged sword. While it should objectively be a good thing, if production is handled irresponsibly, it can be devastating to the environment.

On one hand, it is exciting and refreshing to see so many creatives immerse themselves in the world of fashion design and the business of fashion. On the other however, there is an age old problem of unsustainable production and generation of waste. The fashion industry generates an astounding amount of waste a year and it wasn’t until recently that it showed signs of slowing down.

In recent years, sustainability has ceased to be a trend and has reached far beyond what used to be a niche. It has almost entirely been adapted into mainstream culture. It started as a way for brands to portray themselves and attract the attention of a market they were previously missing out on, the conscious consumer market. The conscious consumer is one that pays attention to their purchases and expects a brand’s values to align with their own. This is the reason why brands such as TenTree, which plants 10 trees for every item it sells, and CHNGE, which is rooted in ethical manufacturing and has strong societal messages, have become very successful, very quickly.

There are a few ways to be ‘sustainable’ in fashion. Ideally, a brand will cover all the bases and excel at sustainable manufacturing, ethical buying, and social responsibility. In other words, a brand will care about their people, their product, and everyone else.

1. Their people

A fashion brand will manufacture their products in one of two ways: overseas or in-house. Overseas manufacturing of course, means outsourcing to other countries which usually have very loosely worded, poorly regulated labour laws that allow wealthy western companies to exploit their population. To most, this wasn’t such a big problem since the argument was that in any case, individuals from developing countries were in need of jobs and this solved that problem. This of course, leaves out the entirety of the context in which both parties in this agreement operate. Developing countries are trying to do just that, develop and grow. It’s hard to do so when your job opportunities and salary are capped at minimum wage. Especially when for most developing countries, minimum wage is just a few dollars a day. To put this in perspective, in Canada, minimum wage is just below 14 dollars an hour and the average minimum wage job such as customer service representative is quite easy compared to the work that these individuals endure. Imagine working 10 hours in a factory with no air conditioning, little access to water, and absolutely no growth opportunities, for 3 dollars a day. 

A sustainable fashion brand, unlike every brand that falls under any of the manufacturing conditions mentioned above, cares about their people. Manufacturing can be sustainable in many ways but for the purpose of this blog post, i’ll refer to the social sustainability aspect of it. Sustainable manufacturing means, providing good working conditions, growth opportunities, and a reasonable salary to manufacturing workers. This is sustainable in the long run because in this case, everybody wins. The brand gets dedicated workers that are loyal to the business on the one end, and on the other, workers can enjoy a solid workplace. 

2. Their product

Most clothing companies will manufacture clothing with Polyester fabrics. The reason why this fabric is an all time favorite is that it is stretchy, comfortable, and durable. However, what doesn’t get mentioned very often is that Polyester is manufactured from crude oil and every time a piece of polyester fabric is washed, it releases plastic microfibres that contaminate our oceans. If you head to your favourite clothing store its pretty likely that you will see a percentage of Polyester on just about every item in store. So, what exactly can be done about this and how can we transition out of the excessive consumption of unsustainable fabrics?

From a companies stand point, they would need to transition to highly sustainable fabrics such as Linen which is made from fibres of the flax plant. Another option is to replace cotton with its organic alternative. Organic cotton eliminates the use of harmful chemicals and requires significantly smaller amounts of water to grow. A company can also invest time and money on garment technology but what has always proven to be a safe bet is recycling!

Brands like Ellen Fisher are innovative in their use of fabrics like cotton, wool, and cashmere that have been re-spun from old garments or cutting room scraps. Another example is Thought a UK brand that specializes in creating staples from fabrics like Ramie and Hemp.

BIRDS EYE VIEW OF THE OCEAN

BIRDS EYE VIEW OF THE OCEAN

3. Everyone else

Second only to oil, the fashion industry is the largest polluter in the world which shouldn’t be too surprising. What might be however, is that nowadays, companies are hiding behind words like ‘sustainability’ or ‘recycling’ to appeal to a consumer market that would have previously considered them too wasteful or harmful to the environment. Ultimately, they end up ‘green washing’ their own brands. Similar to ‘social washing’, ‘green washing’ refers to when brands spend more time and money telling consumers they’re green, than actually implementing new policy. While actual tangible proof that a company is sustainable is necessary, one of the most important elements of sustainability is transparency. The conscious consumer appreciates honesty over everything else. This is why, when H&M introduced it #Reworkit campaign asking consumers to return their used clothing for it to be recycled, the brand was under heat when it was revealed that less than 0.1% of the clothing returned is actually #reworked. While it is understandable that not all fabric can be pulled apart and re-spun, it doesn’t follow their promise of creating a closed loop system.

The issue with these campaigns is that they overpromise and underdeliver. Especially if they are created by an industry giant like H&M. Since they produce such staggering amounts of clothing every day, a recycling initiative is not what the conscious consumer expects to see.

We live in a time when thankfully, sustainability hasn’t been seen as a choice for a long time. Consumers now expect a brand to care about their impact on the world and companies are listening. Smaller, up and coming brands almost have no choice but to make their view on the environment very clear from the start.

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The New Meaning of 'Made in China' - 2025

In 2015 Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a new ten-year economic plan called ‘Made in China 2025’. This plan is modelled, in-part, after Germany’s Industry 4.0 plan and is focused mainly on technology and robotics. A wider part of this initiative is the rebranding of Chinese industries from imitators to innovators. What does this have to do with the fashion industry? Well, it’s news to no one that China is infamous for their knock-offs. Simply search Beijing’s ‘Pearl Market’ and you’ll find hundreds of Youtube videos dedicated to finding and bartering for the best designer knock-offs China has to offer.

That reality has been shifting in China over the last ten years. There is a new generation of designers creating clothing for the insatiable and growing Chinese market. Initiatives like this one, which are only tangentially related to the fashion industry, help the global perception of China’s fashion goods shift from low quality clothes and high quality knock-offs to China as a new creative fashion hub. China’s designer fashion market is a Blue Ocean ready for fresh talent to wow the awaiting consumer.

As China’s fashion industry grows, the West can take note. China’s lateral movement into the open world allows for innovation not tethered to current practices or traditions. Chinese talent who in past have moved west to practice their skills are now staying in the mainland and flourishing in hubs like Shenzhen and Shanghai. These Creatives are starting their own labels and magazines. They’re designing for a Chinese consumer base that is ready to embrace and curate niche brands and smaller designers.

New projects like Rouge Fashion Book (a bi-annual coffee table fashion book) and established fashion houses like EPO Fashion Group (Home to Mo&CO and Edition) alike are able to find a home in southern China. Companies like EPO have been around for over a decade, but they’re recently getting the recognition they deserve. They play an important part in the rebranding China as a place for creativity and innovation. 

In addition to designers, Chinese editors and influencers are also making a stand in defense of Chinese creation. Leaf Greener a former editor for Elle China and founder of a WeChat based magazine, LEAF is among many whose work displays China as a place of creativity not just consumerism. As she covers fashion weeks around the world, she continues to defend China among them as a cutting edge player in the fashion world. 

We’re almost to the halfway mark of Made in China 2025 and what do we have to show for it? I can’t speak on robotic technologies, but we can see the fashion insiders of the West paying more mind to the rising giant in the East. More and more western publications are covering events like Shanghai Fashion Week. The Business of Fashion dedicated almost nine pages of their 2018 State of Fashion (only a 45 pg. document) to addressing China and the overall Asian market. The public won’t be far behind these insiders as they realize their favourite brands are not only being made in china, but also designed in China. 

Indeed, China based brands continue to grow in popularity both in China and in the West. Additionally, as events like Shanghai Fashion Week continue to grow and gain global attention, so will other Chinese designers and labels. Personally, I look forward to watching as the Chinese creative community shows the world what this part of the East has to offer. Enriching their designs with Chinese culture and tradition juxtaposed with a fresh perspective that remains unbound to the lines the West has been drawing within for the past hundred years. 


A day is coming when ‘Made in China’ will mean something much different than it does in the west today, and that day is coming soon. 

Q & A with Fashion Brand Emelia's Swimwear

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Emelia’s Swimwear

Toronto based fashion brand

MM: Can you introduce your brand and yourself in a few sentences?

I’ve always considered myself to be a ‘Follower of Sunshine™’, and the Followers of Sunshine™ are who I create my swimwear for. My brand focuses on quality, comfort, function, and of course, style with an emphasis on environmental stewardship. 

MM: What sparked your interest in fashion design?

I was travelling to many beach destinations and I found that there was a lack of  high quality, functional, and cute swimwear. I wanted to create a bathing suit that would be all of these things and also last for many swimwear seasons to come. 

MM: Can you describe your creative process?

My creative process is always different.  I am continuously asking other women and men what they would like to see or have in a swimsuit. 

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MM: What kind of questions do you ask yourself when you begin creating a collection?

What makes one feel beautiful? What makes one feel confident? What’s going to make others turn their head when they see someone in Emelie’s Swimwear? What activities is one going to want to do while in swimwear? 

MM: How did you learn the business of fashion?

I am self taught and studied other designers and felt that many aspects of the bathing suit could be approved upon without sacrificing cost. 

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MM: How do you find working as a designer in Canada? Has the culture/surroundings affected your design aesthetic? Do you feel connected to your home?

In Ontario our summers are short but the time is well spent with outdoor activities and soaking up as much sun as possible. I take this into consideration when designing swimwear as I want my pieces to be practical and functional for the many summer actives but I also want them to be comfortable and stylish. I live in Wasaga Beach, Ontario, I truly love it and feel very much connected to my home. However, as a Follower of Sunshine™, I find a little bit of ‘home’ wherever I travel. 

MM: What is your favourite part of being a designer? What drives you to design?

My favourite part of being a designer is the satisfying feeling of seeing women in my swimwear and seeing how their inner confidence and beauty truly shines. Helping make women look and feel good is what drives me. 

MM: What is the inspiration behind your F/W19 collection to be showcased at Vancouver Fashion Week?

Health and wellness has become a big part of today’s society and is my inspiration for my F/W19 collection. Introducing daring reds and confident blues represents the attitude behind the new collection. 

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MM: What is your favourite piece from the new collection?

If I had to pick just one, I would say my new ‘Marcella’ mesh onesie. The back detailing is so flattering and is very beautiful. 

Thank you for telling us about your journey into fashion design. We can't wait to see Emelia’s Swimwear show at Vancouver Fashion Week for the F/W19 season.

Check out Emelia’s Swimwear at: emeliasswimwear.com