Sustainable Fashion: What Can You Do?

All of us (especially students) love a good bargain, and with the latest trends enjoying a throwback to the 80’s and 90’s, there has been a huge surge in demand for vintage clothing. As well as low price tags, vintage clothing can put what was once unwanted back on the rails, instead of in the nearest landfill site. Although previously overlooked by the fashion industry, the issue of sustainability is becoming ever more prevalent due to our growing ecological awareness. With designers such as Stella McCartney, Alice Temperly and Valentino already establishing sustainable strategies, high-street stores are now beginning to follow suit and make the important, necessary changes.

Cameron Diaz Green Carpet

Livia Firth, (wife of actor Colin Firth) is the creative-designer of Eco-Age, a consultancy company that works with designers to introduce sustainable practice. In order to increase the awareness of sustainable fashion, Livia pledged to accompany Colin down the red carpet wearing entirely sustainable designs. Following her immensely successful results, she established the Green Carpet Challenge, persuading celebrities such as Cameron Diaz (right) and Meryl Streep to wear sustainable creations, successfully drawing on their celebrity appeal to make sustainable clothing both fashionable and desirable. This year, Eco-Age has worked with Gucci to create the brand’s first line of handbags made from anti-deforestation leather.

Whilst this is incredible progress, there is a danger that sustainability is becoming too closely associated with luxury labels, giving it a sense of elitism.  The sustainable process – which involves using organic material, creating fewer pieces and making clothes by hand rather than machine – is longer and more expensive. It is therefore a process more easily adopted by the high-end designers than the fast fashion high-street chains that cater for the mass market.


However, celebrities are now starting to lend their names to high street brands that are advocating sustainability. Emma Watson has collaborated with the fair trade company People Tree to produce several successful collections. More recently, the high street giant H&M launched their first sustainable ‘Conscious Collection’, with a high profile campaign fronted by Vanessa Paradis (right). All pieces were made from sustainable materials such as organic cotton, tencel and recycled polyester. To coincide with this, H&M introduced a garment collection initiative, where customers can bring any unwanted clothes into any H&M store in the UK or Ireland for them to be recycled. Each bag of donated clothing is rewarded with a store voucher. Topshop have collaborated twice with Orsola de Castro and her company Reclaim to Wear, producing a small collection that re-cycles disregarded prints from previous seasons (below). This is known as ‘up-cycling’ whereby new clothes are made by taking the fashion industry’s surplus, (old stock, remnants, off-cuts, and end of roll leftovers) and re-using them in an inventive and creative way.


The increasing success of sustainability within the fashion industry is reflected in the Sustainable City Awards, which this year included two fashion categories to recognise the best high street chain and best designer ‘for their commitment to social and environmental responsibility.’ In many ways the progress made by high street companies is particularly significant as they are able to make sustainable fashion affordable.

Fashion is often fickle; we are obsessed with the latest must-haves and are constantly throwing out old clothes in order to justify the new. Currently around 85% of clothing that could be recycled is thought to be unnecessarily thrown away in landfills. Yet despite this alarming statistic, improvements are being made, with online outlets such as eBay and the ASOS Market Place signalling a burgeoning trend for the selling on of unwanted clothes.

So, for a sustainable alternative: firstly, try selling or donating your unwanted clothes to charity shops and whilst you’re there, have a rifle through the rails. Keep an eye out for sustainable lines on the high street, or pay a visit to one of Nottingham’s countless vintage stores. That way while your wardrobe is expanding, your carbon footprint is shrinking.

Rachael Cooney

One Comment
  • Style is…
    13 August 2013 at 15:52
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    Great post! my interest in sustainable fashion dates back to when I was studying Environmental Life Science at Nottingham University quite a few years back. I agree there are lots of options for students on a budget to be sustainable with their style. Swapping, lending and borrowing are also great options. Instead of buying a brand new ball dress, you could always hire or borrow one saving money in the process.

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