2018 was a remarkable year for sustainable fashion – from brand awakening to consumer activism. Here are some highlights and reflections on the year’s key fashion moments, and a selection of remaining challenges to be tackled in 2019. Wishing you a green-and-glam year ahead!
Sustainable Fashion Highlights
The UN Embraces Sustainable Fashion
One of the major developments this year was the increasing attention of the United Nations to sustainable fashion, an issue it has largely ignored to date. As I have advocated for a long time, the fashion industry provides a perfect focus for action to advance Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the United Nations itself could play a more prominent role in this area. Earlier this year, I was among the experts who recommended setting up a new UN Sustainable Fashion Alliance, which will be formally launched next March.
Meanwhile, the annual UN Climate Change conference saw the unveiling of the new Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action led by Stella McCartney and other leaders, which seeks to address the industry’s carbon footprint that is greater than global aviation and maritime shipping combined.
Sustainable Fashion Conquers the Commonwealth
Ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London, Eco-Age launched the biggest sustainable fashion project involving all 53 Commonwealth nations to showcase the power and potential of artisan fashion skills with a strong focus on sustainability. The unveiling of the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange at the Buckingham Palace in the presence of British and fashion royals was an unforgettable occasion and one that will hopefully lead to lasting fashion collaborations.
A Sustainable Fashion Night at the Museum
Another highlight of the year was the continued ‘museumification’ of sustainable fashion, from the opening of the “Fashion for Good” Museum in Amsterdam in October, to V&A’s exploration of the complex relationship between fashion and the natural world in its Fashioned from Nature exhibition. Will we ever see the Met Gala take on the theme of sustainability for its famed fashion party of the year? Perhaps…
Sustainable Fashion Grows Online Presence
Although ethical fashion has been present online for quite some time, this year saw its further expansion with the arrival of new platforms such as the antibadstore.com that seek to position themselves as the ‘Net-a-Porter’ for sustainable fashion. Meanwhile, the successful IPO of Farfetch has further fuelled the industry’s digital ambition, and it only stands to reason that sustainable fashion should capitalize on this growth opportunity.
Free for All – Sustainable Fashion Education
In the area of sustainable fashion education, a new milestone has been reached with the launch of the first open-access digital course on sustainability in luxury fashion by luxury group Kering and London College of Fashion, a pioneer in sustainable fashion education. Entitled “Fashion & Sustainability: Understanding Luxury Fashion in a Changing World”, this free online course aims to strengthen sustainability education in the luxury and fashion realms in order to promote the wider adoption of more sustainable practices.
Sustainable Fashion Challenges
Inevitably, 2018 also brought to the forefront the inherent challenges of the current unsustainable fashion model. Tackling these challenges effectively will undoubtedly be on the industry’s to-do list for 2019.
Burn, Baby, Burn
In July, Burberry found itself in the global spotlight for burning unsold clothes, accessories and perfumes worth over $30 million—a common practice in the industry aimed at ‘protecting the brand’. Following public outcry, the British brand announced it would ban this practice along with phasing out the use of animal fur, in line with several other high-profile announcements, notably by Gucci and Versace, earlier in the year.
Exotic Skins Debate
While the fur-free announcements of 2018 were broadly welcomed, the reaction to Chanel’s decision to ban the use of exotic skins in its collections was far less unanimous. In an op-ed published by Business of Fashion, renowned conservation experts argued that the demand for exotic skins is critical for sustaining the populations of these often threatened species in the wild—as counterintuitive as it may seem. As I have written before on this blog, measures such as trade bans and moratoria should only be used as a last resort. What we need instead is full traceability of products coming from the wild. And with the latest WWF Living Planet report showing a dramatic 60% decline in wildlife populations since 1970, we must do everything in our power to support conservation efforts—including providing economic incentives for sustainable use of wildlife.
Cultural Inspiration vs. Cultural Appropriation
Another hot topic this year—for all the wrong reasons—was the relationship between fashion and culture, and particularly concerns over cultural appropriation and cultural appropriateness, which hit hard luxury brands including Dolce & Gabbana and Prada. The New York Times fashion director Vanessa Friedman explored this topic in depth, however there needs to be a broader debate around the rules of engagement that both sustain the creative license that has long been a mainstay of fashion and avoid cultural missteps that cause offense or worse. One example I highlighted earlier this year comes from Australia, where the National Aboriginal Design Agency set up in 2012 ensures that indigenous traditions and customs are respected, while protecting and rewarding Aboriginal artists themselves.
Tackling the Plastic Problem
This year, the issue of plastic pollution—especially of the world’s oceans—has finally entered our collective consciousness. On World Environment Day 2018, several nations, including India, and the European Commission, announced measures to ban or phase out 10 single-use plastics, like bags, bottles and straws, which are responsible for 70% of all marine litter. While entrepreneurs have quickly come up with more sustainable alternatives—take FinalStraw for example, there needs to be a more concerted effort by the fashion industry as a whole. Only six out of the 290 signatories to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment in October 2018 are household fashion and beauty names. The challenge to eliminate single-use and non-essential plastic is on!