The recent revelation that by 2050 the global textile industry is expected to be accountable for one-quarter of all carbon emissions has pushed the fashion industry into action.
Designer brands have called out fast fashion for feeding the globe’s landfills, leading names like Gucci announced their efforts to go carbon neutral and Nordstrom had led the way on a ‘Sustainable Style’ online shopping category.
And even more recently, the ‘big four’ fashion weeks, which previewed the Spring/Summer season trends in September, all placed onus on addressing sustainable fashion. This positive shift in attitude has brought to light the question as to whether this is the beginning of a reinvention for future fashion weeks.
Discussing the issue is Robert Lockyer, CEO of Delta Global, who has close ties with the fashion industry as his company designs packaging solutions for the likes of Coach, Tom Ford and Ted Baker.
“While fashion collections continue to grow at an unimaginable scale, we need to work together to reduce its impact,” he said.
The entrepreneur named “overwhelming” consumer demand as the reason we are “drowning” in the over-production of clothing.
The first of many, London Fashion Week, organised by The British Fashion Council set the scene for an all-new ‘Positive Fashion’ theme which led the exhibition with three key pillars: Sustainability, Equality & Diversity, Craftsmanship & Community.
The group even partnered with BBC Earth, releasing a short film which invited people to pledge their sustainability efforts.
But what gained public attention was industry icon Dame Vivienne Westwood deciding not to showcase a collection.
Known as the environmental heroine who seeks to ‘bring down consumerism’, Westwood switched the show for an online look book and short film instead, delivering a message about rotten financial systems and choosing quality over quantity where “less is more sustainable” when it comes to consuming fashion.
Westwood’s husband, designer Andrea Kronthaler also hinted that fashion week might “no longer be feasible” if we want to become truly sustainable.
Kronthaler’s collection at Paris Fashion Week is made from fabric that already existed and said: “What I believe is that we should buy less and really love the things that we buy.” Meanwhile, Dior donated their set of 100 real trees to community gardens following their showcase, and Tory Burch at New York Fashion Week paid tribute to the late Princess Diana in a sustainable collection that demonstrated humanitarianism.
Robert said: “It is interesting to see designers such as Westwood dropping out of shows, as an activist and innovator in eco-friendly alternatives will this drive more catwalk collections to go online only?
“Or, will fashion weeks re-emerge as a hard-hitting community for fashion-leaders and environmentalists to address the climate emergency and other social issues such as endangered animals and global equality for workers.”
Speaking of how their own industry in retail packaging is changing, Robert says there has been an obvious shift to make everything go online.
“It’s not sustainable to be sending out empty packaging designs or marketing materials to retailers,” he added.
“Rather than lugging our designs overseas to present at physical exhibitions such as the international LuxePack events, we are forming online look books which are personalised to the target client and even videoing new inventions all in an extended effort to reduce our carbon impact in everything we do.”
One of fashion week’s stand out collections for Robert was designer Christopher Kane, who married sustainability with sexuality in a collection constructed of dainty florals and leafy prints combined with sexed-up slogans, such as “Eco Sex” and “Make love to the wind”.
As a homage to the environment, the collection was marketed as ‘people who love nature’. Robert said: “Collections like this have inspired brands to explore and research naturally sourced materials in both clothing and packaging, while also using the products as a vehicle to leverage their sustainable values.”
However, recently there have been concerns published by the New York Times which discussed the dominance of ‘eco bragging’ across fashion weeks.
“It has become fashionable to be sustainable,” Robert said. “Showboating the buzz word has been suggested as a competition amongst designers and is beginning to be criticised by consumers.
“But, while of course there is some self-interest for brands, we have to remain positive that it has enabled more commitment for change and there are now even more conservation and ecological projects happening across the industry.”
Driving forward the notion of circularity and re-use options in the fashion sector, Robert said: “It is vital that from the top we adopt and develop all possibilities in order for efforts to amount in actions.
“Consistent research and trials with compostable and sustainable materials is key to our understanding of waste management.
“Think about recycling as a profitable area for business, by churning these resources back into the manufacturing process, and there is a value and less cost in getting rid of waste.
Many resale and rental websites are coming to the forefront of fashion such as Front Row, Amarium and Bagista. “These websites are making their mark on the e-commerce industry, not only do they ensure authentic and cheaper alternatives for those looking for luxury, but they target a second-hand buyer market which allows a product to fulfil its life for longer.”
Reducing production through improved forecasting methods and even designing more versatile and multi-use packaging and clothing options.
“There is too much to wear,” Robert said. “Brands need to reduce their production through improved forecasting methods, understanding their desired buyers needs and even compiling a clothing range which is versatile – gaining many a look from just a single garment.”
“By doing this, while you may be producing less, you can charge a premium for its multi-use functionality. Packaging needs to do the same; we are permanently questioning how can one design adapt itself to suit another product or use?”
Fashion weeks have also brought about a commitment for communities, with the increase in collaborative fashion groups such as the G7 fashion pact between 36 luxury brands, to growing names like the Sustainable Packaging Coalition created by the founder of environmental not-for-profit organisation GreenBlue.
Robert considered how togetherness is driving change: “It is more valuable to join and assist a collective agenda in order to educate one another and rethink our products purpose.
“This will continue to tackle how can we not only change our own processes but the processes of our customers.
“No longer is it just about making your brand sustainable. Fashion weeks are here to set the global agenda and therefore should continue to position brands and designers who can truly offer solutions to our climate crisis, as the driving force of our industry.”
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