Sandy Black: Sustainable Fashion

Sandy Black: Sustainable Fashion

On an unusually cold and blustery May afternoon, a really great audience turned up to take part in the first day’s sustainability –themed sessions.   The heavens opened with hail, just as I began to speak about my recently published book The Sustainable Fashion Handbook, (Thames and Hudson)  introducing the broad scope of the topic and hence the wide reach of the book .  First, I gave a (very visual) overview of the contents which are themed across five chapters covering:  culture and consumption; design, innovation and education; speed, transparency and livelihoods; ecology and waste; and ‘techno eco’ – new ways of making things.

Following this, Andy Fryers and I discussed the scope of sustainability in fashion and the range of fashion cycles that are in operation simultaneously.  Various actions for change and design strategies being undertaken in the industry were covered, including single process manufacturing in footwear and clothing, plus the constraints within the fashion system.   I explained why some commonly held myths are not true such as 1) that natural is always good (citing some great polyester low launder closed loop systems), and 2) that in clothing the greatest environmental impact comes from choice of materials – it often doesn’t when you take into account the energy and water used in laundering everyday items such as underwear and shirts, and how frequently we use the washing machine.

In the Sustainable Fashion Handbook I felt it important to use original voices from designers such as Dries van Noten and Vivienne Westwood and major industry players, and discussion ranged across high street names including Nike, H&M and Marks and Spencer.  Inevitably, in discussing manufacturing, the terrible recent events in Bangladesh with the collapse of a building and tragic loss of well over a thousand lives was uppermost in people’s minds.  Although several similar but smaller disasters have happened before, I do believe this one represents a tipping point – having gained such extensive media attention nationally and internationally -  and the signing of a new accord by over 30 brands to support improvements across the manufacturing sector is a key new step to alleviating the atrocious working conditions found in many places.   Fashion must not continue to have blood on its hands, and be able to provide decent employment for the many millions of people who rely on it for their livelihoods.

As a key member of the Hay-on-Earth initiative, Andy was very knowledgeable and a great person to be ‘in conversation’ with. Let’s keep spreading the knowledge about sustainability in all its forms.