This week marks the fourth year since the Rana Plaza disaster, where 1,135 garment workers were killed, and thousands injured, when a building collapsed in Dhaka. Fashion Revolution Week was set up to mark the anniversary, when the myriad issues with fast fashion are much reported: the fossil fuels burned; the chemicals released; the landfill sites brimming with discarded clothes; the human cost of poor working conditions and pitiful wages. You don’t have to be a hardened environmental and social activist to realise this is an unbelievable mess. In a decade or two, we might look back at this period of mass consumption and wonder what on earth we were thinking.
That’s the hope anyway. Unravelling and remaking the entire clothing industry seems a daunting if not impossible task, but there are signs that a younger generation of consumers will demand something different, and a wealth of new brands are offering it. Sustainable clothing is, finally, being seen as a desirable option, with a smattering of cool brands rejuvenating the market. And a sprinkling of young celebrities championing it – perhaps most notably Emma Watson, who recently set up an Instagram account to document her eco-friendly fashion looks.
One brand, Reformation, has been heralded by Vogue, has more than 640,000 Instagram followers and its many fans include Taylor Swift and Alexa Chung. Yael Aflalo set up the ethical clothing company after a trip to China where she was shocked by the amount of pollution that textile and clothing manufacturing was causing. At the time, she says, people thought “I was crazy – there were basically no options for sustainable clothes that were actually cute.”
Now, Aflalo says, there are a few more, “but it’s still a lot of organic cotton tees and less options for things outside the basics. We want to continue to shift the thinking of what sustainable clothing can be, with everything from dresses and wedding styles to our new categories like jeans and swimwear.”
Other brands include Veja, which uses fair-trade rubber and organic cotton for its sneakers, vegan accessories from Matt & Nat and beautiful clothes by New York-based label Tome. Online boutiques such as Gather & See and Reve en Vert collect ethical brands in one place, as do bricks-and-mortar stores such as London’s The Keep and 69B. The company Nobody’s Child dye their own fabrics in the UK, own their own factories – and their prices are low enough to entice younger consumers. But their fabrics would not be considered sustainable – which goes to show that even within “ethical” fashion, few companies are perfect.