‘There’s no going back’: reasons to be hopeful about the future of fashion

<span>Fashion is coming around to the idea that there is such a thing as too many clothes. </span><span>Photograph: Prostock-Studio/Getty Images/iStockphoto</span>
Fashion is coming around to the idea that there is such a thing as too many clothes. Photograph: Prostock-Studio/Getty Images/iStockphoto

At times it is incredibly hard to be optimistic about the fashion industry, with its £1 bikinis and £0 boots. Fashion is the world’s second-largest industrial polluter, accounting for 10% of carbon emissions. Microscopic fibres from synthetic clothing are now found in waterways and food chains, while piles of unwanted clothing dumped in countries such as Ghana are so big they can be seen from space. Despite all this, the cycle of newness and shopping continues.

When an email arrived in my inbox from Fashion Revolution, the non-profit social enterprise founded in the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory disaster, I was curious. The group has become the world’s largest fashion activism movement. In the decade since it started campaigning, it has sparked an international movement with its Who Made My Clothes? campaign and launched the Fashion Transparency index to measure how open and accountable major fashion brands are about their human rights and environmental practices. But, for all of its efforts, greenwashing in the wider industry remains rife – particularly in April, around Earth Day. So, how much has actually changed?

I asked experts what there is to be positive about.

Aditi Mayer, climate activist
“As important as conscious consumerism is, true changes in fashion will be underpinned by the trifecta of supporting workers’ movements, consumer awareness and corporate accountability. An example of this has been support for the Fabric Act, which would support workplace protections and manufacturing incentives to cement the US as the global leader in responsible apparel production. We’ve also seen the rise of support for the Fashion Act, recently championed by celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Angelina Jolie, which would hold companies accountable and level the playing field for those already trying to do the right thing, such as mandate that companies know and disclose their supply chains.”

Hannah Rochell, founder of the sustainable style website slowette.com
“It’s really encouraging that there are now so many brilliant, responsible options for British-made clothing. From made-to-order models like Emiko and Roake Studio, to small-batch producers – I love Batch London and Paynter – and Patrick Grant’s Community Clothing, whose raison d’etre is to restore local skills and prosperity in towns across the UK by means of its quality basics.”

Tiffanie Darke, founder of the newsletter It’s Not Sustainable
“I’m excited for new legislation. France, as ever, is leading the way with money-back schemes for those who repair clothes and punchy proposals to tax fast fashion brands. I’m also excited for more conscious consumerism: there has been a groundswell of understanding in recent years that fashion should not be an all-you-can-eat buffet, that consumption has consequences and there is such a thing as too much. The Rule of Five campaign [which Darke pioneered], along with no-buy and 30-wear challenges are attracting increasingly large audiences.”

Tamsin Blanchard, journalist
“Although there is still so much work to be done around workers’ pay and conditions, as well as the biggest issue of how to tackle overproduction, I’m excited about the work on regenerative textile production. Brands like Ōshadi, in India, are leading the way with new supply chains that work in harmony with nature. Their latest Seed-to-Sew collection is made with cotton grown in rotation with other crops to promote biodiversity and draw carbon into the soil. The fact that there are brands successfully reworking the way our clothes are grown and made gives me hope.”

Venetia La Manna, fair fashion campaigner
“Fashion justice solutions come from the communities most impacted by Big Fashion’s greed, which is why I am so excited about the Or Foundation’s Speak Volumes campaign. It’s led by the second-hand community at the Kantamanto market, in Accra, Ghana, who work tirelessly to cope with overproduction. Speak Volumes is demanding industry-wide accountability on annual production numbers, and is calling on all fashion brands to disclose their production volumes. In November, brands including Lucy & Yak, Finisterre and Stripe & Stare all disclosed their annual production volumes. This is a win for accountability as we look to develop data-driven policies that cap the amount of clothing Big Fashion produces.”

Emma Slade Edmondson, sustainability consultant
“I’m excited about how enthusiastic and inspired young people are about conscious fashion and doing things differently to my own generation. When I started in this industry I would be constantly asked (in a quizzical way) why I focused on ‘sustainable fashion’. Now, younger people are asking me why there are fashion brands and organisations who aren’t doing things in a more conscious way.”

Clare Press, author of Wear Next: Fashioning the Future
“Fashion media has woken up to sustainability. We’ve got a whole new generation of writers, editors, stylists and image-makers determined to hold the industry accountable, and bring their values to work. It’s a huge shift. There’s no going back – yes, we’re dealing with ultra-fast fashion and waste colonialism, and we haven’t solved our supply chain issues, but the level of mainstream awareness today is unrecognisable from a decade ago. The discourse has come of age. It makes me hopeful.”

Patrick McDowell, fashion designer
“It’s amazing to see the rise of made-to-order fashion. It’s the main way we can create a more sustainable industry – through making what we know clients are going to buy. Once a business shifts focus to this way of working, it is concentrating on quality and craftsmanship over quantity of units sold. It’s better for the planet and better for those wearing the pieces.”

Tansy E Hoskins, author and journalist
“An important step forward in the fashion industry is the recent creation of the Dindigul agreement to end gender-based violence and harassment in India. This agreement is the work of the Dalit women-led Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union and was created after the murder of garment worker Jeyasre Kathiravel. With its intersectional focus on ending gender- and caste-based violence, the agreement is a first for Asia and one of the few legally binding – not voluntary or corporate-operated – pieces of legislation in the entire fashion industry. It is a successful, working model for stamping out the endemic gender-based violence that happens right across fashion’s supply chains.”