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The Rise of Conscious Fashion


In the first of a new two-part series, Laurie Stewart, Co-Founder of Mindless Mag delves into the world of conscious fashion. Mindless Mag is a collective of readers, writers, conversation-starters and wardrobe warriors. They zoom into the mindlessness of one of the world’s largest and most vibrant industries, consciously curating stories that encourage you to go tête-à-tête with your squanderlusting self. 

Fashion is a million year-old gown bedecked with the dazzling jewels of evolution, appealing to some of our most basic drives. It taps into our need for conformity and our desire to attract attention. It connects us with the outside world. It expresses who we are and how we feel. It plays with our emotions. It transforms us.

Fashion is an art form, it’s a time machine, it’s fun.

As technology began weaving its way into our lives, the world of fashion started to fall apart at the seams. The internet brought about a radical democratisation and unprecedented dissemination of information and, as a result, a surge in curiosity and awareness.

Media coverage of scandals through documentaries such as The True Cost or Stacey Dooley’s Fashion’s Dirty Secrets has got everybody talking, and long-lobbying activists such as Lucy Siegel and Ellen MacArthur are now being heard.

We’re no longer oblivious to what goes on behind the scenes of one of the largest industries in the world. No more can we be fooled by the built-in obsolescence of Fast Fashion and the careless “throw-away” culture it’s created. Our ignorance is fading and we simply cannot dismiss the impact our self-indulgence is having on the world around us.

We know that every step in the process is having a detrimental effect: growing cotton, producing synthetic fibres, chemically treating fabrics, using harmful dyes or production processes that are heavily reliant on water. We know about the wholesale ruination of wildlife, water pollution and scarcity, carbon emissions, and the fact that our non-renewable sources are depleting at an unprecedented rate.

We know that the high time and cost pressures imposed on all parts of the supply chain can lead to workers suffering poor working conditions with long hours and low pay. Many workers face dangerous working environments and are often exposed to hazardous substances. Modern slavery, child labour, and sexual violence are issues being dealt with on every continent.

Our new found insight is making us want to be conscious of the circumstances in which our purchases are made. We’re becoming more and more socially, environmentally, ethically and ecologically orientated and we’re voting with our wallets.

Our marketplace has gone from local to global overnight and we now have access to anything and everything from anywhere, along with all the insight we could possibly need to make an informed choice.

It’s no longer a push-pull economy; consumers are cracking the whip and businesses have no choice but to fall in line with our increasingly heavy demands. We don’t just want something aesthetically pleasing, of high quality, that fits well and is priced reasonably; we now also want it to come with a whole host of ethical and sustainable credentials.

Conscious fashion has crept its way onto the catwalk

At first glance, fashion and consciousness may seem like two fundamentally contradictory concepts; the former is defined by hedonism and short product life cycles while the latter implies ethics, durability and the reuse of products, but conscious fashion has actually been whispering out a quiet revolution for many years.

Ethical, sustainable, fair trade, slow, green and circular are just a few of the hundreds of adjectives used to describe a movement that is now well and truly under the spotlight. It’s a philosophy that goes beyond attempting to highlight or correct a variety of perceived wrongs in the fashion industry and it’s not about aiming for, or claiming to be, perfection.

It thinks for the longer term in everything from design, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal and covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, waste elimination and animal welfare.

The goal is to create a system which can be supported indefinitely in terms of human impact on the environment and social responsibility. It’s about brands and consumers who act with critical awareness and are a vehicle for much needed mindful change in a mindless world.

In the mid to late eighties, brands like Patagonia and ESPRIT began leading the movement and it wasn’t long before luxury labels like Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood brought conscious to couture. Today, our well-known high street brands and retailers are bringing mindfulness to the masses by incorporating sustainability into their business culture, brand values, products and supply chain.

H&M is a well-known example and has been seen as a high street leader with their Conscious Collection that uses recycled and organic fabrics. They’ve also launched a sub-brand called Arket that focuses on slow fashion and durable products and, in an effort to be more transparent, they’re listing their factories on their websites.

Nike wants to double its business while halving environmental impact; an ambition that will be achieved through innovation. The brand’s Flyknit technology produces 60% less wastage than traditional flat pattern production as the fabric is literally knitted, and Flyleather uses 90% less water and has a 90% lower carbon footprint, whilst being five times more durable and 40% lighter, than regular leather.

North Face has collaborated with Spiber to develop a parka made of faux spider silk; Nudie Jeans are stocking organic denim and offering a repair service to reduce waste, and Zara has installed collection bins across all stores in China to encourage recycling.

Every player in the industry, big or small, is scrambling to keep up with its breakneck pace of development. Unpredictability is the new normal, the global economy is uncertain and digital disruption is everywhere. Sustainability is in style and transparency is on trend.

Traditional business models and longstanding brands are now being replaced by technology-driven start-ups, innovative business models, niche brands, powerful pureplay e-commerce players, online marketplaces and more.

These conscious, tech-savvy brands care about people, products and our planet just as much as they do profits and have replaced sales-focused marketing campaigns with honest conversations.

Some focus on supply chain traceability, others focus on zero waste, paperless processes, using organic cotton, paying fair wages, replacing leather and fur with eco-friendly materials or inventing new marketplace models that give small artisans a chance to be seen and heard.

It’s a crucial time for the industry; we’re at tipping point for mass changes in mindset, a global conscious awakening and with the help of technology, the conscious fashion revolution will be here to stay.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.