1. What is your background, and how did you come about setting up your own not for profit organisation?
My background is in environmental policy and political science, but my starting point into the fashion industry was when I delved into my masters dissertation in Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development, researching for it. The title was ‘Organic Cotton: Reasons Why the Fashion Industry is Dragging its Heels’ at Imperial College. I interviewed numerous fashion designers, representatives of the textiles industry, and NGOs and felt that the need for a curated sustainable textiles showcase was urgent. In 2010 I set up The Sustainable Angle as a not for profit organisation to initiate and support projects aimed at reducing the environmental impact of industry and society. From there, the Future Fabrics Expo was born, now our biggest project. Today the Future Fabrics Expo is the largest dedicated showcase of sustainable materials for the fashion industry, with over 5000 commercially-available fabrics and materials exhibited to industry professionals around the world together with educational background information.
2. How important is it for designers to be using fabrics that are sustainably produced with a low environmental impact?
For most fashion brands, more than half of their environmental footprint stems from the materials they use. The path to sustainable change in the fashion industry really begins at the start of the process – with the designer. When brands make informed material choices at the design stage, they are not just changing the huge ripple effect that garment production has on the environment’s resources and biodiversity. They are also setting the example by communicating messages to the consumer about what these materials are and how these materials have a lower footprint. Our goal at The Sustainable Angle is to give brands the solutions to change. Designers need to have the important conversations with sourcing and production departments, it needs to be more collaborative and integrated again, and having the support of their leadership is instrumental in making the big steps.
3. What role do you think social media plays in fashion today?
Social media is a blessing and a curse in fashion – it can create a lot of noise for the consumer about cultural messages and feed into the immediate need for consumption. There’s also so much fake news out there, which makes it difficult to find facts that are backed up. On the flip side, social media is a great platform for individuals to use their own voice in an authentic way. Consumers can create influence and spread the messages they care about, and challenge brands, organisations, government and other people. Without social media, the movement for sustainability in fashion would not have had such a growing power as it does today.
4. What are your views on fast fashion vs sustainable fashion?
I prefer calling it cheap fashion because nothing in fashion can be made fast – it all comes from raw materials that take a long time to make/cultivate/create and there are human hands behind it that work on a garment to be created. And sustainable fashion is not a great term. Fashion just needs to come back to a point of intelligence overall where with materials that are safe and renewable made responsibly. Fashion is a great industry when done well, enabling livelihoods, expression of your own creativity and personality, a statement of your values, and is a brilliant communicator of the issues we face today and can be a vehicle for change! While it may seem alluring to some to get a cheap fashion fix, the true cost of buying items that are low quality are high, on the environment, on your mental health, and on your purse as the garments don’t last long! Meanwhile, sustainable fashion is often misconceived as having a higher price tag or difficult to find options, making the domain “inaccessible” to the consumer. Afterall, only those items that are produced to good high standards can be kept for a long time – and can be resold into the nascent re-commerce.
5. What are some small changes designers could be making to minimise their environmental footprint?
Actually, we want designers to aim for leaving a positive impact, not just minimising it. Be that by sourcing raw materials that stem from regenerative agriculture or made in a way that empowers communities. The possibilities are many fold once you change your mindset. The world of sustainable materials can be incredibly complex, but designers can make small changes just by educating themselves, making informed decisions about sourcing materials with a lower environmental impact, and by diversifying their material basket ie away from polyesters and conventional cotton. At the moment, many people within the industry feel awful that they have been part of the problem, and we need them to move away from the negative, and approach design with creative problem solving. With the Future Fabrics Expo, we wanted to make sustainability within the creative process as accessible as possible so that the designers themselves feel able to drive the revolution. Right down to the individual fabric level, every material in our Future Fabrics Expo showcase is labelled with its own sustainability information and environmental criteria as jargon free as possible. Sourcing materials as the expo is no longer looking for a needle in a haystack! And we show much information to explain the many terms…
6. What are some small changes consumers could be making to improve their environmental footprint?
When it comes to the consumer, we advocate a sustainable wardrobe – be creative, buy smart and invest in good quality and longevity. Make BIG changes. Now Consumers can shop sustainably just by checking the label and asking the right questions. How many times are you likely to wear the new item and how does it fit into your existing wardrobe? What is the item made from? Where is this cotton sourced from? Where is it made? Consumers are agents of change because they are the ones who will ask for brands to design more responsibly – they have the power to change the industry. There are many exciting brands out there now who integrate sustainability at the core of their businesses without sacrificing style. And vintage is always beautiful! Plus, the re-commerce is an interesting new dimension where you can hire amazing clothes from designers. Plus of course mending your clothes is essential – these are skills people should have but most cannot perform anymore.
7. Who or what has been your biggest inspiration in your career so far?
Almost everyone I have ever met in the world of sustainability has been an inspiration over the last decade, it is a kind of breed of people who are conscientious, thinking outside the box, challenging the status quo, creative, and fun.
8. Which brands do you think are the leaders in sustainable fashion?
The leaders currently out there are across the spectrum, ranging from high-street to premium to luxury. I like small independent brands. There are so many now to choose from. Personally, I love Soster Studio, Tiziano Guardini, Mara Hoffman, Fonnesbech, Jeanerica to name just a few.
9. What is your favourite thing to do in London?
In London, my favourite thing to do is going to the farmers market with my children, cooking up a storm afterwards and then walking through Richmond Park and experience the change of the seasons – and admire the majestic deer going past.
10. What advice would you give to new designers starting their career?
Visit our expo and it’ll really open your eyes to the possibilities of materials that are more sustainable you can design with! Be curious and diversify your materials knowledge. Have a mission or vocation that includes producing responsibly and think about how can your garment change the wearer. Aim to impact positively on the people and planet – not just reducing your impact…
Find out more about The Sustainable Angle here