Having just worked at the judging panel for the Fashion Scout AW20 awards, I was very lucky to be able to see a lot of designers (over 30) and their most recent collections, and then their plans and teasers for their coming collections. What was absolutely wildly refreshing though, was how many designers were concerned about sustainability and the environment. Equally, Fashion Scout asked how the designers addressed sustainability as one of the first questions on the form to apply for one of the awards.

I can’t talk specifically about which designers showed what as the awards haven’t been announced yet! But I can talk of the innovation that some of the designers showed in their approach to sustainability. We had people who did smaller things, like only making clothes when they are ordered, which sounds like a small thing; but when you consider these are smaller designers who need as much exposure as possible, it can be tough on business. We had designers who really focused on upcycling, finding used fabrics or even used garments and cutting them down to rebuild them into pieces of high fashion. We also have designers who worked using natural dyes, and less mechanical production methods, encouraging sustainable and environmentally-friendly production methods.

Some designers took things even further however, with some working primarily, or even solely, with trash. That doesn’t mean upcycled clothing, that means literally actual rubbish. They found things at dumps, using their own rubbish, approaching companies with a lot of trash – they really worked to completely transform rubbish. (Think Rhys Ellis graduate fashion week coffee pods). I learnt about so many of the challenges of designing with trash.

First of all, you’ve got to find trash. In a world overrun with it, I didn’t really consider it a problem. But finding trash that is usable, big enough, strong enough, and also somewhat adaptable, is hard work. Secondly, it’s not designed to be worn, so it often isn’t comfortable. Designs can be made out of trash that look like wonderful art, but at the end of the day, clothes are meant to be worn. Wearing trash is often very uncomfortable and as I slipped into some of the garments, they were rather difficult to wear. Thirdly, fabric is made to move and adapt and shift with our bodies; trash isn’t. These designers have got to make this rubbish bend when we move our arms and legs, allow us to bend over. Clothes have to be alive with us, moving and adapting to our shape, and it’s very difficult to do that with trash.

Rhys Ellis – The ‘coffee-pod” dress (Birmingham City University)

Some of the clothing, with all due respect to the designers, didn’t really manage to transform trash in a way that would work on a catwalk. Sadly, some of it still looked like, well, trash. But some of it was phenomenal, really completely transformative work that was would easily stun on the catwalk. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk to some of the designers about their sustainability work. What came to light however were some of the many problems facing someone who tries to be fully sustainable, or at least partially sustainable.

These garments take a huge amount of time to produce, one of the designers saying that it took a month start to finish their garments. That doesn’t give a huge amount of product for her to sell, but avoiding mechanical production to keep carbon emissions low unsurprisingly slows production. I respect their mission but frankly it is impractical for a business to produce so little product, and of course leaves near to nothing to sell, and so there’s no real way for growth there. Things like natural dyes are great, but they aren’t all that vibrant, and colour are very limited if you are going completely natural.

The whole point of this whole ramble is both positive and negative. It is so positive to see so many younger designers in the industry striving for sustainable work, and when asked about it, they truly believe it is the only way forward (even if it compromises their growth). It’s also amazing to see companies like Fashion Scout really championing young designers who are championing sustainability. However, at the end of the day, it is so hard to make it into a viable and sustainable business at this point. I’m sure it’ll come down to some genius finding out some environmental solution to green energy and mass production, so I’ll leave that to them. And in the meanwhile, let’s champion these younger designers who are forging what is the future of the industry, and really all industries – sustainability!

‘One man’s trash, is another man’s treasure’ – Proverb

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