Podcast Ep. 56, TAMSIN LEJEUNE, SLOWING FAST FASHION & ACCESS OVER OWNERSHIP
EPISODE 56 FEATURES TAMSIN LEJEUNE
Sometimes it can feel like sustainable fashion is a new thing, but pioneers laid the groundwork years ago. People like this week’s guest, British fashion change-maker, Tamsin Lejeune.
Back in 2006, Tamsin founded the Ethical Fashion Forum, a London-based industry body for sustainable fashion. Her team also brought us Source, one of the first platforms to list sustainable resources and suppliers in one place.
In the UK, it was Tamsin and her team who were running the sustainable fashion panel discussions and bringing the fledgling ethical fashion community together.
How much has changed since then? How far off is sustainable fashion from being the norm? What tools do we need TO DO FASHION BETTER?
Today, Tamsin leads a new project called Common Objective with that in mind. Think, a sustainable fashion matchmaking service, like a targeted linked in, or Tinder without the romance.
In this absorbing interview we discuss what’s going on with fast fashion and why the model is broken. We decode the discomfort some feel when fast fashion giants launch eco capsule collections while still making most of their stuff the same old way. And we delve into the magic powers of fashion access over ownership, and the opportunities for the next generation of designers.
WHAT WE TALK ABOUT…
DECODING FAST FASHION. Is fashion too fast in general? Is the slow fashion movement growing? Are sustainable fashionistas in a bubble?
Yes, yes and yes.
Read Tamsin’s Huffington Post story, “Fast Fashion: Can it Be Sustainable?” here.
We’ve been steadily speeding up our consumption over the last two decades. A Cambridge University study showed that in 2006 people were buying a third more clothes than they were in 2002, and women had 4 times as many clothes as they had in the 1980s.
In Australia in 2017, “4 out of 10 people surveyed by YouGov said they had put unwanted fashion items in the bin, rather than trying to repair or recycle them. As Australian fast-fashion booms to an industry worth $2bn a year, the YouGov report found that 75% of Australian adults have thrown clothes away in the past year; 30% tossed more than 10 garments. The throwaway culture is creating a serious environmental problem, with 24% saying they threw out a garment after one wear. One in six people binned at least three garments they’d worn only once.'“ Via Guardian Australia.
Between 2000 and 2015, global clothing production approximately doubled. Globally, we are now producing close to 100 billion garments a year.
68% of the clothes produced today are made of polyester.
“We have been persuaded by a huge marketing machine to believe that what we need and want is lots of cheap clothes made from plastic,” says Tamsin. But why?
Marc Bain explains in this excellent article for Quartz, “If Your Clothes Aren’t Already Made of Polyester, They Will Be”: “Polyester has been a fixture in our closets since 1951. That’s when the first polyester suits, made from fabric created not by a textile mill but by the American chemical company DuPont, went on sale.
Today, polyester is no longer the ugly, uncomfortable material of awful 1970s double-knit leisure suits, the kind that necessitated a marketing campaign to rehabilitate the fabric’s image. Nowadays, polyester is easy to miss unless you check fabric tags rigorously. It’s already ubiquitous in our most basic garments, such as t-shirts, dresses, and jeans, while calling almost no attention to itself—and that’s the point. It has become essentially invisible, even as it rapidly takes over our wardrobes.
As production of cotton, the world’s most popular natural fibre, has plateaued, polyester has stepped in to fill the void. Because it’s inexpensive, easy to blend with other materials, remarkably improved in its look and feel, and no worse for the environment than conventionally grown cotton, it has allowed us to keep churning out more and more cheap clothes without a hiccup.” [Ed’s note: that’s debatable. This was written in 2015 before the microfibre issue became so pressing.]
“Polyester is a polymer, or a long chain of repeating molecular units. The most common variety is polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, a plastic derived from crude oil that’s used to make soda and ketchup bottles. When melted, it has the consistency of cold honey, and if you squeeze it through a spinneret, kind of like the shower head in your bathroom, you get long, continuous filaments. Draw those filaments out into thin fibres, weave lots of those fibres together, and you have a fabric. In the last few decades, production of the material has surged. Between 1980 and 2007, the year polyester definitively overtook cotton as the world’s dominant fibre, the amount of polyester produced annually increased from 5.3 million tonnes to 30.9 million tonnes… By 2025, that number is projected to nearly triple, to 90.5 million tonnes.
Among the reasons for the boom is the fact that the global cotton supply is limited. Earth has only so much farmland available for growing the fluffy white fibres, and cotton has to compete for that space with other crops, including food crops.” Via Quartz.
MICROFIBRES. In 2017, 83 % of tap water samples, taken from 159 different taps, in 14 countries on five continents were contaminated with microscopic plastic fibres. Read the full report by Orb Media here.
WHAT’S WITH PVC SHOES? “It’s like looking at the foot with clouded vision, in a very literal sense: They fog up from heat. In fact, plastic shoes act like their own transparent miniature ecosystems, with a perpetual film of condensation caused by perspiration generated when bare feet get steamy. (And as science tells us, moisture and heat cause things to grow.” Read the US VOGUE story on sweaty PVC shoes here. Gross.
COULD SOME CLOTHES BE DESIGNED TO BE THROWN AWAY? According to Daniel Milford-Cottam, a fashion cataloguer at the V&A, London: “There are some deliberate measures being taken so clothes will not last as long. Some of these ‘tricks’ go from using inappropriate fabrics, to delicate materials roughly stitched together – things that accelerate wearing and tearing, especially during washing. Most clothes manufacturers are also aware that people don’t usually check washing labels too carefully, or use too much detergent, and take this situation for granted. Moreover, many clothes are a blend of two or more materials, such as cotton and polyester – which shrink differently in the wash, destroying the shape of the clothing in the process. Buttons are also not properly sewn on, and they’re almost guaranteed to fall off. Manufacturers also know that many people are too lazy to sew them back on, preferring instead to buy a new garment instead.” Via Polly Dunbar, Daily Mail
THE RISE OF FAST FASHION “SUSTAINABLE COLLECTIONS”
H&M launched its first Conscious Exclusive collection in 2011. The F/W 2018 iteration launches September 27. It features velvet made from recycled polyester and recycled cashmere, and 10% cent of the sale price from each product will be donated towards WWF’s conservation work. “H&M has partnered with WWF since 2011, focusing on water stewardship, climate action and sustainability strategy, with the aim of making H&M and the broader fashion industry more sustainable,” they say.
While they’ve copped their fair share of criticism over tokenism - Conscious only accounts for a small fraction of their whole offering - H&M does by far most work out of all the fast fashion giants in the fabric innovation space. Listen to Episode 48 with H&M’s Head of Sustainability Anna Gedda here.
ZARA launched its sustainable line in 2016. Called Join Life, it’s pitched as “a selection of the most sustainable materials and raw processes that helps us take care of the environment,” it uses a few elementary “green” fabrics - including organic cotton and Tencel. Shoes carry the explanation: “Leather tanned using the most sustainable methods. These products were made with certification from Leather Working Group, using renewable energy and technology that reduces water use,” although they are not vegetable tanned. A parka is “at least 25% recycled polyester” - big wow! Why isn’t it 100%? Predictably, it copped a lot of flack when it launched. “After numerous accusations of ripping off independent designers, fast-fashion retailer Zara is attempting to make amends,” said Fashion Journal.
MANGO launched their effort in 2017. It was called Committed. Amusingly, there’s no sign of it on their website today. Not so committed after all, eh?
Tamsin says that many sustainable capsule collections offered by the big high street brands are subsidised, so there is no transparency on costs. “If it’s a loss leader for fast fashion, it’s never going to become more than a capsule,” she says.
SLOW FASHION & UPCYCLING
JUNKY STYLING was formed in 1997 by Annika Sanders and Kerry Seager, who made clothes for themselves to wear out to clubs in the early 90s, during their late teens. Everything was recycled from the best quality second-hand clothing, deconstructed, re-cut and completely transformed into a new product that belied the former identity of the raw material. They used to have a shop in Brick Lane.
HOWIES is Welsh activewear company that was founded in the ‘90s with a sustainable ethos. They use organic cotton, recycled cotton and merino wool.
“Jobs in fashion don’t have to drudgery, it should be something we can enjoy and we can admire, no matter where you are in the supply chain” - Tamsin Lejeune
A note on our MUSIC: it is by our friend Montaigne, who sang a special acoustic version of "Because I love You" just for us. It's from her album Glorious Heights.
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Until next time,