The rise of brief trends over classic style and shoddy workmanship at cheap prices in the fashion industry is damaging both our planet and its people. I’m a 25 year old designer and I wanted to share with you the story of how a t-shirt could be what’s needed to engage the mass market with sustainable fashion.
Thanks to fast fashion our industry is currently the world’s most polluting after oil. 25% of the world’s chemicals are used for textile production and 10% of the world’s carbon emissions result from the apparel industry. As a result, more toxic chemicals are released into our air, water and soil, and greenhouse gases are created that deplete our water and fossil fuel energy resources.
The Rana Plaza disaster of 2013 also illustrates the grave social and economic problems with the fast fashion model. Over 1,100 people were killed when the building they were working in, making cheap clothing for fast fashion retailers, collapsed. Corners had been cut in terms of cost of production and, tragically, health and safety had not been considered a priority.
People have so many responsibilities and commitments in their lives - professional, financial, emotional, social and even charitable - and it is, therefore, tough to expect customers to shop for clothing with sustainability in mind and to consider the ethics of a brand over, say, the simple RRP of the clothing that they are selling.
I believe we can engage the mainstream customer in sustainable fashion through The 30 Year T-Shirt. I designed this t-shirt as a wardrobe staple to be made so durably that we could guarantee it for 30 years. My manufacturing team in Serra da Estrela, Portugal have been making beautiful clothing since 1964 and we based the design of The 30 Year T-Shirt on some t-shirts they made in the 1970s that were still in perfect condition. We double reinforce all seams, use 360 grams per metre Italian cotton and treat the t-shirts against shrinking.
The “30 Year” concept is immediately eye-catching but has far reaching and crucial benefits:
• The 30 Year T-Shirt at $50 is cheaper in terms cost per wear than its fast fashion equivalent of a plain coloured tee. It is also a garment that is made to a world class standard, delivered online direct-to-customer at a value price point. The customer, therefore, looks better and saves money at the same time.
• The 30 Year T-Shirt is a sustainable fashion campaign fighting fast fashion, aiming to encourage people to shop sustainably and to lead an industry trend into protecting our natural resources by producing truly durable clothing.
Some people argue that fashions come and go, and that the 30 Year concept doesn’t work. I consider that to be very narrow minded. Other than it terms of sizing, how could you improve upon a well cut white t-shirt? I am not suggesting for one second that we stop designing innovative and interesting new garments with new prints, materials or other features. I am just suggesting that we stop allowing fast fashion retailers to systematically make wardrobe staples to fall apart so that we’re forced into replacing them. And before you turn around and tell me that you’ll be too fat to fit into the same t-shirt in three decades time, stop being so defeatist and lay off the Domino’s (even I’m trying to).
If we could cut down on unnecessary garment manufacturing and distribution, we would be making some important strides towards making the fashion industry more sustainable. What better way to achieve this then by guaranteeing that the cornerstones of your wardrobe, which you’ll most likely never change, will actually last? Fashion production requires machinery which uses valuable energy, it wastes fabric (15% of fabric is wasted during the manufacturing process, on average) and then there is the carbon footprint, caused by transporting the goods, to consider. The rise of globalisation has meant that cotton is grown in one place, woven in another and then clothing can be put together somewhere else entirely. Almost all clothing sold in the Western world is imported and this contributes hugely to emissions. On top of production and delivery, there is also huge energy consumption involved with bricks and mortar fashion retail, packaging and marketing. I am not implying that we should not have any more shops but, in an age of globalisation, the efficiency of the direct to customer vertically integrated e-commerce fashion business model for brand owners, consumers and our environment must not be overlooked.
The 30 Year concept also aims to encourage a different attitude to fashion ownership and disposal. Many people, in this era of readily available cheap fast fashion, buy items that they do not even wear once. The energy consumed to create, market and deliver the garment is wasted as a result and further energy is then used up in the disposal process. It is, therefore, important that we think carefully before buying something. A good rule of thumb is that championed by Eco Age and Livia Firth: when shopping for clothing, think “am I going to wear this at least 30 times?”. Based on a figure of 400 loads per year, the average washing machine consumes 75,000 litres of water every year and leaves behind chemicals from washing powder and liquids that are resistant to water treatment. Washing machines and tumble dryers also consume a huge amount of electricity from fossil fuels. The mere process, therefore, of owning and washing clothing has a huge effect on the environment, so choosing a 30 Year garment or something that is going to last longer, be cheaper in terms of cost per wear and actually look better makes sense on many levels.
Now is the time when we must encourage a more sensible and sustainable attitude towards fashion consumption. In Britain, a supposedly forward thinking nation, 85% of the clothing that we throw away ends up in landfill. Why is such idiotically narrow minded behaviour so prevalent? Charity shops are a wonderful thing. I recently bought a beautiful Italian cotton Gucci overcoat from Oxfam in Notting Hill for just £20. Imagine if that had been thrown away!
To find out more about sustainable fashion and the 30 Year concept, please visit tomcridland.com.