‘Fashion is made from nature. Nature provides the source for each garment that we choose to wear as our second skin. Fashion is made from nature and is dependent on it. Land, water, air and people from fashion’s supply chain, from growing to manufacturing, transportation and delivery into our hands and our everyday lives.’
When you buy a t-shirt or a pair of jeans from Topshop or ASOS, you never really think about how they got there. I had no clue about how materials were collected and what goes into actually achieving the end product.
The V&A’s exhibition ‘Fashioned from Nature’ displays the harsh reality of fast fashion, from the 1600’s to the 21st-Century. Fashion is constantly searching for something new and enticing, and society’s boastfulness led to a sinister craze in the 1800’s. Insects and birds became a popular trend, with dresses decorated with beetle wings and hats with stuffed birds extravagantly displayed on them. The exhibition proposed that these crazes were ‘good example[s] of the desire to improve on nature.’ This is an interesting idea, and as an English student nature is portrayed as omnipotent, and sometimes even hostile and tumultuous. To suggest that society wished to improve on something so intricate shows the selfishness of fashion and its use in showing wealth.
Fast forward to this century, and fashion has had a detrimental impact on the environment. Water is vital in fashion production, and I was shocked about how much water is used to make a single pair of jeans.
‘An average of 8,183 litres of water is needed to grow enough cotton to create one pair of jeans.’
Not only is water used for growing cotton, but it is used in the dyeing process which leads to chemicals infecting the water supplies. These statistics are not helped by the fact that westerners are buying more clothes and keeping them for half the time.
The time for change is now, and the climate change conversation needs to address fast fashion’s impact on the planet. Sustainable clothing and political fashion are just two small steps to making a difference. Larger companies, like H&M and M&S are collaborating with smaller companies to become more resourceful and sustainable.
The V&A’s exhibition highlighted the journey of one t-shirt, showing that the ‘Made In’ labels hide the complexity of the journey to the end product. Martine Jarlgaard launched a collection that provides traceable products using a ‘smart label.’ This technology allows customers to see whether their clothes are as green as they believe, and also understand the long process involved in making their clothes.
Sustainable fashion is becoming a more prominent conversation in mainstream media. Stacey Dooley’s new documentary ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secrets’ presents the issues and how sustainable fashion is the way forward.
Source: Ehrman, E. Fashioned from Nature, (London; V&A Publishing; 2018)