Why did sustainable fashion even appear?
Originally published February 25, 2011
Why did sustainable fashion even appear? Was it always an unsustainable industry and if not, what happened?
So what is fashion? A current popular style of dress, current trends in look or practice, a term generally applied to clothing.
The long short of it is that fashion has existed since humankind started to adorn themselves. Maybe not in the sense that we understand it today, and it’s a blurry line to me anyways, where function vs. fashion began or ended. Not only did adorning one’s self in a similar manner to others suggest membership to a particular group but also differentiated one’s self among the group. We can see this paradoxical role in action both at a macro and micro level.
Resources have never been distributed equally amongst people and this is quite evident when looking at the way one is dressed. Not so much today but in history, prior to the democratization of fashion that began in the early-mid twentieth century, that was its primary role. It not only distinguished continents, countries, and regions, but the common from the crowned, the white from the blue and the artist from the accountant. Your clothes, jewellary and style – fashion, were in direct relation with one’s access to resources, which was also indicative of one’s role/occupation. But the fashion cycle was slow; it would change often in times of economic or social change but could also last a thousand years.
You either fell into one of two groups: you can afford to buy textiles and have fashionable, beautiful garments made or you can afford very little and make do with the bare minimum, few garments, re-made, used textiles/garments. There was a clear distinction and it was apparent about where you belonged. Clothes had to last; most people could not afford a lifestyle that adhered to frequent style changes. Not to mention you had to have it made, it wasn’t as simple as a walk down the block to your local H&M. We are also only exposed to the fashionable elite, the upper echelon, when looking at historical clothing because they were the only ones who had their portrait painted or were important enough to be captured in some way as a representation of that era.
Skip forward a bit otherwise I could end up writing about the above for pages. Democratization of fashion brought about mass production. Cheaper fashionable clothes for everyone, this was new a phenomenon that really started to gain momentum. How could it not, fashion was built on creating desire and fantasy; wanting what we couldn’t have for centuries and now here it was for everybody. We could all have a slice of pie.
But the cycle didn’t stay steady, it got faster and clothes became cheaper and of lesser quality until they literally became disposable. Disposable in the sense that they were designed and created with a short life cycle in mind. To be thrown out before they actually needed to be.
Enough writing for today but here’s some photos, finally. This is Gary Harvey, this pictures are from his exhibit from the Estethica exhibition at London Fashion Week in 2007. This collection was designed to change people’s perception of second-hand clothing while creating fashion with a conscience. The collection only utilizes material from places like secondhand clothing stores to avoid waste, people "wear it one or two times then discard it because it's suddenly deemed aesthetically unimportant and out of date when there's years of life left in the garment." His collection "was a comment about thinking about the real cost of the garment that you buy, about that cost being natural resources, exploitation of labour, the biodegradable nature of garments." I know it's from 2007, but I love it.