Almost a year has now passed since I received my A-level qualification in Art and Design Textiles, and with space and time to reflect, I have begun to question the education I received. In a world where people are becoming increasingly aware of the climate crisis and ethical practices, is enough being done to change the textiles industry to become more sustainable?
The fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest elephants in the Climate Emergency room. Known to be one of the most unethical trades globally, it was nonetheless responsible for 25 million jobs in 2017. Comfortably contributing 2% of the global economy it has an annual turn-over of around £2.5 trillion but also makes up around 7.7% of solid landfill in 2018, according to a report published in July 2021 by the EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency). The UK Governments own Environmental Audit Committee review of 2018 ‘Fixing Fashion’ states,
‘Fashion production has a considerable impact on climate and biodiversity. The global fashion industry is estimated to have produced around 2.1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2018; the equivalent to the combined emissions of France, Germany and the UK.’
These statistics shed a new light on the term Fashion Emergency, suggesting a clear problem in our way of living and a disregard for natural resources and human lives.
As London Fashion Week approaches, it can feel like a backwards step to revel in the glamour of catwalks all over London; with their extravagant backdrops and so many workers being paid less than minimum wage. However, amongst the lavish celebrations are featured top designers such as Edeline Lee and Deborah Latouche. These two bold female designers are leading the way in the use of recycled fabrics and responsibly sourced materials and are also known for their good working conditions and fair wages. We see their influence in fashion brands such as Mango, Zara and H&M who are also beginning to transition from unethical fast fashion to sustainability conscious.
Alongside these change makers, popular brands such as Boohoo, Shien and Primark are yet to acknowledge what needs to be done and none of these companies are doing enough to ensure their workers are in safe and healthy environments.
As a consumer myself I have come to the realisation that there is a synergy needed between producer and buyer, to combat the consumerist ideologies we have grown used to, and to uphold the morals of the companies we buy from. In this golden age of technology, one of our biggest issues is the increased access to online shopping and social media. We are constantly being bombarded with advertising for the latest clothing releases and sales which are strategically placed by fast fashion brands. Through discussion with my friends, I have seen how clothing has an impact on individuals’ self-esteem, with the question of what to wear on a night out causing high levels of stress. Consequently, many feel that new clothing is a way of boosting confidence by giving new, easy inspiration for an outfit they feel comfortable in.
Within our school education, a separation has been formed between human geography and our consumption of fast fashion. By referencing the use of sweatshops and pollution in facts and figures used to help pass exams, we remove the emotional aspect, making it easy to forget that sweat shop workers are real people and the polluted planet is our own. I think an important change that needs to happen is the recognition of why fast fashion is so cheap. The cost cutting in order to churn out clothes and make a large profit, has ethical and environmental consequences that were not discussed in my A level classes.
I believe that an important way to combat the global consumerist mindset is from the ground up. To embed sustainable and morally sound values into the core of textiles education which would be carried forward into the new generation of artists, designers and dress makers. This would mean re-educating textiles and art teachers right from GCSE through to degree level, to update the curriculum and stay connected to the needs of the textiles industry. I wish I could say the education I received was already enough to inspire a new sustainable way of thinking but it was taught as an afterthought with techniques such as plastic fusion being taught infrequently and sustainability not being directly discussed other than by the department technician. This shows to me that the information is there to be learnt but that many teachers are focused on getting their students through the exam rather than producing free thinking creative individuals.
Textile education and the fashion industry have a long way to go to become sustainable and ethical. The necessary changes are only achievable with proactive change and acknowledgement of the issue right from the beginning of textile education.
by Mia Venus McClafferty
Mia is applying to study Fashion and Media at University where she hopes the issues surrounding the ‘Fashion Emergency’
will be at the forefront of her learning.