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The Golden Age of Circular Economy Fashion

November 15, 2018 in Slow Luxury Fashion
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Intro

Remember this moment.

What do Emma Watson, BioScience and the Future of Fashion have in common? Let’s find out. The new golden age of sustainable circular economy fashion is upon us. A  time of awe-inspiring ideas and material revolution. A  renaissance that is as exciting, spellbinding, breathtaking and profoundly important as the introduction of James Hargreaves Spinning Jenny in 1764.

This time, it is all about sustainability and the circular economy and the idea of an ingenious marriage between fashion, nature, science, and alchemy.

Emma Watson – The Ethical Poster Girl for a Generation

Emma Watson at the Met Gala in a Sustainable Calvin Klein Gown

If ever there was an eloquent spokeswoman for a generation, it is the film icon, Emma Watson. Emma was one of the first A-list film stars to wear sustainable fashion on the red carpet.

“I want to look good, feel good, and do good – that to me is a luxury,” she says simply. That statement is enough to empower an entire generation of millennial consumers to change everything, especially fashion. Emma is not alone. Natalie Portman wears an ethical wedding band, fashioned from recycled gold; Rosario Dawson runs her own Fair-trade company in Africa; and Will I Am, the Leonardo of the music world, and a budding ethical fashion entrepreneur, has teamed up with Coca-Cola to launch hip street clothing EkoCycle and make all sorts of weird and wonderful futuristic street fashion, luggage and bicycles from recycled aluminum. All of this would have been unthinkable just a decade ago when I first started to write about sustainable fashion.

Sustainable luxury fashion has finally come of age. The collections are covetable, exciting, luxurious and good enough to succeed on merit, not out of necessity, although of course, that is a critical side effect. Sustainable fashion has become the zeitgeist because fashion’s brightest stars from the designers to the manufacturers of fabric are literally reinventing how to do fashion well in the 21st century.

Orange Fiber Top by Salvatore Ferragamo

We now live an in age where citrus food waste can be transformed into fibre by isolating a polymer, mixing it with silk and transforming it into a sublime, sensuous fabric called Orange Fiber, which becomes a fashion poem in print to Sicily for Salvatore Ferragamo; where a bespoke jacket can be grown like spider’s lace in the lab from magical mushroom fibre; where Stella McCartney introduces her beautifully fleet of foot, glue-less, recyclable sports shoe the Loop; where fast fashion is becoming slow, fair-trade, artisan fashion that protects garment workers and centuries-old craft skills People Tree and Mata Traders ; and a time when forgotten women in prison get a new start in life by producing timeless, alpaca capsule collections in Peru for label to know, love and adopt – Carcel.

Carcel Sustainable Knitwear Made in Prisons

Hold the Front Page

Hold the front page. Welcome to the fashion revolution, there is so much to talk about.

Impressed? Seduced? Intrigued? Go ahead. At last, our throwaway, careless society is being replaced by something altogether more enlightened, mindful, clever, altruistic and smarter – the only limit to all this innovation is our collective imagination.

Dress by Vegea, made from grape waste from the wine industry

So, imagine that your next, lust-worthy, stop the traffic evening gown could be fashioned from Vegea’s award-winning, UN 20 20, grape fabric (food waste fibre) – and go and covet their fluid, Tina Turner, rock ‘n’ roll, diva-worthy gown in the V&A Fashioned from Nature Exhibition…. it’s the hottest ticket in town to understand the last four hundred years of fashion craftsmanship, ravishing spectacle, innovation, and excess, and then get inspired to upcycle your fashion persona, with state of the art green and sexy, circular aplomb. And while you are there, salute the work of designer Stella McCartney – from designer activist to the trailblazing crown princess of sustainable material innovation.

Stella McCartney Makes Nature Iconic

I could lose myself in a fashion reverie when I stand and gaze at Stella’s love letter to her mother Linda’s passion for Appaloosa horses and wild nature. McCartney makes nature iconic with her thundering horses’ trouser suit, digitally printed on sustainable viscose – it’s the next best thing to going for a wind in the hair gallop. It’s pure, lust-worthy fashion that also happens to be good fashion. But you wouldn’t know and that is the point. Sustainability doesn’t have to be screamed about, it simply needs to be fabulous, mainstream and effortless for you the consumer to make earth-friendly, green is the new black choices.

Stella McCartney Running Horses Print

Certainly, Stella is blazing an emerald style trail. No iconic designer has done more to lead the charge for state of the art fabric innovation while wowing the catwalk with her masculine meets feminine aesthetic.

Fashion is All About Bio Science Now

Welcome to the age of smart, good, sustainable fashion. This is the moment where fashion, nature, and bioscience rule the roost and all the fashion powerhouses from Salvatore Ferragamo to Hugo Boss are busy burnishing their collections with organic cotton and Alice-in-Wonderland circular fibres from Mycotex to Vegea, Pinatex, and Orange Fiber whilst displaying their greenage, sustainable plumage like so many peacocks strutting in the gardens of Versailles.

Now, let’s talk about water. Did you know that the global fashion industry consumes six trillion litres of water a year to dye fabrics for new fashion garments? Yes, it is eye-watering; it is also a big problem. What if they simply run out of water? Colorifix could be the answer. The company behind this green tech company has pioneered a new method of applying pigment to fabric using biology. The good news is that it uses ten times less water, doesn’t require harsh solvents and chemicals that pollute our rivers, and could really help to clean up the fashion industry which has been polluting watercourses since the introduction of aniline dyes in the industrial revolution.

Change the Way We Produce Fashion, Not Our Desire for It

Waistcoat made from Neffa MycoTEX mushroom fibre on the catwalk

The future of luxury is all about a new virtuous circular of consumption and right now it is the Holy Grail in fashion. Of course, it is necessary and pragmatic. Necessity is definitely the mother of invention and fashion has always been the great innovator. There are seven billion people on this crowded planet earth, and we will simply run of resources and new clothes if we don’t find a better way to adorn our bodies and experience fashion that makes us want to reach for our credit card in a heartbeat. So as Aniela Hoitink the founder of Neffa MycoTEX declares,   “Fast fashion represents an incredible opportunity. There is now an entire generation of people who expect to own a garment for a year, maybe two, before disposing of it to buy something new. With the right materials, we can meet this life cycle from cradle to cradle. Let’s change the way we produce fashion, not the habits of 7 billion people – it is far more realistic.”

Mycotex Fabric Swatches

With this brave new world of green and sexy pragmatism, how would you like to grow your own bespoke, gossamer, work of art evening jacket, fashioned from Mycotex mushroom fibre in a lab that is now the atelier of the future? It looks like lace, with zero waste, and zero water consumption and don’t worry; it won’t smell like you after three days at Glastonbury! It also comes with anti-microbial properties and simplifies the manufacturing process, as weaving becomes redundant. When you have tired of wearing it and long for something new, you can just put your magic mushroom garment in the recycle bin to turn it into compost with zero guilt and start dreaming of your fashion acquisition.

Gold Pintatex Biker Jacket by Altiir

Or you could pay homage to Marlon Brando as the motorcycle kid in the Wild One, and invest in Altiir’s inky, super luxurious black biker jacket that looks like leather, ages gracefully like leather, and yet it is cleverly fashioned from a new luxe pineapple leaf fibre fabric, called Pinatex, a remarkable by-product of the fruit industry, that has taken RCA alumnus, Dr. Carmen Hijosa, just over a decade to perfect, from pineapple farm to hanger.

Oh, and if you want to emulate your rock n roll heroes – David Bowie or Jimi Hendrix, you could go for the gold or silver versions of the biker jacket. I can’t wait to see Madonna, Will I Am, or perhaps Elon Musk, wearing one of these gleaming, out this world jackets to tap into our renewed love affair with exploring brave new worlds, on the catwalk, and in a galaxy far beyond planet earth.

Fashion has to be Great to Be Revolutionary

There was a time when the idea of sustainable fashion was dirty a word on the catwalk, a word consigned to the outer reaches of the fashion firmament. At the time, it deserved its outcast label. The first examples of sustainable fashion back in the late nineties and early noughties were more about ideals and a form of protest than sex appeal and desirability. Fashion has to be great to be influential, to change everything. It has to break your heart to smithereens with beauty, ingenuity, craftsmanship, and novelty that can work at scale. Bad fashion with ethics is still bad fashion.

Now it is the zeitgeist because the world of luxury fashion has decided to embrace sustainability and put its weight behind the science of innovation. This is good news. What happens at the top of fashion affects the entire fashion chain from slow to fast fashion. When high fashion sets the agenda, everyone else follows.

Sustainability is the new luxury and that is a very good thing.

Why, even Star Wars is embracing sustainability as Ray and Finn wear out of this world stellar boots designed by creative director Sven Segal for Po-Zu, who is also working with Pinatex.

The fact that Lucas Films chose a sustainable British shoe company to award their first footwear franchise is a bold and exciting move. It demonstrates that good fashion and circular economy ideas are becoming mainstream and highly desirable to iconic brands like the Star Wars franchise.

Next time you eat a pineapple or drink a very fine glass of Bordeaux think about the ingenious idea of fruity fashion! As Edwina Ehrman, the curator behind the V&A’s groundbreaking Fashioned from Nature says, “Fashion from food waste really does have the power to capture the public imagination – because they can understand it.”

The same applies to celebrity star power. While Emma Watson has used hers to declare she will only wear sustainable fashion on the red carpet, Olivia Wilde worked with H&M on the Conscious Exclusive Collection in 2015 and boldly said, “Ethical fashion isn’t a fashion fantasy, it’s an attainable reality. I think this is how all fashion should be. Great style that is naturally more sustainable.”

So fear not. All the beauty, artistry and craftsmanship of haute fashion which sets hearts on fire is alive and flourishing as this is a revolution driven by the icons of fashion, along with cutting-edge science and innovation, and a new age of ingenious thrift, which has always been the bedfellow of luxury.

The Queen of Couture Thrift

Her Majesty The Queen recording her Christmas message to the nation and the Commonwealth in 2017.

No one sets a better example of luxurious thrift than the queen of England, Queen Elisabeth the second. Her couture and bespoke outfits are always fashioned to last and last, to be treated as precious heirlooms, to be lovingly reworked, updated and upcycled. There is no doubt that she is inspiring the new generation of royals to follow her thoughtful, thrifty example. Catherine Duchess of Cambridge, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, have both been seen wearing the same outfits in public, thus following in the considered, elegant footsteps of her majesty and setting an example that we should all love and cherish the clothes we have and take great care of them. Now, it would be great to see the Kate and Meghan wearing the crème de la crème of conscious, sustainable fashion garments. I can certainly see the more adventurous Meghan Markle wearing a slow, whimsical, made in Britain, fashion work of art by the label to know Klements or a fluttering gown in lustrous peace silk, embellished with banana fibre, by conscious couturier Lucy Tammam – the Catherine Walker of ethical haute couture.

After seventy years of throwaway culture, we are moving to an age of circular fashion and the increasingly popular idea of also renting designer fashion, which also democratises it too. How on earth did we live before the circular economy advanced into our lives? In the future, we will look back on the years following WW2 as a sort of primitive, mini dark ages, when we failed to protect the very thing that so inspires and captivates us – nature in all her infinite variety.

Buy Better Fashion, Change the World

Let’s hope this truly is a new golden age in fashion, where the natural world and our boundless desire to capture nature on a gown, on a beautiful embellished shoe or fabulous handbag is just the beginning of a beautiful, awe-inspiring, super duper sustainable relationship. A time when our obsession and passion to express who we really our does become a thing of beauty inside and out. The last word goes to Emma Watson, “ As consumers, we have so much power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy.”

Alison Jane Reid Copyright November 2018. This Fashion Feature is supported by C&A Foundation

Images courtesy of the V&A, Po-Zu Shoes, Klements, Neffa MycoTEX, Altiir, Stella McCartney, Carcel. 

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about the author

Alison Jane Reid

Alison Jane Reid - Journalist, Editor & Emerald Princess of Slow, Sustainable Luxury Living - 18 year track record interviewing real icons for: The Times, The Lady, You, The Mirror and Country Life. Now leading her alluring fairtrade, emerald revolution - Don’t Miss Out - Have you joined The Ethical Hedonist set?



2 responses to “The Golden Age of Circular Economy Fashion”

  1. Interesting read on how sustainability has caught on in the fashion industry. I enjoyed seeing your observations of how fashion has transformed to use more upcycled materials and rewearing items multiple times. I hope this is not just a trend. I really hope it is leading to a more permanent trend, and I’m going to do my part by finding ways to further sustainability in the fashion industry.

    • Alison Jane Reid says:

      Hi Brooke,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the feature on fashion and the circular economy. The global fashion industry is in the process of moving to more sustainable supply chains more out of necessity and business survival. It is critical for the leading brands to innovate now. Sustainability is not a luxury, it is a necessity. As a journalist, I find it completely fascinating to tell the stories of innovation. It’s also interesting to see how fashion is coming full circle, and that there is a move away from synthetics because the processes involved are so damaging to the environment. I also love the stories of empowering forgotten women in prison, so that transforming lives adds such precious value to a piece of fashion. That is exciting. Do write to me at the magazine and tell me about you and how you can inspire sustainability in the fashion world. Warmest Regards, Alison Jane, Founder and Editor.

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