This month we are featuring a fashion series focused on five fast fashion facts and five questions with a sustainable, slow fashion brand.
Why we should care about fast fashion and sustainable fashion
Merriam Webster defines fast fashion as: “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.”
In our consumer driven society, that doesn’t sound all bad since we love having things quickly and cheaply at our fingertips. But the impacts of fast fashion on people and the environment are huge. This month we will be sharing some facts about fast fashion to emphasize why we need to be paying attention to the industry.
We understand that sustainable fashion brands are not accessible to everyone, so please know there is no condemnation from us if you shop in fast fashion. We want to share information, highlight some of our favourite brands we love to follow, and provide alternatives with hopes to minimize the negative impacts of fast fashion.
Five Fashion Facts
So why should we be paying attention? Here are some facts you may not know.
- Fast fashion has sold society on the idea that people constantly need new clothes, which results in the world consuming 80 billion new pieces of clothing each year–a 400% increase from 2 decades previous.
- Estimates are that more than half of fast fashion produced is disposed of within one year.
- While people hope that their clothes can be recycled, the reality is less than 1% is recycled into new clothing and only 13% is recycled into other items. (Ellen MacArthur Foundation)*
- Fast fashion clothing items are difficult to recycle because of the laborious process, which includes separating the combination of fabrics included in each item and removing dyes that have been applied.
- Fast fashion brands produce clothes quickly and cheaply, resulting in a poorer quality of fabrics. The result is that, when items are donated to charity shops, the clothing is usually unsuitable to sell. For example, one of Oxfam’s Wastesavers sorting plant only sends 1-3% of clothing received to their shops to be sold.
Five Questions and Answers with a Sustainable Fashion Brand
We reached out to some of our favourite sustainable, slow fashion labels to find out more about what they do and why they do it. This sustainable fashion series is a passion project for us, motivated by our love of supporting small businesses, which means we were not compensated by these brands to feature them. We hope you love these brands as much as we do!
Introducing Gemma Leakey, Sustainable Bridalwear
When I think about sustainable, slow fashion, bridal gowns are not the first thing that pop into my head. I’m not actually sure if I’ve ever thought much about how a wedding dress comes together. This is why it was such a pleasant surprise to discover Gemma Leakey on Instagram.
She was my introduction to the idea of including bridalwear in the luxury, slow-fashion and eco-friendly realm. Once I started to think about the idea more, it just made sense to have the gown for your special wedding day handcrafted just for you.
Not only is having a wedding dress designed and made solely for you and your big day a unique and special experience, but it also allows for a more intentional process to the crafting of the dress. Exploring Gemma Leakey’s website and Instagram led me to think through this idea further.
Gemma takes amazing care in choosing fabrics and detailing, paying attention to how she can make more sustainable choices by what she uses. From fabrics to trim to even the tags and packaging, she’s thinking through what the best choices are. This is a standout reason for slow fashion for me. I love how much care there is for the garment and how much consideration there is for the long-lasting effects of the clothing item.
We hope you enjoy getting to know her brand as much as we did through the answers to our sustainable fashion questions.
Why did you choose to start a sustainable brand?
My desire for creating a sustainable brand stemmed from my graduate collection at university, having made my entire collection from discarded fabrics and textiles sourced from textile recycling plants. My aim then was to prove that sustainability could be desirable and elegant and this still remains true to my values today. I was challenged and inspired by creating desirable pieces from post consumer waste and fabric off cuts.
A few years industry experience then followed my degree, until then deciding to brave it out alone and fulfil my lifelong dream of owning my own fashion business. I started my bridalwear business 4 years ago, creating bespoke one off wedding gowns using locally made fabrics and trimmings. Starting with my own wedding gown, and realising the passion and level of fulfilment this brought not only myself but my brides as well, I continued along this pathway.
Recently, I have been addressing my own personal values surrounding sustainability, stemming partly from wanting to create a better future for my children and their children and trying to implement them into the business model to enable it to be considered a sustainable fashion brand.
In what ways does your brand fall under the sustainable label?
All the dresses I make are made to order, designed and made by myself. This enables the customer to know who and where their dress has been made. This means all fabrics are ordered to the exact amount needed minimising waste.
We aim to donate any fabric scraps that we have to local schools or compost the natural fibre based fabrics as well as eventually being able to use off cuts for accessories. We source and use only fabrics and trimmings that are considered to be sustainable fabric choices. Having previously used mainly natural fabrics, predominantly silk in many of the gowns, we are now replacing these conventional non organic silks with organic / peace (Ahimsa) silks sourced locally from the UK, and Europe.
We are also using other organic plant based or cellulosic fabrics such as bamboo silk and rose petal fibres. We are currently sourcing organic lace GOTS certified options where we can, this area seems to be more challenging but we are finding options to use.
The designs themselves even though technically are made for that one day only, are not trend driven pieces. Our bespoke gowns always tell a story and reflect the true personality of the bride themselves. Our collection pieces are made to be modern, without being trend driven, elegant and flattering whilst remaining comfortable and easy to wear.
The fact they are made from natural fabrics, threads and trimmings means the gowns, when eventually reaching the end of their product life cycle can be composted and broken down back into the natural earth.
Other areas that we are changing to make more sustainable are packaging and labelling, looking at recycled paper or seeded paper for garment tags as well as cardboard packaging and eco packaging for the dresses themselves.
What are some obstacles you have faced in starting a sustainable brand?
The obstacles I have found through converting my brand into a sustainable brand so far have been related to materials. There needs to be a much larger selection of organic and eco friendly materials on the market place that are easily accessible with low Minimum Order quantities.
Also, the price is generally higher for the raw materials of the organic/non-organic materials and therefore has to be reflected in the prices offered to the consumer. However, the fact that the gowns are sustainable and uniquely designed offers that added value to justify the higher price.
What are your hopes for sustainable fashion?
For it to become the norm, and to be easily accessible to a larger audience. The challenge is changing people’s mind sets and lifestyles. We need a culture shift toward a less is more attitude in general, and not thinking we need the latest fad/ phone/ trend etc. Encouraging people to buy less but choose better quality and to care about where and how the product has been made and its impact on the environment.
What do you want people to know about sustainable fashion?
That there are many stylish and great quality sustainable fashion brands now on the market. Think again before making that quick purchase from the same multi-national, fast-fashion brand and opt for a stylish, eco friendly option. By doing so, you are supporting small, local businesses, getting a great quality long lasting garment made responsibly and from eco friendly fabrics, that doesn’t compromise on the garment or those involved in the manufacture of the garment.
Choose brands that offer transparency in their supply chain and product offerings. Also, choose items that will stand the test of time, opt for classic pieces over the latest fad or trend.
Where to find Gemma Leakey Online
Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future, (2017, http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications).