As Winter prepares to turn into Spring, 2021 has still not seen the return to the freedom of our former lives that many of us had pinned our hopes on. Instead, the first 2 months of this year have been as confusing and devastating as 2020 turned out to be. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, I have taken an optimistic look at the fashion industry and identified some shoots of hope from my perspective as a fashion photographer for whom the ethics of the industry remain my paramount concern.
Over the past couple of years, I have sought to educate myself further on our climate emergency with particular focus on the fashion industry’s impact on the planet and my role in that as a fashion photographer. I’ll admit that it’s been a pretty grim education. Everything from textile waste to shocking landfill statistics, drought, toxic dyes used and garment workers who don’t make a living wage. Alongside that there is the lack of transparency for all the single items of clothing that are sent around the world to have tiny adjustments made to them before they are even sold. However, I am filled with hope at some of the solutions the fashion market has come up with.
Fashion rental is on the rise and in a market where overconsumption is one of the biggest problems, (according to Oxfam, in the UK alone every week almost 13 million items end up in landfill, that’s 336,000 tons every year) – rental is a promising shift. According to GlobalData, the UK clothes rental market value is expected to reach £2.3 billion by 2029, a fairly dramatic increase compared to the estimated £400 million in 2019. Covid-19 has changed the way we shop and the way we consume fashion. The uncertainty around big events and the changing landscape of the workplace has meant investing in an item of clothing might leave you all dressed up with nowhere to go. With rental, you can wear something once, guilt free. Fashion rental allows us the dopamine hit humans crave whilst acknowledging the novelty and newness the industry depends on, all the while being kinder to the planet. It works for consumers and designers alike; designers don’t have to produce as many items and consumer don’t have to pay full price for an item they wear once or a handful of times. The circular economy within the fashion industry doesn’t end there.
The resale market, particularly luxury resale, has had a huge boom in recent times too. According to Vogue Business, this portion of the market is set to be worth $51 billion by 2023. And for new garments, brands such as Stella McCartney, are leading the charge for investing in new technologies for cleaner production of clothes (such as lab grown silk and re-engineered cashmere) and are not only reducing waste but making the most of it by fashioning offcuts into new clothes too.
I think the most hopeful thing is that these innovations are happening and sparking the conversation. Consumers are demanding transparency and accountability from fashion brands, examining the provenance of their clothes in a way they have never done before. Perhaps Covid-19 gave us all the opportunity to pause, think about our consumption and start to wonder about where our clothes came from. Personally, my goal for 2021 is to play my part in holding fashion corporations to account, both as a consumer and a fashion supplier. Every year since 2014 Fashion Revolution, a collective of stakeholders in the fashion sector, run a campaign called ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ demanding supply chain transparency from large fashion brands and this campaign gets bigger each year.