Fashion

What Dressing Sustainably Means in 2020

By Rosanna Falconer
21.01.20

Image: Holly Falconer

As sustainability takes centre stage in conversations across the fashion industry, Rosanna Falconer shares her tips and tricks for what dressing sustainably means in 2020. 

 

“We have been casual about our clothes, but we can get dressed with intention. It is time to really care.” - Dana Thomas

Dana Thomas’ Fashionopolis was top of my Christmas reading list. The book examines how the industry reached crisis point, trading a gargantuan $2.4-trillion-a-year globally but with corresponding social and environmental casualties. To cite two statistics that I highlighted: only 2% of fashion’s employees earn a living wage (even though it employs one in six people globally). As for the environment: the industry is responsible for 10% of carbon emissions and 20% of all industrial water pollution annually. Sobering facts that begin a comprehensive exposé with Thomas’ brilliant balance between the realistic and the optimistic.

FashMash with Livia Firth. Image: Holly Falconer

My takeaway from the book is one of urgency but also green shoots and possibility. This was underlined by the speakers I interviewed at the FashMash events series in 2019. Eco-Age’s Livia Firth was the most popular talk ever, attracting more than 250 guests. In a year when she told The Guardian that the fashion industry has “turned a corner finally” on sustainability, it was an honour to be joined by her to pick apart its developments, future and exactly what is holding it back.

Our society is measured on economic growth. GDP is how we understand prosperity. Each quarter, executives report to a board, measured only on growth of the bottom line. How does this tally with sustainability? “You cannot have business growth sustainably today. If you want a business in 10 years and haven’t thought about environmental and social issues, you’re a fool. Raw materials are getting scarcer. People we’re enslaving are on the street protesting. If you want a future, you have to rethink.” Arizona Muse backed this up the following month: “We need to start rethinking things like the wealth in the world. Owners of business own so much compared to workers. The elite are getting richer and richer.” 

It’s clear that brands must change from an age-old profit drive. As for the consumer, through talking to peers both in and out of the industry, the overall attitude seems to be one of confusion and guilt. My FashMash co-founder Rachel Arthur told me: "Fashion feels like an absolute minefield right now. The challenge is lack of information and greenwashing. The main thing I’m feeling right now as a result is a huge amount of guilt. And it’s not just for fast fashion, it’s for buying anything at all.” Then I have friends who work in the city who are cash-rich but time-poor and challenged by the conundrum. One successful solicitor told me: “Shopping sustainably is a time and energy privilege as much as anything.” She cited the fact that she cannot reconcile trawling secondhand shops or trying to find rental options in her size after a working week over 60 hours. 

How then to dress in 2020? I’ve gathered some options which dovetail with the solutions Thomas proposes in her final chapter, ’To Buy or Not to Buy’. Which will you be choosing this year?

Long-term Love

Image: George Ryan at House of Hackney

Timeless style taps into #30wears: buy less, repair, treasure, upcycle and wash with care. We all need to curate a personal style that considers the values of the clothes and the companies behind them. My own is a far cry from the cliché of elegant neutrals… For this article, I’m keen to show a different side to investment fashion, beyond the camel coat or the white shirt. I am drawn to colour, prints and joyful detailing - just the traits fast fashion uses to tempt the consumer with its barrage of newness. But on the other hand, these are just the kind of characteristics that will gain you compliments for decades to come when in the hands of a talented creative.

Image: George Ryan

One such designer is JJ Martin of La DoubleJ, a woman whose contagious enthusiasm and positive approach to life inspires me endlessly. The brand is made in Italy, its garments do not go on sale and the shapes carry over from season to season. JJ told me: “Clothing that I won’t throw out at the end of a season or end of a year is what timeless dressing really means. I actually wear the same things everywhere and what makes the “dress up” difference is simply switching a comfy sneaker with a jewelled flat, or adding the brilliance of an important jewel near the face. Suddenly you’re sparkling.” Here’s to sparkling. This Jennifer Jane dress was named after JJ herself. I love its volume and flounce; I know it will work for years to come, wherever those years take me.

Image: Holly Falconer

2019 also marked the arrival of new brands on the block built with sustainability at heart. Marfa Stance has fast-gained renown for its wardrobe essentials that layer and convert. One garment presents many possibilities. This reversible quilt embodies its ethos: it can be worn in six ways and customised to various climates and occasions. I am wearing it here on the pink side, an unexpected hue for a classic coat, and I’ve buttoned in a collar (crafted from 100% Italian merino shearling byproduct). Another day, I might choose to flip it over, exposing the jaunty yellow and copper, or add a hood. Georgia Dant, company founder, told me: “I believe we have to think about how clothes can be worn as part of our lifestyle not just bought for a thrill, on a whim and worn once. Timelessness doesn't have to mean dull either. Whether it is a classic shape in a fun and unique colourway that won't date, or a playful shape in a timeless colour, finding the balance is the key for longevity.”

Pre-loved

Secondhand, vintage, thrift: whatever you call it, the success of circular, easy-to-use and affordable platforms like Depop to give clothes a second or third life is Gen Z catnip, as I discovered when interviewing the marketplace’s head of community Steve Dool last year. Secondhand has become particularly important to me since pregnancy. Early on, my go-to dresses were redundant thanks to my penchant for a cinched waist. Determined not to purchase maternity wear (a resolution I have stuck to), I created an eBay alert for 1970s Laura Ashley skirts with an elasticated waist. A tip for the aforementioned time-poor: these alerts are a must. Set up a detailed description and let the site’s data do the work. This one (pictured) was £17 at auction; I can still wear it at nine months, with the waistband moved much lower, and a Sheep Inc sweater for January.

Image: Moeez Ali

At the other end of the spectrum, I visited the glorious by appointment boutique of William Vintage. Less shop, more meticulously curated gallery, I discovered original Alexander McQueen catwalk pieces and Chanel haute couture from the 1920s. Sourced from private collections around the world, its clientele includes Rihanna and Meghan Markle. The allure of vintage hit the celebrity radar in the noughties for its originality (Renée Zellweger knew no-one else would be in her Jean Dessès 1959 yellow gown at the 2001 Oscars). Now, there is the circularity of it too.

Image: George Ryan at House of Hackney

This Jean Varon dress dates from the 1970s. I love it in all its emerald green and empire waist resplendence. I can imagine it worn as much by Stevie Nicks as Florence Welch, dancing through the decades.

Image: George Ryan at House of Hackney

Sharing The Love

Another recent discovery? Rental. 30% of my wardrobe is now rented on HURR. Whether peer-to-peer, subscription or wholesale, the UK rental revolution hit the headlines last year, showcasing various business models. Friends have asked me everything from the hygiene of rental (most companies take charge of all cleaning and repair for a fee) to the feeling of seeing another woman in your dress (personally, I love it, provided it fits!).

Victoria Prew, co-founder of Eco-Age Brandmark rental platform HURR, told me over lunch that education was one of her biggest learnings of 2019: “Rental is still a very new concept in the UK and explaining the benefits can take a little bit of time. The more people learn, the more likely they are to rent. Getting members over the first hurdle is the hardest part!” This year, she plans to introduce HURR to key cities across the UK - and “focus heavily on the professional women who use our platform. Our members are smart, savvy professional women who are simply looking for a smarter way to shop.”

Alongside holiday and special occasion, this dress falls into an area that cries out for rental: maternity. At a time when a woman’s body changes weekly, what a relief to hire a beautiful design like this. Mother Rose is HURR’s first step into maternity and the start of many more, no doubt. I have paired it with a long cardigan by Ryan Roche, an American designer who supports responsible manufacturing, working with a women’s cooperative in Nepal as well as low impact production in America and Italy. 

From rental models to responsible manufacturing, we are presented with new, exciting ways to dress in 2020, each fighting against unsustainable tradition. Here’s to companies and consumers embracing them, so they become the norm rather than the novel.

With thanks to House of Hackney for location; a lifestyle brand with a fascinating eco manifesto

 

Discover the best websites for secondhand shopping.

HURR, By Rotation, My Wardrobe HQ - browse the rental platforms awarded the Eco-Age Brandmark.

Rosanna shares her experience of finding the perfect vintage gown for the Green Carpet Fashion Awards, Italia.

What Dressing Sustainably Means in 2020