More off why sustainable fashion is an issue lies the question: when did sustainable fashion start? The history of sustainable fashion helps us understand the misconception related to textile pollution and sustainable development’s current challenges. “When did sustainable fashion start?” is not, however, the right question. Let’s discover why.

When Did Sustainable Fashion Start?

Sustainable fashion never started for real. It was a “natural practice”: for our civilizations since the beginning of history. Movements to go back to more sustainable productions resurfaced with Patagonia in the early 1980s; and they have become a trend more recently, due to the expansion of the fast fashion industry.

Uthope has gathered information on the history of sustainability and fashion. History helps us look at how present challenges have shaped the answer to a need for more sustainable alternatives in the market.


There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness

GANDHI

Sustainable fashion is embedded in your DNA 

Since the beginning of civilization, clothes and textiles have always been sustainable. Early in history, men needed to keep their bodies warm during the harshest seasons, and vice versa. Techniques and styles for clothing productions refined up to modern times. 

The more class distinction arose, the more people would rely on more professional figures – tailors- to make their clothes. Gradually, clothes lost their commodity scent and became an instrument to express status or belonging to a political or social movement, as the sociologist George Simmel explains in his paper Fashion

More specifically, clothing started to represent wealth. The wealthiest set the trends, and the less wealthy, to avoid the fear of being cut out, tried to assess 

Early industrialists understood the potential to capitalize on this need for inclusion and used it to make business. In other words, the industrial revolution changed the game of fashion forever. 

Cotton, linen, wool, and other natural fibers, however, were a concern for entrepreneurs. To produce yarn and textile from a natural fiber, textile producers needed at least six months to plant and grow the raw material. In other words, enterprises could not grow extensively and rapidly and keep up to requests.

French scientist and entrepreneur Hilaire de Chardonnet (1838–1924) first understood the need of the industry and attempt to solve it.  As a result, he produced the first-ever synthetic fiber, viscose rayon. With the advent of viscose, in the late 19th century, the industry finally found a solution to lower the costs and times of production of silk. Unfortunately, they could not be aware they generated the perfect receipt for a natural disaster.

It gets clear here that the question “when did sustainable fashion start?” is rather “when did sustainable fashion end?” and what are we doing to resurface it?

Sustainable Fashion vs. Slow Fashion: the 1980s as a Turning Point

when did sustainable fashion start part 1 uthope
Source: Markus Spike – in “When Did Sustainable Fashion Start? “

This first receipt eventually became a book of receipt to destroy our mother earth, especially when scientists launched more synthetic fibers – like polyester and nylon – on market, in the first half of the 20th century. 

While these fibers allowed the industry to explode, and fast fashion to start raising – with H&M – in 1947, people and the planet paid this innovation at a great cost, which, we should notice,  did not bring any significant improvement to people’s life quality. It just gradually gave people the chance to have more clothes. 

It was only in when approaching the end of the 1980s that the United Nations started raising the issue of sustainability, defining this latter as:

“development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. (UNGA, 1987)

The United Nations General Assembly, through the report “Our Common Future,” developed by the World Commission on Environment and Development, started to promote the idea of design, clothes, and productions that are more friendly to the environment and avoid exhausting natural resources. 

The convention laid the foundations for The 17 Sustainable Development Goals set in 2015, and the distinction of fashion between slow fashion, fast fashion, and ethical fashion. This distinction is key to understand to speak about sustainable fashion.

Fast Fashion, Slow Fashion, and Ethical Fashion

Fast fashion is the evil one in the story of sustainable development. Fast fashion is a (negative) term that describes the production of inexpensive clothes attempting to replicate the standards of haute couture by meeting mass-markets demands. These production of clothes are extensive and happen multiple times during seasons. For the clothes to be sold at a very low price, work injustice and exploitation of children and animals often happen in the supply chain of fast fashion firms. 

Slow fashion is the opposite of fast fashion, the good one – at least apparently – in our story. Slow fashion seems to be the one movement that could save the world from textile pollution. Well, not really – since it means business and productions – but you get the idea.

The term slow fashion has come to represent fashion that advocates attention to the planet, animals, and people. Therefore, slow fashion is synonymous with sustainable and ethical fashion, more concerned with the working conditions of people, the environment, and animals. 

when did fast fashion start infographic uthope
Source: Sanvt (2020) – in “When Did Sustainable Fashion Start?

However, these claims are not necessarily true.

Slow fashion brands are brands part of the Haute Couture, who produce less and more responsibly than fast fashion, but this does not make of them sustainable or ethical brands by default.

Sustainable and ethical brands are the ones attentive to the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations in 2015, and that are either attentive to the planet, to the workers, or both.

Ethics with Aesthetics: the 2010s Revolution And the Start of Sustainable Fashion as We Know It

While the UN commission started to delineate new standards and new terminology, the reality continued to be different until recently. 

People remained indifferent to the issue of sustainability in fashion until major scandals related to fast fashion workers’ conditions became manifest. The 2013 collapse of a factory in Bangladesh marked the end of silence and the beginning of a change for the fashion industry as we used to know it. We had to wait until 2018 to see this change accelerated by activist Greta Thunberg.

Greta Thunberg’s environmental activism was indeed key in accelerating the need for sustainable solutions. As a result, several movements and companies opposing Fast Fashion came to the forth and became known under the umbrella of sustainable fashion. Fashion brands and startuppers started to focus on the innovation of the industry and came up with great solutions to the problem of sustainability and ethic of the fashion industry.

Sustainable Fashion Brands and Startups Worth Knowing

Fashion brands and startups understood a key need of the fashion industry: innovation. They found sustainability as the factor driving innovation of the sector and pushing for a more equitable world, too. What most startuppers and brands understood is that sustainability relates to the whole supply chain, not just to clothes.

Here some of the brands/ startups we liked:

E=COOL

E=cool is a startup developing product technology to replace synthetic fibers in collaboration with big research hubs in Europe.

Vegea

Vegea valorizes agro-industry biomass and residues as high-value feedstocks, and we transform them into new materials for fashion, furniture, packaging, automotive and transportation.

Orange Fiber

Orange Fiber patented and manufactures the first sustainable fabric from citrus juice by-products.  Exclusive, silky and ethereal, it is designed to meet the demand of innovation and sustainability of fashion brands, interpreting its creativity and visionary spirit.

Due di Latte

DueDiLatte creates innovative fibers with superior properties. Do you know you can wear milk? From the milk can be produced a soft and pleasant fabric, able to caress and hydrate your skin thanks to the natural high percentage of amino acid.

Piñatex

Piñatex® is one of those rare products of design thinking that hits all the sustainability buttons at once: it is a material that is completely cradle to cradle, it substitutes leather that has a very heavy environmental and welfare impact, and it brings new income streams to subsistence farmers, allowing them to fully utilize their crops. The implementation of Piñatex® will have far-reaching societal and environmental benefits.

RePack

RePack is a reusable and returnable packaging service. When something you purchased online using RePack arrives at your home, you simply return your empty RePack to a postbox.

Tersus

Born in 2009, Tersus has successfully innovated a waterless, closed-loop cleaning system that utilizes recycled liquid CO2 to penetrate deep into fabrics to sanitize and deodorize with the goal of drastically extending the life of textiles across several key industries.

Tipa

TIPA® creates packaging for the food and fashion industry that behaves just like organic waste so that nature won’t even notice you are here.

Let’s Change the Question “When Did Sustainable Fashion Start?” to “Why did Sustainable Fashion Start?”

When did sustainable fashion start, then?

The answer isn’t as easy as it seems, but certainly, we cannot talk about a “start” of sustainable fashion.

We declared the death of sustainable fashion a long time ago, and now are trying to resurface it. This is because of men’s wrong practices that jeopardized the existence of people and the planet.

Therefore, one shouldn’t speak about the start of sustainable fashion, but rather about why we need it.

The question starts with “why did sustainable question start?” and becomes, therefore, “why is it a problem nobody talks about?”

If you’re interested to know more, keep looking at Uthope’s news.

The Uthope team will cover this topic in the next article coming on Wednesday.

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