Welcome to the blog of the course and textbook Facing up to global warming: What is going on and what you can do about it. This course is run by Professor Nick Gray of the Trinity Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Is green the new black?

Is green the new black? 

Every year, during the Spring/Sumer and Autumn/Winter Fashion Weeks, fashion houses showcase their latest designs, setting the tone for the latest trends and fashions. High street shops take note of the up-and-coming trends, and produce affordable alternatives to the luxury brand pieces. While these products may save you money, the cost of mass-clothes production on the environment can be over whelming. Many of the materials used for the production of both high street and luxury brand clothes are non-sustainable, and can have a hugely negative impact on the environment.

According to Green Choices, the environmental impacts of materials used for clothes are varied. Nylon is unsustainable in that it takes between 30 and 40 years to decompose. In addition, the production of nylon results in the formation of nitrous oxide (commonly known as laughing gas). Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas, and is 310 times more potent than CO2.

Viscose, a major component of both high street and luxury brand clothing, is an artificial fibre made from wood pulp. To make space for the plantations needed to generate wood pulp many forests have to be cleared, causing huge disruption to the natural fauna and flora in the area. The trees planted for wood pulp are often eucalyptus, which draws up large amounts of water through its roots. This causes problems in regions where water is scarce, and will disrupt the soil and vegetation surrounding the plantations. Cotton uses more insecticides than any other single crop. Each year, cotton producers use more than 10% of all pesticides and 25% of all insecticides globally.

However, while growing enough non-organic cotton for one t-shirt uses 257 gallons of water, the benefits of organic cotton are huge. The Swedish high street fashion house H&M are the world’s largest user of organic cotton for the second year in a row, and they should be commended for this. It would be fair to refer to H&M as a model company for sustainable high street fashion. In December 2012, the company launched an incentive to recycle old clothes. For every every bag of old, ripped, or stained clothes returned to the store, you receive a voucher for H&M. There is also their conscious foundation, which, according to their website ‘aims to improve the quality of life of people in the countries where H&M operates’.

Stella McCartney SS’13, Paris Fashion Week 2012
(Image source: Her World Plus)

Stella McCartney is renowned for being an activist for the environment. None of her products use real fur or leather, and she is a campaigner for animal rights. However, the Stella McCartney fashion house is part owned by the PPR Group, which owns other fashion houses, including Gucci, which don’t sanction the use of fur.

One of 60 totes by Yves Saint Laurent,
made of partially recycled
plastic bags
(Image source: Ecouterre)
Some progress is being made in luxury brands and their use of sustainable and eco-friendly materials. An article in Ecocuterre written in April 2012 outlined how the PPR Group had uncovered a five-year plan to reduce its environmental and social footprint. One piece featured in the article, was a bag by Yves Saint Laurent. The Muse Two Artisanal Recycled handbag is made from recycled plastic bags and organic cotton, and retails at $1,720. Only 60 were made, and bags could only be purchased online. I really felt that this was a shame, as the price already limits the potential consumer range. Having samples of the bag in store allows it to be seen by a wider audience and further promotes the message that sustainable fashion is in.

British model Lily Cole
(Image source: My Fashion Life)
In my opinion, shopping in second hand and vintage stores is one of the most practical methods of ensuring you’re dressing sustainably. The clothes have already been produced, and by buying restored, donated or vintage clothes, you’re not putting pressure on the environment in terms of more clothes being produced. Shops such as Lucy's Lounge in Dublin offer a fantastic range of affordable second hand and vintage clothes, and most charity shops are a hub for affordable, second-hand finds. Siopaella is a personal favourite shop of mine; you can pick up luxury and high-street brands in mint condition for a fraction of the original price. It’s an environmentally sound way of shopping and it will save you a small fortune. Thanks to initiatives such as Red Carpet Green Dress, the use of dressing sustainably is becoming more and more fashionable (pun intended). Promoting both the benefits of sustainable fashion, and the consequences of unsustainable clothes production is vital in ensuring that green will permanently become the new black.

Kate Purcell


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