By Emily Smith
Sustainability. It’s a word that we all frequently use when thinking about living, lifestyle and dietary habits. But what does it mean? “Sustainable” is the idea of conservation, preserving resources and re-use. As we enter the new year of 2023, we bring with us the resolution of sustainability (as we do every year) but it is usually tangled up with the “new year, new me mentality”.
This year it is paired with “Veganuary” and the idea of eating ethically to better our bodies, improve our health, eliminate those toxins within us as well as doing right by the planet. Whilst we focus every year on what we put in our bodies and the impact that that has on the environment, we must now think about what we put on our bodies and its consequences on the planet.
“New year, new me” sees everyone scramble to change their looks, right down to their bodies. We all see on Instagram and Pinterest those picture-perfect, matching yoga-sets in pastel colours with coordinating trainers and we all want to buy them in the aim to look like those models. We’ll even go so far as to change our entire wardrobes in the attempt to be “that girl” but in doing this, we have created more and more waste. To use my example of gym-wear as it is January, we want it now because we need the motivation of going (our motivation being we need to look good) to the gym, so more of us buy into “premier delivery” to get the look now. We also don’t want to pay for our fashion and our fashions change constantly with the trends and thus we search for cheap clothing options, clothing made in sweatshops in economically deprived countries knowing we will only wear it a handful of times. This is what we understand as fast-fashion, and it is out of control; with 8% of yearly greenhouse gas emissions caused by the fashion industry.
But are we beginning to see a shift? In the same way sustainable living is fashionable, ethical, on-trend fashion statements are emerging. “Sustainable fashion” is a whole new market. Faye Lessler defined sustainable fashion in the Green Dreamer as “clothing that is designed, manufactured, distributed, and used in ways that are environmentally friendly”. As Lessler notes, fashion doesn’t need to be wasteful or harmful, it isn’t simply neutral, earth tones and linen fabrics either. However, there is the perception that eco means expensive if it is to be trendy and it puts people off, particularly young people, and it is those young people who will be the ones to feel the effects of fast-fashion on the environment.
So, can sustainable fashion be done on a budget, and can it be done stylishly? Yes, but you must do your research. As Whitney Baucker says: “regardless of what your background is, we can all agree on some really basic things—no one should die to make a T-shirt, and we shouldn't be pouring toxins into our planet.” To extend this, regardless of your background we should all have access to fashion that makes us feel good in ourselves but of course prevents these tragedies, saves the planet and in fact celebrates our environment.
Here then are my top favourite sustainable and affordable UK brands:
Lucy&YakCute, colourful, and individualistic, Lucy&Yak design their statement dungarees in Britain with 98% of their fabrics organic or recycled. 100% of their cotton are GOTS certified (Global Organic Textile Standard), their polyster is recycled from plastic bottles, and their closed loop fabric is made from seaweed and wood pulp, making it 100% biodegradable. Their website is incredibly candid regarding the materials and dyes used for their fashion, but what’s amazing is they show the faces behind the clothes and the gloss of the brand too. They have 13 UK based employees always paid the national, living wage and though the pieces are manufactured in India, the Indian team and their individual story has been pasted on their website for the public eye to view. They are just a part of the brand as the UK team. What’s more is Lucy&Yak do more than dungarees! They do tops, tees, dresses, skirts, even fleeces, all with their signature vibrancy – and at a great price, so us students can get our unique flare across on the cheap.
This is a Brighton-based company with all its pieces made from fabric scraps (all vegan) and their cut-offs too are used to make accessories. They are very much a part of this slow-fashion market by only producing two collections a year refined to just 10-15 styles whereas Zara despite their Join Life labels, are producing 3 billion garments a year. Not only are Ilk&Ernie sustainable, but they are also ethical. Every year their left-over samples and unused garments are gathered up and redistributed to the homeless in Delhi, reinforcing their brand messaged: “we are fashion forward without compromising ethics”.
Note: as a student, they seem rather expensive, but their sales and the quality of their clothes are insurmountable – a great place to nab a sustainable bargain.
Gung Ho possesses all the elements of high fashion without the pollutants with all the garments couture, statement pieces with artistic patterns and architectural silhouettes. They are a stand-out. Based in London, this brand has global sustainability as its paramount value. Navigating the website, you don’t simply shop by item or collection you shop by cause e.g., The Worldwide Tribe, Plastic Oceans, Precious Insects to name a few. The fabrics used in their pieces instil that environmental awareness as they use Rgenesis Light Satin (recycled plastic bottles), Silk Tencel (regenerated wood cellulose) as well as GOTS Certified Organic Cotton and Azo free, Oeko-Tex certified inks. They have recently, like Ilk&Ernie, set up the scheme called “Gung Ho Reworked” in partnership with Make Do & Mend, where offcuts and old garments are made couture as well as being “100% up-cycled, 100% impact free”.
Hand in hand with their fashion are their campaigns. Each year a new societal and/or environmental issue is explored through the artistry of the garments they create. Finally, amongst their customer loyalty scheme, they’ve partnered with One Tribe meaning that for every 1 person who signs up to their mailing list, they save 100m² of Amazonian Rainforest.
So, let’s not have sustainable fashion as simply the next best thing as just another collection in fashion’s history catalogue. Whilst sustainable fashion brands like the ones listed are the ultimate way-in to eco-friendly, stand-out fashion, you can never be more sustainable then buying second hand. Whilst charity shops are the absolute ideal space for this, making your own clothes or simply wearing the clothes you have until you can wear them no longer is the best way to make your wardrobe go farther and the planet last longer.