WORLD OCEANS DAY 2018 – Friday, June 8;
THERE IS NO MAGIC FIX FOR COMPLEX OCEAN THREATS. BUT THERE ARE SIMPLE STEPS YOU CAN TAKE RIGHT NOW TO BE PART OF THE SOLUTION.
In April, at a Net-a-Porter event where the online retailer’s trends for this autumn were presented, one of the most popular accessories was not a leather handbag by Gucci or a leopard-print, high-vamp shoe, but the black Net-a-Porter.com-branded “keep” cups that the coffee was served in. At least one fashion editor was witnessed shouldering her way over to the bar muttering: “I just need one of those cups!”
Fashion fans are followers and consumers. If something’s in, hip, hot or cool they will want it and they will buy it. And if it’s not, they won’t. So when Lucy Yeomans, editor-in-chief of Net-a-Porter’s glossy publication, Porter magazine, says – as she did over the phone this week – “Plastic is not cool” then plastic should be afraid. Very afraid.
In the lead up to World Oceans Day on Friday, Yeomans will be at the United Nations in New York with Parley for the Ocean, an organisation tackling the global plastic crisis, to discuss how plastic pollution is destroying the environment. The current issue of Porter is dedicated to this cause (while still also dedicated to selling luxury fashion and accessories), done in collaboration with Parley, and guest-edited by its ambassador, the model Anja Rubik.
Subscriptions issues of the magazine will be delivered this month in paper rather than its usual plastic packaging – and once the company has used up all its remaining stock of the latter, it will move to using paper packaging on a permanent basis. It’s part of a commitment that the company has made to rid itself of unnecessary plastic. Its fashion shoots are now plastic-free zones – no throwaway bottles, coffee cups or cutlery, and so is the office. “I can’t see a single plastic bottle on any desk in here,” says Yeomans, who is also global content director for Yoox Net-a-Porter group.
But it’s going to take more than a plastic bottle ban to counterbalance the part the fashion industry has played in what Erik Solheim, the UN environment chief, writing in The Guardian this week, called a global “plastic calamity”. Each year it extracts more and more raw materials from the earth to make innumerable virgin plastic products – fabrics, zips, buttons, the many components of shoes, trainers and bags – that will end up in landfill or at the bottom of the ocean where they take centuries to decompose. That’s just one aspect of the problem.
“We now know there is a real issue in the the shedding of microfibres during the wash cycle for synthetic fibres,” says Livia Firth, environmental campaigner and founder of the sustainability consultancy Eco-Age. “Many low-cost, fast fashion brands have blended synthetics into billions of products, on the basis of cost. There is a big job to do in re-establishing natural fibres.”
A really big job – particularly given that shiny, plastic-y look – vinyl, PVC and glossed up leather – is a key look for 2018.
Parley’s founder, Cyrill Gutsch, has said that designers and brands need to wean themselves off the “plastic drug”. The organisation advocates a policy of avoid, intercept, redesign: stop using virgin plastic; collect “ocean plastic” accumulated at the bottom of the sea; recycle it into new materials and textiles.
A number of established designers and brands are listening. Stella McCartney, who worked with Parley in 2016 to make ocean plastic trainers for Adidas, now uses recycled polyester and Econyl – a regenerated nylon made from industrial plastic, waste fabric and fishing nets – in certain accessories and outerwear, with a commitment to stop using any virgin nylon by 2020.
Last year, H&M used the equivalent of more than 100m plastic PET bottles in recycled polyester throughout its products. It also launched its first garments made from recycled shoreline waste, a new material named Bionic and collaborated on a project in Indonesia called Bottle2Fashion, which turns recycled plastic waste into polyester.
Marks & Spencer has set itself “a simple goal” of using plastic in its business only where it has “a clear and demonstrable benefit”. Those plastic covers on the 500,000 cashmere jumpers it is selling? They are coming off. This summer it has launched a recycled polyester packaway mac made with 50% recycled polyester, sourced from used plastic bottles. This is part of its sustainability plan, which commits to making at least 25% of clothing and home products from reused or recycled materials by 2025.
But while these are all good moves, in terms of scale they are almost negligible. This year Adidas announced that it had sold 1m pairs of its ocean plastic trainers. Sounds great. Except that the company produced 403m pairs of trainers, according to statista.com, in 2017 alone. Where are those 403m pairs of trainers going to be by 2019? Wardrobes or landfill?
“The challenge for the future is to create a world where brands make a product, consumers use it and then return it to the manufacturer to make another product,” says Giulio Onazzi, CEO and president of Aquafil, a company that transforms plastic ocean and landfill waste into textiles. “For me this is not just about avoiding the use of plastic. There needs to be a fundamental shift in how we approach the design of products. We have to think about the end of life – what happens when the garment is finished with? If it is going to end up in landfill or filling our oceans then we should not be making it.”
Yeomans is happy to play her part in delivering a similar statement. “Aside from the practical issues, the messaging is one of the most important things that we can deliver,” she says. “As members of the fashion industry, I hope that with what we do this week and going forward, we can use our influence to establish that plastic is not fantastic.”
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