The current exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art asks: “Is Fashion Modern?” Looking at the industry’s main materials you would have to answer “no”. The global wardrobe of cotton and polyester (invented around 80 years ago) spells ecological disaster.
World Bank statistics state that 26.3 million tonnes of cotton will be produced this year (almost triple the level of the 1960s). “If there is one single crop to be elected for its most disastrous effects on natural water flows and water quality in river basins, cotton has a good chance of winning,” says Arjen Hoekstra in The Water Footprint of Modern Consumer Society (2013).
Meanwhile, according to the World Resources Institute, polyester production releases greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 185 coal-fired power plants every year.
We supplement our material world with a smattering of other damaging fibres including leather, the primary driver in the destruction of the Brazilian Amazon biome.
To avoid ecocide, it’s not enough to make these materials less bad. It’s time to replace them. Enter the radical disrupters coming up with alternatives, such as orange fibre and apple leather (made from food waste). Fashion Tech Lab, a venture capital fund for innovations aimed at slashing fashion’s footprint, is leading the way.
How, for example, do you take the cow (with its thunderous footprint) out of a pair of leather shoes? Researchers for US startup Modern Meadows have discovered a way of biofabricating leather by brewing collagen (a protein found in cows’ skin) in a liquid form.
These innovations are still some steps away from the average wardrobe, but suggest that finally fashion really is getting a modern makeover.
The big picture: are we losing our shared spaces?
A congested planet and the privatisation of land are explored in Is This a Wasteland?, a performance by Charlotte Spencer Projects. A choreographer, Spencer specialises in large-scale outdoor pieces and this one takes place on disused land between a historic flour mill and London City Airport – which is soon to be developed. She asks how we decide what a piece of land is worth, what makes us feel as though we belong, and what is happening to our shared spaces and communities (charlottespencerprojects.org).
Well dressed: ‘peace’ silk and seashell sequins
Among those in the new vanguard of ethical fashion, Italian designer Tiziano Guardini is one to watch. Recently presented with the Emerging Designer Award by Naomi Campbell at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards in Milan, Guardini was marked out for his ‘ultra chic’ look. Guardini’s winning dress was made from organic ‘peace’ silk, produced without harming the silkworms, which are usually killed in the process. He also used recycled nylon and hand-embroidered sequins made from upcycled seashells and discarded CDs. Previous award-winning designs of Guardini’s have included a dress made from pine needles and a piece made from liquorice root. His next collection will be at Milan Fashion Week in February 2018, which is part of his prize, along with a mentorship scheme with Value Retail. Green Carpet Fashion Award, tizianoguardini.com
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