Behind the threads: unraveling the sustainability of the clothing industry

A few weeks ago we held our first social seminar of the year, “Behind the threads: unraveling the sustainability of the clothing industry”. Each year in the UK alone around 350,000 tonnes of clothing goes to landfill but changes are being made in the fashion industry1.

We were given an overview of sustainable fashion by Justina Adomavičiūtė, who professes not to be an expert in the area despite blogging about it! Twenty minutes isn’t enough time to cover everything but Justina made a valiant effort and received some interesting questions about the psychology behind fast fashion and consumerism.

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Next we learnt more about innovation in textile design from Laura Morgan, a PhD student at the University of Loughborough. Laura’s research concentrates on lasers and the various ways they can be used in textile manufacturing, from the lace-like designs we might associate with laser technology to new and unusual uses such as producing an already washed look on jeans. Lasers reduce waste and energy use in the creation of certain designs so their widespread use could help make some aspects of manufacturing more sustainable.

Paul Yuille, a PhD student from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion talked about fast fashion and how we could move towards a more sustainable fashion industry. As Paul pointed out, change isn’t going to happen overnight but are the methods we are currently using the most effective? Talking about sustainability often makes people feel guilty so if we could teach people to associate how much they are paying for a garment with how many wears they will get from it, for example, this might lead to consumers being willing to pay more for clothes.

After the break we heard from Mark Sumner, a lecturer at the University of Leeds. Mark raised some similar points to Paul using an example from his research involving a coat made from recycled jumpers sold by M&S. Whilst focus group participants liked the coat initially, hearing about what it was made from made them step away in disgust! Mark previously worked for M&S and it was interesting to hear about moves towards sustainability in the commercial world.

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Charles Ross, from WRAP, impressively managed to condense an hour’s presentation into 20 minutes. His talk centred on the production cycle using technical or ‘outdoor’ clothes as an example. Whilst they might be associated with being closer to nature, the production of these garments certainly isn’t doing anything to help the environment; the number of countries and distances that garments travel before they reach their final destinations is astonishing.

To finish off our sustainable fashion event we learnt more about reusing clothes that already exist. Helen Moreton is Retail Manager at St Leonard’s Hospice, a local York charity and she told us about how donations to charity shops are collected, sorted and sold.

Thank you to the GSA community fund and Magic Rock Brewing for making this event possible!

1 http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/valuing-our-clothes

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