How to be fashion forward and care about our oceans at the same time


At face value, it would seem that these two areas have contrasting ideologies. Fashion, always new, always the next trend, results in extreme levels of waste, and inevitably, clothing and waste material finding their way into the ocean.

The recent Promenades sur l'eau held at the Vancouver Aquarium dared to challenge that assumption. It was a night celebrating designers who are making a difference within the fashion and conservation sectors. The six designers source their materials locally, creating their products ethically and with the ocean in mind.

Evan Clayton designs ethically made fashion that appeals to the international woman. He focuses on bridging the gap between fashion forward clothing and clothing made with integrity.

Giovanna Ricci takes inspiration from the ocean setting using tulle and lace to conjure the feeling of ocean netting. The clothing is focused on the feminine, and each piece is handmade.

Alex S. Yu pushes the limitations and stereotypes of what eco fashion looks like. He focuses on shapes and colours never previously imagined to be considered eco fashion.

Local Laundry is making waves in the fashion world by connecting their community with their clothing. They have a multi-step plan to become a leader in eco fashion including ceasing all overseas production, which they have already done, sourcing ethical material and reducing their waste and carbon footprint.

NLA Designs focus is on timeless pieces that are made to last. One method of rejecting the fast fashion mantra and be more ocean friendly is to ignore trends and focus on clothing that will be stylish through all seasons. NLA is doing just that, and making all their clothing right here in Vancouver, Canada.

Aileen Lee also focuses on seasonless clothing, only using material that is natural and plant based. It is for the everyday, to be worn and loved for years on end. The clothing is also produced in small batches, reducing the waste of unused clothing.

The great thing about all these designers is that they look like any other piece of clothing. You don’t have to sacrifice style for ocean conservation. The idea that we have to live in burlap sacks to be environmentally friendly is long gone, and this change in what eco fashion looks like will make greater changes in the future outlook of what fashion can be.

Changing perspectives on fashion is desperately needed. One garbage truck of textiles is wasted every second as found by the Ellen McArthur Foundation. With this ‘fast fashion’ trend, 92 million tons of solid waste is dumped in landfills globally each year reported during the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, and with the microplastics from fibres polluting the ocean, we are on a fast track to disaster. Movement is in the works, and we are gaining ground in the zero waste policy for the food industry, and we need to now apply it to the fashion industry.

Many alternatives have been offered to reduce the pressure. Recycling fabrics is an option, but it is resource intensive and sometimes unfeasible when fabrics are mixed, as most clothes are a mixture of cotton, polyester and other materials. A closed loop, circular cycle, where there is no waste and no need for virgin materials, should be the end goal, but a lot of change within the consumer mindset and within the clothing industry is needed.

Further, we need to not only think of how to better recycle, but also how to avoid the need for recycling. How can we change so that we don’t need to rely on recycling to be more environmentally friendly.

Major retailers are making a change as well, H & M is making polyester from recycled plastic bottles and garments made from waste collected along the shoreline. Adidas has a shoe made from ocean plastic, selling 1 million pairs in 2017. These are great gains for conservation, but in the greater perspective of the issue of fashion waste, these have done little to quell the impending oceanic ecological collapse.

Aquafil, a company transforming ocean waste into various textiles advocates for a future where manufactures make a product, the consumer uses the product for a time, and returns it to the manufacturer to make a new product.

We have to change the way we look at clothes, the cheap shirt that is saving you money in the short term is costing the environment in the long term. There are many approaches we can take to change the system.

Be aware of the practices of the manufactures you choose put into making the clothing you buy. Focus on fixing clothing, rather than replacing. Your clothes should be an investment. Look for things that will last years, rather than months. This also includes articles that can be worn in multiple outfits. We can make changes by adopting a ‘capsule’ wardrobe approach, having few essential clothing pieces that don’t go out of fashion, yet are well made. Donating your clothing is a great alternative to just throwing them in the trash, but it’s not a guaranteed way of avoiding the landfill.

As consumers, we hold the power. We can choose designers like the six mentioned above and manufacturers that take into account the environmental impact our clothing has. We can choose to buy second hand or to mend our clothes. If we demand better, retailers will follow.

Sarina Clay-Smith