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Fashion & Style

‘Plastic-free’ fashion is not as clean or green as it seems



We have all become more aware of the environmental impact of our clothing choices. The fashion industry has seen a rise in “green”, “eco” and “sustainable” clothing. This includes an increase in the use of natural fibres, such as wool, hemp, and cotton, as synthetic fabrics, like polyester, acrylic and nylon, have been vilified by some.

However, the push to go “natural” obscures a more complex picture.

Natural fibres in fashion garments are products of multiple transformation processes, most of which are reliant on intensive manufacturing as well as advanced chemical manipulation.

While they are presumed to biodegrade, the extent to which they do has been contested by a handful of studies. Natural fibres can be preserved over centuries and even millennia in certain environments. Where fibres are found to degrade they may release chemicals, for example from dyes, into the environment.

When they have been found in environmental samples, natural textile fibres are often present in comparable concentrations than their plastic alternatives. Yet, very little is known of their environmental impact.

Therefore, until they do biodegrade, natural fibres will present the same physical threat as plastic fibres. And, unlike plastic fibres, the interactions between natural fibres and common chemical pollutants and pathogens are not fully understood.

Natural and plastic fibres have similar structures. From left to right these fibres are wool, cotton, and polyester.
Author provided

Fashion’s environmental footprint

It is within this scientific context that fashion’s marketing of alternative fibre use is problematic. However well-intentioned, moves to find alternatives to plastic fibres pose real risks of exacerbating the unknown environmental impacts of non-plastic particles.

To assert that all these problems can be resolved by buying “natural” simplifies the environmental crisis we face. To promote different fibre use without fully understanding its environmental ramifications suggests a disingenuous engagement with environmental action. It incites “superficial green” purchasing that exploits a culture of plastic anxiety. Their message is clear: buy differently, buy “better”, but don’t stop buying.

Yet the “better” and “alternative” fashion products are not without complex social and environmental injustices. Cotton, for example, is widely grown in countries with little legislation protecting the environment and human health.

Intensive irrigation of cotton plantations in the deserts of the western Soviet Union prevented water reaching the Aral Sea, leading to the drastically low levels we see today.
Milosz Maslanka/Shutterstock

The drying up of the Aral Sea in central Asia, formally the fourth largest lake in the world, is associated with the irrigation of cotton fields that dry up the rivers that feed it. This has decimated biodiversity and devastated the region’s fishing industry. The processing of natural fibres into garments is also a major source of chemical pollution, where factory wastewaters are discharged into freshwater systems, often with little or no treatment.

Organic cotton and Woolmark wool are perhaps the most well known natural fabrics being used. Their certified fibres represent a welcomed material change, introducing to the marketplace new fibres that have codified, improved production standards. However, they still contribute fibrous particles into the environment over their lifetime.

More generally, fashion’s systemic low pay, deadly working conditions, and extreme environmental degradation demonstrate that too often our affordable fashion purchases come at a higher price to somebody and somewhere.

Slow down fast fashion

It is clear then that a radical change to our purchasing habits is required to address fashion’s environmental crisis. A crisis that is not defined by plastic pollution alone.

We must reassess and change our attitudes towards our clothing and reform the whole lifecycle of our garments. This means making differently, buying less and buying second hand. It also means owning for longer, repurposing, remaking and mending.

Read more:
Fixing our throwaway fashion culture will take far more than a 1p tax

Fashion’s role in the plastic pollution problem has contributed to emotive headlines, in which purchasing plastic-fibred clothing has become highly moralised. In buying plastic-fibred garments, consumers are framed complicit in poisoning the oceans and food supply. These limited discourses shift accountability onto the consumer to “buy natural”. However, they do little to equally challenge the environmental and social ills of these natural fibres and the retailers’ responsibilities to them.

The increased availability of these “natural” fashion products therefore fails to fundamentally challenge the industry’s most polluting logic – fast, continual consumption and speedy routine discard. This only entrenches a purchasable, commodified form of environmental action – “buying natural”. It stops the more fundamental reassessment of fast fashion’s “business as usual”, that we must slow.

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Fashion & Style

Viktor & Rolf Fall 2000 Couture Collection




Editor’s note: As we feel our way forward in this new world and way of presenting fashion, it seems a good time to revisit Viktor & Rolf’s poetic and perception-altering fall 2000 couture show. Their idea was to embellish clothes with bells. (Their jingles created the “soundtrack.” ) Heard, but not seen, the models progressed through a dense fog, gradually emerging into sight at the end of the runway, creating a sense of mystery. Guests were alerted to their presence first through sound; the visuals followed.

Forget the idea of immediate gratification—the designers instead gifted the audience with the thrill of anticipation, allowing guests time and space to create their own romantic fictions around the fantastic fashions. Here, 21 years later, the story of the collection—as told by Viktor Horsting.

[Looking back at our work], I’m always pleasantly surprised how there are certain themes that keep coming back and that are of interest to us, like the theme of the immaterial; trying to express something beyond the garment itself, something that goes beyond a presentation of a look of the season. That’s a recurring theme. Then I also smile at how naive we were.

We thought that if we started with couture, which is the top of the pyramid of fashion, the pinnacle, we could always go down; but it would be much more difficult the other way around. Obviously we didn’t answer to any of the requirements of the Chambre [Syndical de la Haute Couture] at the time, and still they allowed us on the calendar. It was partly idealistic reasoning starting at the top, and also it was something that we were somehow able to pull off. We did not have the resources to do a ready-to-wear show and ready-to-wear collection, with the production and the distribution and all of that. We didn’t have that, so we thought, ‘Okay, let’s start in couture and then take it from there.’

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Fashion & Style

Portraits of Honor: Mural in Athens will commemorate local veterans | Living




Portraits of Honor: Mural in Athens will commemorate local veterans | Living |

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Fashion & Style

Best Men’s Exercise Shorts




Most years, summer signals a return to shorts. My favorite shorts to wear are exercise shorts. They’re comfortable, lightweight, sweat wicking for when it’s hot outside, and I can go right from working at home to exercising in no time. Because this year is the summer of exercise shorts, we’ve rounded up some of our favorites to help you find a pair you love, too. 

Outdoor Voices Rektrek Shorts

Ten Thousand Session Shorts

The Session Shorts are what shorts should feel like. “After wearing the Session Shorts for a few workouts, I became acutely aware of the flaws all of my other shorts possessed. I began to realize that my older pairs of shorts would leave red marks on my skin, or give me an uncomfortable amount of wedgies (sorry, it’s true). The Session Shorts have fit like a dream from the first time I wore them to the last, and the fabric is soft, durable, sweat wicking, breathable, anti-chafe and odor-free.”

This lightweight short from Lululemon is an excellent option. They have four-way stretch technology, are sweat-wicking, and can come with either a five inch inseam or a seven inch inseam. They are designed for yoga, which means they offer excellent flexibility and range of motion, so you’ll never feel restricted.

Nike makes an excellent pair of shorts. These are specifically designed for running, but they are lightweight and made from a woven fabric with increased breathability and sweat-wicking properties. The soft brief liner provides support where you need it, which is important, whether you’re running or not.

Scouted relentlessly tries new products and scours the internet to recommend the best things for upgrading your life – so you don’t have to. Whatever you’re looking for, we’ve got you covered

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