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Students hear from industry figures about sustainability and fashion

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Published date
13 March 2014

Alex McIntosh of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion and designers Matthew Miller and Kirsty McDougall discuss ‘understanding sustainability’.

As part of London College of Fashion’s Graduate School Festival, Alex McIntosh of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion chaired a panel discussion titled ‘Understanding Sustainability’, helping students to engage with the topic of sustainability within the fashion industry.

Joining Alex, was menswear designer Matthew Miller, and textile designer and co-founder of Dashing Tweeds, Kirsty McDougall.

There are many different ways to interpret sustainability and Alex spoke about the confusion around what the concept means when related to fashion. The discussion kicked off with Alex addressing Kirsty and Matthew with the challenging task of defining what sustainability means to them and their practice. Kirsty explained that she applied the concept of sustainability in a practical way:

“It’s the making of things, and the process with which you go about it, that is a major part in how sustainable you are. You can have varying degrees of sustainability in the way you make something so you have to think about the way things are processed before they get to you.”

Furthermore, Matthew suggested, there are so many steps involved before you get to the physical garment, that it is difficult to be sustainable throughout the entire process. Therefore, as a designer, you have to make choices and have your own beliefs about which aspects of sustainability you want to focus on most.

Most fashion design students struggle to really consider where the fabric they’re making their garments comes from, implied Matthew. Often, students think they’re being sustainable by using organic cotton, which is actually incredibly harmful to the environment.

“There’s this misconception that if a fibre is natural then it must be good and sustainable. This simply isn’t true, man made fabric, such as Polyester, is actually far better for the environment because it uses less water and chemicals in its production than natural fibres such as organic cotton.”

Alex spoke about the reason fashion is so far behind other industries in technological terms; scientists don’t have the time to develop new, sustainable, fibres because consumers don’t want to wait for them in the context of an ever-increasing demand for fast fashion.

The panel unanimously agreed that the way we as consumers can become more sustainable is by curbing how much we spend on ‘fast fashion’ and by making educated choices about the stores we choose to support with our money.