Back in 1986, environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term ‘greenwashing’ to describe companies posturing as eco-friendly to boost their sales. Three decades later the practice is as prevalent as ever, and blogger Bryan Yambao, known professionally as Bryanboy, has had enough of it. “I’m gonna jump off a bridge head first if I hear about yet another ‘sustainable’ clothing line,” he wrote last week in a tweet which has since been pinned to his profile. “There’s nothing sustainable about creating something new en masse. Just stop. Please. You wanna know what’s sustainable? Wearing your old damn clothes, that’s what. Bye.” His words are aimed squarely at brands co-opting activism to sell products and worsening the ultimate problem of over-consumption, but they also flag up a debate which has been ongoing for years: can fashion ever be truly sustainable?
It’s not hard to see Bryan’s point, and he’s far from the first person to make it. The fashion industry relies on profit, and plenty of companies are willing to bypass human rights and fuck up the environment to secure it. Documentaries like The True Cost have underlined this sad truth in the past, and journalists like Lucy Siegle have pointed out that even brands aiming to make positive change often do so to boost their own sales. Model Lily Cole even went so far as to describe ‘ethical fashion’ as an oxymoron way back in 2011. The catch? Cole herself is the co-founder of – you guessed it – a seemingly now-defunct ‘ethical fashion’ brand.A quick glance at these facts might make you feel nihilistic, frustrated or, like Bryan, metaphorically tempted to hurl yourself off the nearest tall surface, but they only capture a fragment of the bigger picture. Yes, creating huge quantities of new clothing is bound to be bad for the environment. But what about the designers making small collections using ethically-made fabrics? Or the ones reusing and recycling old textiles to realise their vision?
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