Sustainability in the Fashion Industry and the CIROS Re-Think Fashion Show

By Hannah Vonberg

Sustainability as a concept is becoming more and more prominent in our society. It is commonly  defined  as ‘meet[ing] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future  generations to meet their own needs,’ and closely tied to climate change and  our way of consuming. Consumerism foremostly triggers ideas about food production and waste,  but naturally also includes all other daily-life products, such as household products, electronics, and fashion. The focus of this article lies on the sustainability of fashion with special attention to the CIROS Re-Think Fashion Show

Many brands have caught on to the wind of change and now market their products in terms of their sustainability and ‘green-ness’. However, these terms are often loosely (if at all) defined. For  example, ‘ethically sourced cotton’ does NOT necessarily mean an environmentally and ethically  sustainable production. These two dimensions, environmental impact of production and ethical  production, are closely linked and constitute the main factors among which brands can be measured  for their sustainability. Environmental impact includes for example the type of fabric, shipping,  chemicals, water usage etc., whereas ethical production focuses on fair wages, a healthy working  environment and quality of life for workers.  

That being said, sustainable brands are a step in the right direction, but what about all the fashion  waste that piles up in landfills? Thrifting and upcycling may be a possible answer. And who says  that designers cannot work their magic on pre-loved pieces? 

This is where the CIROS Re-Think Fashion Show comes in! 

It was founded by the CIROS Goodwill Committee as part of its long-term dedication to fight the  Fast Fashion Industry. The basic idea is that fashion can be done differently (thrifting, upcycling,  swapping, local fashion, etc.), and to demonstrate this in a fun and effective way. A 100% sustainable fashion show was born, curated by a student community with young, talented designers.  The CIROS fashion show was kicked off by an informative video about the fast fashion industry  and introduced some young sustainable designers who try to counter fast fashion trends, showing  off their thrifted and upcycled collections. Some of these designer pieces were also up for auction,  with their proceeds going to the non-profit organisation Re/Make. This NGO has designated its  efforts to demand more transparency and humane working conditions in the fashion industry,  showing that responsible, fair, and comfortable fashion factories are possible. Special attention is  hereby devoted to ‘the invisible women’ within the industry that are usually being exploited the  most, hence needing the most support and benefitting majorly from raised awareness. 

Therefore, in both Re/Make and the CIROS Fashion Show, raising awareness is the number one  goal.  

How can we justify exploitation and catastrophe, like the collapse of Rana Plaza (Bangladeshi  factory) in 2013? As Lucy Hall, a UK-based Re/Make ambassador, states in a video message, there is still no real change. As the low-earning average person is being conditioned to ‘want more and  more’, responsibility of brands to deliver anything cheaply has been and will remain low. Most workers in the textile industry are women of colour, aged 18-24, which makes them more  vulnerable to racial and cultural stereotypes, leading to even stronger repression. With COVID, the situation has only worsened. The horrific state of factories (no light, dirty bathrooms, no breaks, etc.) and their often repressive owners force an increased risk of infection among workers. Additionally, many of these workers are  paid extremely low wages, making it even less likely for them to get sufficient health care

Last but not least, the devastating environmental effects of the fast fashion industry (microplastics,  chemicals, deforestation, fossil fuels, intense water usage, etc.) have to be added onto the human  cost that workers and mostly developing countries (where factories are mostly situated) pay.

Lucy Hall called the fashion industry a ‘micro-cosm’ in society – this couldn’t be more true, and  should inspire us to tackle overproduction and overconsumption more fiercely. 

In this field, young designers with fresh ideas can and do make a difference. The CIROS Re-Think  Fashion Show collaborated with five design students (Zoe, Paula, Fadzlid, Hannah, and Ana) that  give their own spin on sustainable and uniquely re-worked fashion. This quick summary of their  work shows the variety of approaches to sustainable fashion. 

Zoe directly links the memory of Rana Plaza to her work by combining Saris with Western  garments (such as denim) in her new collection. Her message is that we all have the power to  change the industry without behaviour, and that raising awareness is a crucial step in this. Paula, with her new collection titled ‘Replay Fashion’, creates fashion out of vinyls and leather jackets. This is her way of expressing a wish for more re-working and for the responsibility that young designers have to change the toxicity of the fast fashion industry. 

Fadzlid combines all kinds of fast fashion fabrics into patchwork pieces, following the style of e.g.  a traditional japanese working pants and kimono. Important for him is the wrapping style and  sizing of the pieces, so they can be passed down to the next generation (and be repaired easily due to the pathwork style). His main message is to repair and not replace clothing, and to respect  craftsmanship in the clothing industry more, which has been lost in the age of fast fashion. Hannah aims for a more inclusive and sustainable fashion industry and uses flowers to communicate her message. Her collection is dyed with natural dyes, using flowers or vegetables (such as red cabbage). Furthermore, she only uses natural fibres, which soak up the natural dyes much better and stand for her main goal for the fashion industry: a symbiosis of nature and modern technology. 

Ana’s focus is on pre-used clothes and other textiles, aiming to re-use what’s already available.  Textiles based on craftsmanship (such as knitwear) can, according to her, play a big part in  upcycling. Her conception of young designers’ role is playing an active part of the change that is  needed in the fashion industry right now. 

With all this information, and an auction in which bidding went up to €150 for the young designers’  pieces, the CIROS Re-Think Fashion Show has provided a fun as well as informative overview on  the world of fast and sustainable fashion.  

The issue of fast fashion, linking environmental and human rights aspects, remains incredibly  intriguing and one of the major challenges for years to come. And there is light at the end of the  tunnel – our own choices have the power to transform society for the better. 

Edited by Karolina Hajna, artwork by Emma van den Nouweland