What Role Does Fashion Play In The War On Plastic Pollution?

Charney Magri, Amanda Johnson and Emma Priestland, moderated by Olivia Pinnock, debate the issue of whether fashion can change its practices for the better when it comes to tackling plastic pollution.

As many of you are aware, sustainability is one of the key themes that emerged from fashion week this season. We are witnessing quite a few fashion labels, diving a little bit more in-depth into the issue of how fashion can change its practices for the better. Last week Wednesday, Olivia Pinnock, founder of Fashion Debates, invited me to attend a discussion on “What Role Does Fashion Play In The War On Plastics?”

The panel: (L to R) Emma Priestland Charney Magri and Amanda Johnson.

Taking place at The House of St Barnabas in Soho, London, the expert panel discussing key issues was made up of Charney Magri, Amanda Johnson and Emma Priestland. Charney is a fashion photographer who has worked for the likes of British Vogue and Ralph Lauren. Now turned documentary maker, she is the co-founder of Fashion 4 Change. Amanda is a curator and educational consultant at The Sustainable Angle, an organisation that will be hosting the 8th Future Fabrics Expo, a trade show of sustainable fabrics, between 24th and 25th January 2019 at Victoria House in London. Completing the trio was Emma, who works for Friends of the Earth, a charity that recently announced their new campaign tackling plastic pollution caused by the fashion industry.

“83% off our water contains plastic microfibres including our bottled water.”

As the panel took to the stage to a fully packed room, Olivia started off the evening by showing Charney’s new mini-documentary ‘Catwalk To Creation’. The short explored the impact of fashion on our environment. As it ended, Olivia asked, “Who do you think are the main culprits causing the biggest pollution in the fashion industry?” Not looking to point the finger, the panel agreed that it wasn’t a question of who is the biggest polluter but more about the facts that are commonplace in most fashion brands. Explaining further, Emma shared that plastic is used in almost 60% of textiles. So if this is the case then we need to find a solution to this rather than point the fingers, maybe ‘invisible’ plastic could be a viable solution. Amanda added, “Recycled fibres cause problems, so therefore we need to first look at how we can stem the problem we have with microfibres.”

Adidas x Parley: Adidas created the world’s first shoe upper made entirely of recycled ocean plastic and gillnets.

Turning the conversation around from the problem with plastic pollution in the fashion industry to what solutions are readily available, Emma shared: “There is no clear solution at the moment. But we have put a list of things that people can do to help promote change. The solution should also come from the industry. We need to push it forward, put urgency on it and educate consumers.” Taking the mic from Emma, Amanda said, “Changes need to come from consumers as well as retailers. Action has to be taken on both sides. We all need to do something about this because it has reached a critical level.” As the audience nodded in agreement, Charney served a fact that got our attention, “83% of our water contains plastic microfibres including our bottled water”, then she added, “So when it comes to a solution, we need to look one level deeper and love, mend, share our clothes. Also, be more aware of what is in your clothes.”

Design for a Lifetime Not For a Season

As I pondered over the fact that our rather pricey Fiji water could contain plastic microfibres, Olivia threw another question at the panel, ‘Is recycling waste and plastic a viable solution?’ “It’s great that the fashion industry is dealing with the plastic waste we have now. But we also need to avoid using plastics too. Parley is doing some great things. So really there is a lot of effort and investment in plastic waste,” said Amanda. To which Emma added: “There is a danger that people will think that using recycled plastic is a solution, but it isn’t a solution at all. Plastic waste taken from the ocean absorbs a lot of chemicals from the ocean. Sometimes I wish I was a chemist and that I could check it myself but what happens to the chemicals when you wear a garment made out of this plastic?”

“Recycling plastic is great, for now, we cannot recycle our way out of plastic, we need to reduce it.”

With Emma’s words about chemicals in recycled plastic being a potential issue still ringing in our ears, my first thought was we would wear those garments made of recycled plastic, giving them contact with our skin. The message I heard loud and clear was that we need to phase out plastic except for the essential use of plastic. Although recycling plastic is great, for now, we cannot recycle our way out of plastic, we need to reduce it.

ALSO READ: 5 Companies Tackling Plastic Pollution As They Race To Make Their Products More Sustainable

The conversation between the trio about how we can eliminate plastic from the fashion industry continued for a further 15 minutes before Olivia winded down the debate by asking the panel to share some advice that we can take away with us. Emma’s message was clear, educate yourself. “People don’t really know that their clothes are made from plastic. Polyester is plastic. The problem is that, unfortunately, plastic-based clothes are the most accessible to most people.” Charney pushed for people to not only to buy less but buy better, “If you are going to buy something cheaper try and wear it more than 30 times.” Amanda, the champion of ethical materials, shared that although polyester is plentiful, it is not in fashion’s future. Adding that Acrylic (normally used in fake fur) is the worst fibre you can use and she would advise PU over PVC as a leather alternative because “PVC is toxic so I would never recommend it.” With those words, the discussion came to an end that was quickly rewarded with a round of applause from the audience.

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Founding Editor in Chief at FashNerd.com | editor@fashnerd.com | Website

Founding editor-in-chief of FashNerd.com, Muchaneta is currently one of the leading influencers writing about the merger of fashion with technology and wearable technology. She has also given talks at Premiere Vision, Munich Fabric Start and Pure London, to name a few. Besides working as a fashion innovation consultant for various fashion companies like LVMH Atelier, Muchaneta has also contributed to Vogue Business, is a senior contributor at The Interline and an associate lecturer at London College of Fashion, UAL.