26 Apr 2010

Existential Anxieties of a Plastic Bag (or Green is The New Black)

This affecting little film called Plastic Bag, by Ramin Bahrani, is part of a collective of shorts grouped as Future States, a free online project by the Independent Television Service.

Struggling with its own immortality, a discarded plastic bag (voiced by brilliantly peculiar German film director Werner Herzog) ventures through the environmentally barren remains of America as it searches for its resting place in the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch.’ Sigur Rós keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson does the score. ACE.

The bag is Wall-E for the post Al-Gore Western world, for an audience suffering from its ecological-anxiety in episodes as short as this film.

Plastic Bag has inevitably got me thinking about
sustainability, particularly as a trend. So, as this is a fashion blog, let’s talk about eco-fashion.

It’s a no-brainer really, but as background, eco-fashion is part of the growing trend for
sustainability; a design system which promotes environmentalism and social responsibility in fashion. The idea is to reduce the ecological impact of the product by using sustainable materials and natural fibres and more responsible methods of production. This includes using fewer chemicals to turn raw materials into textiles and fewer pesticides (hence organic cotton, which incidentally only represented 0.03% of cotton production ten years ago). Worringly, two-thirds of a garment’s carbon footprint will occur after its purchase.

There’s no denying eco-fashion is a big trend now and that’s a big reason why it sells. Trends will always have a bigger impact than social conscience, so
if Natalie Portman wears vegan or Emma Watson designs Fair Trade/organic , you want, right?

But surely the fact that fashion with a conscience is trendy right now isn’t a bad thing? If anything can tap into the Zeitgeist, it’s fashion. And whatever helps.
Bob Geldof may be a mildly irritating figurehead for world poverty, but you can’t deny he raised a fuck-off load of cash for Ethiopia in the ‘80s.

Here’s how some designers define ‘Sustainable Fashion’:

Frida Giannini, Gucci creative director:
“Quality items that stand the test of time – it is this concept of sustainability, symbolised by a timeless handbag that you wear again and again, and can pass on, that I am always thinking of when I design.”

Oscar de la Renta, designer, brand founder:
“Sustainable fashion implies a commitment to the traditional techniques, and not just the art, of making clothes. I work today in the same way that I first learnt in the ateliers of Balenciaga and Lanvin 50 years ago. We need to ensure that the next generation of seamstresses and tailors have the skills necessary to develop clothes that are not only beautiful but extremely well made.”

Anya Hindmarch, designer, brand founder, and initiator of the “I am not a plastic bag” initiative:
“I would define the ideal as locally sourced materials that don’t pollute in their creation or demise (preferably recycled) and with limited transportation to achieve the completed product.”

So you can see how some minds in fashion are still very much still motivated by their own designs and ‘brand’ as opposed to re-aligning the fashion world with our rapidly depleting natural resources.
Hindmarch is on the money.

Even the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at LCF doesn’t seem quite convinced itself of the position of sustainability in the industry. “Supporting industry through transformation through sustainable business development.” Mmm…I’m confused, is this eco-fashion or self-motivated protection in light of economic change?

Eco-fashion has trickled down to the high street in the same way high-end design does. But in a transient high street world,
I’m not entirely convinced that selling/buying organic cotton t-shirts in Primark is any solution to the problem, given that the ethos of the shop is ‘buy today, throw away and buy another next week.’

Is this really more responsible than not shopping there at all? In fact,
do you even NEED another t-shirt produced by a slum-worker in Bangladesh for 13p an hour? Plus, they’re usually about 5% organic, rendering them almost entirely pointless. But then I couldn’t argue that sustainability should not be promoted on the high street. Like I say, I’m not convinced.

See video at

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