How the Climate Crisis is Affecting Fashion Students
On July 19th, meteorological history was made when temperatures in some areas of the UK reached over 40 degrees Celsius; the hottest temperature ever recorded in the country. It’s just one of the effects of the climate crisis that’s felt all over the world, through wildfires in Southern Europe and an enduring heatwave in the States. And this isn’t a one-off event: the Met Office has predicted that these temperatures could become commonplace if the planet doesn’t stop warming. In fact, their Chief Scientist Professor Stephen Belcher says, ‘In a climate unaffected by human influence, climate modelling shows that it is virtually impossible for temperatures in the UK to reach 40°C.’, proving that we are the problem.
With this in mind and another bout of sweat-inducing weather on the way, fashion’s contribution to this pressing issue can’t be ignored. The industry accounts for 10% of annual global carbon emissions and 87% of clothes end up as waste in landfill or are incinerated, while your go-to cotton T-shirt uses 2,700 gallons of fresh water – enough to meet one person’s drinking needs for 2.5 years – to make. With plenty more terrifying statistics showing how damaging fashion can be to our planet, FMR decided to ask the designers of tomorrow how this has affected and/or changed their career prospects.
“I think the scale at which we are destroying the planet through fashion has desensitised people. You can hear those words repeated over and over again, and you can read about the facts and figures, but when you really experience it, it’s when you become truly interested in ways you can help make a difference” – Joshua Samuels
Joshua Samuels, University of Brighton’s BA Fashion Design Class of ‘22
Only graduating this year, Joshua has already launched his eponymous streetwear line; crafting contemporary, accessible pieces from upcycled garments. His love of recreating new designs from unwanted textiles started well before his degree, despite exploring “waste, and how it can be reduced or reversed” through his university projects. “I had started learning how to make things on a hand-me-down sewing machine through Youtube,” he says. “I decided that was what I wanted to do with my life, and so studying fashion design seemed like the most intuitive step into making that a reality.”
It was during his studies that Joshua learnt about how unsustainable the industry currently is. “My biggest ‘fucking hell, what are we doing’ moment came whilst interning at an upcycling company. We went on a sourcing trip to a waste-sorting facility in East London. I already knew from seeing their website that they sort through thousands of tonnes of clothing waste – but have you ever seen thousands of tonnes of clothing waste? It is mind-blowing,” he explains. “I think the scale at which we are destroying the planet through fashion has desensitised people. You can hear those words repeated over and over again, and you can read about the facts and figures, but I think when you see something like that and really experience it, it’s when you become truly interested in ways you can help make a difference.” Has it put him off his dream? “No. It did however make me realise where I wanted to position myself in relation to the wider industry. I can’t ever see myself designing clothing from virgin materials again. I think if anything, it has motivated me to really kick on and make a difference.”
“I’m constantly considering sustainability’s growing awareness – I think if more people did, then we could create huge change in the industry.” – Manaswi Akhouri
Manaswi Akhouri, studying BA Fashion Design at Istituto Marangoni
“My favourite part has to be the artistic ability of visualising and conveying your imagination to the world,” says soon to be third year student Manaswi, when asked about what she loves about fashion design. It’s a field she’s had a lifelong interest in, coming from a “drive from within” that meant she couldn’t imagine studying anything else. It has sparked an inquisitive nature that makes her interested in all aspects of creating a garment, but ultimately, she wants to learn about how it can bring different cultures together. “I want to explore how different designers from different cultural backgrounds carry out the process of designing a collection. I want to know if creative thinking is affected by cultural barriers, and explore how being surrounded by people who are deeply passionate and have the same artistic drive inspires style.”
While the climate crisis hasn’t changed the reasons behind why Manaswi wants to design, it has made her think about how she’ll be producing her collections. “I think differently about raw materials or textiles, and I’m more interested in the afterlife of clothing and how to be less wasteful,” she says. “I try to use every bit of fabric by using the zero-waste pattern cutting method. I’m constantly considering sustainability’s growing awareness – I think if more people did, then we could create huge change in the industry.”
“I think there’s a debate between what is marketing, what is genuine and who’s actually greenwashing etc.,” – Jay Lenthall
Jay Lenthall, University of Brighton’s BA Fashion Design Class of ‘22
Crafting his graduate collection from upcycled fabric, Jay learned the importance of sustainable production from the start of his studies. “Almost from the beginning, we were taught about wastage when cutting, the lifecycle of a garment and fast fashion. A lot of my lectures did discuss our current climate crisis and what’s happening as well as promoting ways to change what we do everyday.” This helped instil a sustainable mindset from the get-go, meaning his gender-fluid clothes are planet-friendly. “I also like to play with clothing types that could represent a gender, but it’s taking the generic stereotypes and bending them to something that isn’t necessarily masculine or feminine.”
For Jay, environmentalism is helped by the digital ways of communication and it distinguishes what brands are doing it right and who isn’t. “I think there’s a debate between what is marketing, what is genuine and who’s actually greenwashing etc.,” he says. “Through social media, it’s eye opening to see how sustainable brands are and what they contribute to change.” Either way, he’s still questioned whether he feels comfortable contributing to the industry. “There have been times where I’ve been put-off by the industry’s involvement [with the climate crisis]. I was thinking about what I could be contributing to and to a potential company that’s not environmentally-conscious. But it’s about being strategic with your personal output and knowing what a company is doing to ensure their responsibilities.” Is there a positive side to it? For Jay, it’s making him more creative. “It’s inspiring to learn how to work in ways which reduce what paper or fabric wastage you have left over, and what you can do with that.”
Thank you Joshua, Manaswi and Jay for contributing to this piece.