Stylists have a distinct vantage point in the fashion industry. The competency of a stylist in today’s date and time can be measured by his or her ability to select pieces that can make one feel great both aesthetically and ethically. Fashion’s environmental impact is huge, and with the daily news headlines of catastrophic landslides, floods, melting glaciers and forest fires, the word sustainability is no more a buzz but central to the conversation.
Let’s not forget that the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, just after the oil industry. The vast degradation of soil because of maddening use of chemicals to grow cotton has led to deforestation and global warming which is a major threat to global food security. On the other hand, dumping microfibers and toxic wastewaters, from textile factories in to the river, has led to water pollution, thus risking aquatic lives and health of countless people living on the river banks. Many fast fashion brands uses synthetic fibers to make our clothes, which are made from fossil fuel and that has led to hazardous carbon emission – no wonder, after coffee and juice bars, paid oxygen bars are becoming a rage in many countries now.
There are solutions and possibilities to attenuate these problems. Stylists should embrace Ethically justifiable, Environmentally conscious and Economically viable options. They should conduct themselves with irreproachable morals, and educate their clients of the brands that mislead them in the name of sustainability. Collaboration is the key here, where stylists, designers and other creative professionals come together with a shared common goal of sustainability.
An expert stylist is a natural story teller, which means the narrative should be transparent, impactful and headline-making. Support ethical emerging home grown labels with zero waste approaches that fit into the bigger picture. Compile a list of these labels. Let your clients fill an e-questionnaire to get a better understanding of what’s important to them? Identify the labels from the list that align with their needs and personality. Meanwhile, help these brands and labels to build the story, a radical change that transcend our present reality of conspicuous consumption.
Recycle and up-cycle, let’s make vintage, hand-me-downs and rentals more acceptable, it has to be a cultural movement. Sustainability is very much ingrained in Indian culture, think of those moments when women in your family borrowed clothes and jewelry from each other. If you work with celebrity clients encourage them to revisit past red carpet looks. The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton champions sustainability, she is well known for re-wearing her pieces. If you work in fashion editorials, use pieces that can be stylized in many different ways or you can even re-introduce past season’s looks. Our daily waste can be materials from which we can create amazing pieces for shoots.
The relationship between fashion, craft and sustainability is undebatable. In the context of India, the country boasts of diverse artisans, weavers, and craftsmen. Craft often embraces pre-industrial process and organic materials, most of which are within the cycle of eco-system. Endorse, empower and promote the work of these indigenous artisans and communities. It can help create job opportunities and at the same time give the community a reason to preserve their heritage which is consistent with the principles of sustainable future.
Another dark reality is that much of our discarded clothes simply end up in landfill. These clothes in landfill decompose and releases greenhouse gases. Instead of falling in the trap of unbridled capitalism, encourage your clients to get their clothes sewed and mended by a next door tailor, allow them to embrace imperfections – it has its own beauty.
The future of fashion is circular, which means every stage of clothes, accessories or footwear is cyclical, it combines fundamentals of sustainability. Imagine beautiful embroidery on top of a stubborn curry stained white kurta or a royal steward plaid patch on top of a ripped denim jacket; it’s therapeutic, mindful, satisfying and truly sustainable. Customized digital boutique is another option where a stylist can curate outfit ideas for the client by using images from their existing wardrobe pieces
The popular fast fashion brands make pocket friendly and trendy clothing, but don’t forget we have blood on our hands. These clothes are made by the people who work under hazardous conditions, who are not even paid the minimum legal wage. It has been eight years since Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh; a massacre of 1,134 precious lives, a price of unethical fashion business model. The disaster marked momentous shift in the conversation around sustainability, supply chain, human rights, and adherences to environmental policies.
Ask questions that matters – who made our clothes and under what conditions? Fashion Revolution, the not-for-profit global movement, calls for a fair, safe, clean and transparent fashion industry. A stylist can easily contribute by incorporating these positive changes in their day to day work. The pandemic has changed our lives, but at the same time it has given us the much required pause to critically reflect upon our creative practices. It’s time we propel this conversation into the public discourse and the mainstream, turn it into an opportunity to be the change we want to see.
The writer is an Assistant Professor, Fashion Styling and Image Designing at School of Fashion, Pearl Academy.