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The Rise of Conscious Fashion

In the mid- to late eighties, brands like Patagonia and ESPRIT began leading the movement. It wasn’t long before luxury labels like Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood brought conscious to couture.

Today, our well-known high street brands and retailers are introducing mindfulness to the masses and conscious fashion brands are popping up all over the place. Conscious Fashion has been whispering out a quiet revolution for years, but now we’re shouting about it. What changed?


Fashion is a million year-old gown bedecked with the dazzling jewels of evolution. It appeals to our most basic drives, taps into our need for conformity and our desire to attract attention. It connects us with the outside world. We use it to express who we are and how we feel. It plays with our emotions and transforms us. Fashion is an art form, it’s a time machine – and it’s fun.

As technology began weaving its way into our lives, the world of fashion started to fall apart at the seams. The internet brought about radical changes. As a result, we had a surge in curiosity and awareness.

Everybody’s Talking

Media coverage of scandals through documentaries such as The True Cost or Stacey Dooley’s Fashion’s Dirty Secrets got everybody talking. Activists such as Lucy Siegel and Ellen MacArthur are now being heard.

We’re no longer oblivious to what goes on behind the scenes of one of the largest industries in the world.  No more can we be fooled by the built-in obsolescence of Fast Fashion and the careless “throw-away” culture it’s created. Our ignorance is fading and we simply cannot dismiss the impact our self-indulgence is having on the world.

Fashion Is Polluting Our Planet And Our Minds

We know that every step in the process is having a detrimental effect. Growing cotton, producing synthetic fibres, chemically treating fabrics. Using harmful dyes or production processes that are heavily reliant on water. We’re aware of the wholesale ruination of wildlife, water pollution and scarcity. We talk of carbon emissions, and the fact our non-renewable sources are depleting at an unprecedented rate.

The high time and cost pressures imposed on all parts of the supply chain can lead to workers suffering poor working conditions with long hours and low pay. Many workers face dangerous working environments. They are often exposed to hazardous substances. Modern slavery, child labour, sexual violence are issues being dealt with on every continent.

From Local to Global

Our new found insight is making us want to be conscious of the circumstances in which our purchases are made. We’re becoming more and more socially, environmentally, ethically and ecologically orientated. We’re voting with our wallets.

Our marketplace has gone from local to global overnight. We now have access to anything and everything from anywhere, along with all the insight we could possibly need to make an informed choice.

Conscious Consumers

It’s no longer a push-pull economy. Consumers are cracking the whip and businesses have no choice but to fall in line with our increasingly heavy demands. We don’t just want something aesthetically pleasing, of high quality, that fits well and is priced reasonably. We now also want it to come with a whole host of ethical and sustainable credentials. Conscious fashion has crept its way onto the catwalk.  

At first glance, fashion and consciousness may seem like two fundamentally contradictory concepts. The former is defined by hedonism and short product life cycles. The latter implies ethics, durability and the reuse of products. But conscious fashion has actually been whispering out a quiet revolution for many years.

It’s A Movement

Ethical, sustainable, fair trade, slow, green and circular are just a few of the hundreds of adjectives used to describe a movement that is now well and truly under the spotlight. It’s a philosophy that goes beyond attempting to highlight or correct a variety of perceived wrongs in the fashion industry. It’s not about aiming for, or claiming to be perfect.

It thinks for the longer term in everything from design, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. It covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, waste elimination and animal welfare.

The goal is to create a system which can be supported indefinitely in terms of human impact on the environment and social responsibility. It’s about brands and consumers acting with critical awareness. Being a vehicle for much needed mindful change in a mindless world.

Fashion Brands Focus on Sustainability

In the mid to late eighties, brands like Patagonia and ESPRIT began leading the movement. It wasn’t long before luxury labels like Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood brought conscious to couture. Today, our well-known high street brands and retailers are bringing mindfulness to the masses by incorporating sustainability into their business culture, brand values, products and supply chain.

H&M is a well-known example. It has been seen as a high street leader with their Conscious Collection that uses recycled and organic fabrics. They’ve also launched a sub-brand called Arket. This focuses on slow fashion and durable products and in an effort to be more transparent they’re listing their factories on their websites.

Nike wants to double its business while halving environmental impact. An ambition that will be achieved through innovation. The brand’s Flyknit technology produces 60% less wastage than traditional flat pattern production as the fabric is literally knitted. Flyleather uses 90% less water and has a 90% lower carbon footprint whilst being five times more durable and 40% lighter than regular leather. 

North Face has collaborated with Spiber to develop a parka made of faux spider silk. Nudie Jeans are stocking organic denim and offering a repair service to reduce waste. Zara has installed collection bins across all stores in China to encourage recycling.

Sustainability is in Style

Every player in the industry, big or small, is scrambling to keep up with its breakneck pace of development. Unpredictability is the new normal. The global economy is uncertain and digital disruption is everywhere. Sustainability is in style and transparency is on trend.

Traditional business models and longstanding brands are now being replaced by technology-driven start-ups. By innovative business models, niche brands, powerful pureplay e-commerce players, online marketplaces and more.

These conscious, tech-savvy brands care about people, products and our planet s much as they do about profits. They’ve replaced sales-focused marketing campaigns with honest conversations.

Some brands focus on supply chain traceability. Others on zero waste, paperless processes, using organic cotton and paying fair wages. Leather and fur are being replaced with eco-friendly materials. New marketplace models are being invented that give small artisans a chance to be seen and heard.

It’s a crucial time for the industry. We’re at tipping point for mass changes in mindset, a global conscious awakening and with the help of technology, the conscious fashion revolution will be here to stay.

This article was written for, the world’s leading Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) magazine dedicated to retail & fashion industry news.


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