The People and Environment Awards (PEA) take place this Wednesday in London, celebrating individuals who have demonstrated the importance of sustainability and who are already making a difference ahead of Government and big business. Across the 12 categories, four finalists come from the fashion sector and are heralded in: Entrepreneur, Business and Arts, Music & Fashion.
This representation tells me that underneath one of the most consumer-driven, ostensibly shallow, elitist, and arguable exploitative industries on earth, a movement is brewing and we are witnessing a groundswell of change.
Rebecca Gray, Founder of the website Fresh Cargo, has been nominated for the Business Person of the Year. Gray started the business three years ago with a small start-up grant, sourcing only sustainable and ethical goods. She works closely with social enterprises in Africa and Southeast Asia to develop products for the European market to sell online. These range from handbags made from recycled juice packs, fair trade t-shirts and hemp flip-flops. Gray is up against Karen Lynch, a seasoned businesswoman who took the ethical bottled water company Belu from a hemmoraghing liability into a profit-making business. While Belu’s collaborations with heavy-hitter charities like WaterAid are impressive – as is its reach of 20,000 beneficiaries – I prefer Gray’s small-scale approach to empowering communities through social enterprise.
Sven Segal, CEO and founder of the ecological footwear company Po-Zu, has been nominated for Entrepreneur of the Year. He’s collaborated with Timberland and the more specialised urban cool Maharishi label. As the only creative in this category, he is up against YouGen – a one-stop shop for everything you need to know about renewable energy – and Permanent Publications, which offers a plethora of information about sustainability. These latter two businesses are useful in terms of raising consumer awareness raising and enabling informed choices. But Segal is making his mark with Timberland and Maharishi by collaborating with them on product design that will influence not only how we consume fashion, but more importantly how industry makes recycling integral to product life-span.
In the Arts, Music & Fashion category there are only two nominees – both ethical and sustainable fashion pioneers. Gavin Lawson (pictured above) is CEO of the political streetwear label THTC which he founded with his brother Dru Lawson in 1999. Orsola de Castro founded Estethica, the sustainable fashion platform at London Fashion Week and is herself a designer, owning the luxury label From Somewhere which she founded with her husband Filippo Ricci in 1997.
The judge’s decision between Lawson and de Castro will be tough. de Castro has created an awareness of sustainable design in the high end of the fashion industry through the Estethica platform. As an educator, she is training the fashion designers of the future to carefully consider the impact their products will have on the environment by encouraging zero waste in product design. de Castro is a pioneer of upcycling textiles and over the years has worked tirelessly to progress the aesthetic of ‘eco-fashion’ from dowdy, shapeless entities to fashion forward designs. As a campaigner and a designer, her influence has arguably reached the upper echelons of the Hollywood set. This year several celebrities took on the ‘Green Carpet Challenge’ and wore sustainable gowns to high profile award events. This month’s British Vogue has a feature section dedicated entirely to luxury sustainable fashion.
Lawson is at the opposite end of the spectrum. A founding member of the Ethical Fashion Forum, he is an environmental activist whose street wear label THTC raises industry and consumer awareness about the benefits of hemp as viable alternative to cotton growing. On first glance THTC may seem like just a t-shirt company, but the central tenet to its success has been its uncompromising political message which is disseminated to a mass youth market through collaborative efforts with music genres dub, jungle and hip hop, the visual art of graffiti and the performing art of spoken word. As a brand, it is deeply connected to these urban art forms which reach a wide section of society. As our society’s addiction to fast fashion increases, it is important that labels like THTC which boast a large cult following infiltrate the mass attitude about how purchases on the High Street impact climate change and living conditions for our fellow human beings.
It is interesting that only fashion is represented in the Fashion, Music, Arts category. Granted, Lawson’s work crosses into music and graphic design and de Castro’s work is at the intersection of design and visual art. But why is there nothing on the list from the other leading art forms which have had a rich history of contributing to social and political change, such as theatre or film?
Perhaps it is because clothes are a basic human necessity, something that we should all be entitled to. According to Article 25 of the UN Charter for human rights it is a fundamental human right. If this is to be true for all humanity, well, that’s a lot of resources going to ensure we are all appropriately clothed. The earth’s resources can’t sustain the hideous environmental impact of fast, cheap fashion. As our landfills reach capacity with our binned six-week-old Primark leggings, our rivers dead from the byproducts of denim and leather and synthetic fibres like polyesters and acrylics increasing our dependency on oil, it feels very much to me like the healthy future of the environment is in the fibres in which we chose to clothe ourselves.