Sustainable Fashion: Past, Present and Future

Sustainable Fashion: Past, Present and Future
Authors: Jennifer Farley Gordon and Colleen Hill
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Price: US$34.95 (£20)
When you choose to buy an item of clothing, does the motivation for that choice run any deeper than ‘because I like the colour’? Do you wonder about the chemicals used to create that colour? Is any consideration given to the work conditions of those who stitched the seams?

The authors of Sustainable Fashion: Past, Present and Future, both curators at The Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, hope that you will consider these questions after reading their book, and become a ‘conscientious consumer’.

Focusing on the history of the relationship between the environment and the fashion industry – an industry employing over 40 million people worldwide, and, according to the book, one of the world’s largest polluters – the book scrutinises each stage of the clothing manufacturing process in regards to its environmental impacts.

This article was taken from Issue 80

The authors’ passion for sustainable fashion is conveyed in a way that is neither formal nor didactic, but is still quite effective and accessible. The museum curators gently take us by the hand, and guide us on a historical tour of sustainable fashion, beginning with the early 19th century through to modern day.

Although looking in depth at the production process, the unifying theme is that ‘an understanding of how our clothing is made is essential to changing production methods for the future’, and a deeper understanding of the past is crucial if we are to truly look forward.

Many topics are explored in the book, including recycling (in 2013, for example, 75 per cent of textile waste was simply thrown away or incinerated) and past and present child labour practices (drawing parallels between the young children seen in the 19th- and 20th-century factories, and those today working in the clothing factories of India).

The human cost of producing cheap clothing is examined, begging the question of whether you can have inexpensive clothing without causing suffering. This is a pattern seen throughout the book. Subjects are explored, questions are asked, solutions are suggested. But ultimately, the reader is asked to go out into the world and make their own decisions on how they can make a difference.

The book is aimed at fashion students – its layout, photographs and pitch make it a successful academic text. It is a springboard from which they are invited to delve deeper into the subject. While the book won’t change the minds of those unconcerned about the origins of their favourite jumper, it shines a soft light on the darker side of the industry.