On Sunday, 24 March, the R Sustainable Social Enterprise will host a fashion show and an exhibition focused on sustainability practices within the fashion industry. The Student got the opportunity to speak to the organisers, Milda Matilda Lebedyte (she/her), a student ambassador for Fashion Revolution Organization, and Daniela Ioana Antonia Groza (she/her), a student ambassador for the Ethical Making Pledge, about the event and its importance.
When asked about the impact of fashion on the environment and its role in sustainability, Lebedyte said that “fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world because it all comes from petrochemicals. So the main precursors for most dyes is aniline which is super toxic. But sustainability in the fashion industry isn’t just from the materials that are used. You also have to think about the people behind it and the ethics.”
Groza added: “also in jewellery as well, how many people know where their wedding ring comes from? Who is responsible for it or whether someone has been exploited or not? These things are so unknown and it’s so important to raise awareness of the negative things that are happening behind both these powerful industries: mining and textile industries.’’
This is the second year that the two have organised the show. Groza explained that “the idea is that we recruit students from the University of Edinburgh who are interested in upcycling things or are even experimenting with their own sustainable materials. Last year we had someone working with Kombucha, which is a tea that you brew.” Kombucha is fermented using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The microbe forms a layer of fungus growth on the top. “It’s kind of like when a layer forms on top of milk,” added Lebedyte. The mushroom-often called a ‘SCOBY’, can be dried out to produce a thick, leather-like fabric.
Although the fashion show is their most popular event, R Sustainable does much more than just the fashion show. “We’ve become a social enterprise with The Students’ Association through this kind of partnership where they give us support. Because of that, the fashion show is just like one of the events that we’re organising. The fashion show itself is an event that acts as a professional platform for student designers to explore sustainability in fashion and to just kind of look at this topic that is just so current,” commented Lebedyte.
The event itself is more than just a show; there is also an exhibition space. “One reason we had the exhibition space was to show what sustainable fashion can be like. On one hand we had all these conceptual pieces but on the other hand we had a jewellery designer or an actual designer [with] their actual work, so you can go on their website and buy it. That shows how accessible it all is. This year we’ve become even more concerned with this whole accessibility aspect. So this year in our exhibition we’ve got brands such as Finisterre who’s ethos is ‘functionality and sustainability brought to life in an understated style and identity, always remaining committed to product, environment and people,’” said Lebedyte.
The two are very interested in how materials may be converted or used in unconventional ways. “This year, the exhibition focuses even more on material innovation within the field of sustainability. We have artists from all over Europe. We have someone from the Netherlands who makes this bioleather using leftover byproducts from slaughterhouses,” said Groza.
Neither Lebedyte nor Groza ever expected to become passionate about sustainability in fashion and didn’t expect to see the event grow so much, but it did. “Last year we added the exhibition side of things. This year we are doing the exhibition again but we’re also adding – so we’ve partnered with One Cherry, which is an online platform which digitalises local charities. So they’re showing kind of like the best of charity shop items. We’re getting people together to go and style them. That will be a different part of the show at the end,” said Groza.
Lebedyte and Groza are believers in the power of interdisciplinary work. Lebedyte is a chemistry student and Groza is a jewellery designer. Even though their interests might not at first appear related, they are very much intertwined. “We are really going to impact the future. So much damage has been done and it’s in our hands – jewellers, chemists whatever we are – to make a difference, to look at the world from a circular economy perspective, from knowing the roots of the material, to being interested in finding out more about their traceability, but also knowing where they’re gonna end up. Designers need to make sure that the things they are making are long-lasting with a functionable design and are wearable. They always need to take into account materials and use more waste materials that can be transformed and manipulated,” said Groza. “For a collection that Daniela did, she used electrochemistry. I walked in and she was like “oh this is a copper something bath” and no way I just had a lecture on that,” added Lebedyte.
For Labedyte, sustainability is all about protecting the planet for future generations. “In terms of the fashion industry, from the kind of chemistry side – being a chemistry student – I’m interested in all these kind of new strange materials or like there’s a lot of companies out there that try to dye fabrics using bacteria and stuff to reduce water waste. That’s sustainability for me in the fashion industry from a chemistry perspective.”
However, in a world like the one we live in, it can be hard to ensure that our clothes are sustainable, even if we can afford to seek out environmentally friendly clothes. Lebedyte suggests shopping locally and changing your mindset so that you think about the clothes you put on your body in the same way as the food you put in your body – they should both be healthy and sustainable. She adds that this information is out there, we just need to look. The two recommend Finisterre and Our Good Brands, for example.
Of course, sustainability is a matter of socioeconomic class. Innovative materials are expensive to produce and expensive to buy. “The thing is, now it’s expensive but if we are raising awareness of these negative implications, and are trying to make a change, life standards will improve for our future generations,” commented Groza.
There is a role that large companies have to play to improve their impact on the environment and making sustainability accessible. Lebedyte argued that these brands have the resources to invest and so they should: “I was also gonna say that this is where these big brands come into play because they are adopting these new materials but they have to set aside a bigger portion of their budget for these materials because they are more expensive. But for example, lyocell and viscose are both derived from natural materials and they are found in a lot of clothes nowadays. The price difference isn’t as shocking as you’d think it would be.
“I do think that any changes that big brands make need to be gradual. I feel like everybody should be concerned with sustainability because it has all these different aspects – from human trafficking issues to the financial side of the industry to the new material side of the industry – that everybody has their own angle to be interested in but the truth is not that many people know about it yet. So I feel like if brands do make a change without making too big of a deal of it and the person can just go in and buy a sustainable piece of clothing without realising that it’s sustainable, that’s still a win, even though it’s a silent win,” Lebedyte added.
Image Credits: Fernando de Sousa via Flickr