By dumping untreated wastewater, these viscose manufacturers have a devastating impact not only on the environment but on local communities who, the illuminating study found, were unwillingly exposed to toxic waters which were increasing their risk of fatal illness. Research reports like these are emerging frequently, although a willingness by brands to be honest does at least demonstrate a commitment to keep making changes to eradicate these problems. Selfridges is a unique case study as it combines luxury partners with a high street presence, making it perfectly placed to apply pressure to designer brands. The company is well known for taking its responsibilities seriously and, perhaps more importantly, creating innovative initiatives to make the conversation more engaging. The Material World scheme is just one example – a multi-pronged campaign which both champions emerging designers and presents comprehensive information on the ways in which fashion takes its toll on the planet. There’s also Project Ocean , a partnership with ZSL conceived in order to tackle pollution from waste plastic. “Sustainability is not negotiable. If every person on the planet shared the consumption habits of the average European in 2017, we would need three Earths to live on,” explains Danielle Vega, Selfridges’ director of sustainability. “We are committed to playing our part in changing those habits and presenting alternatives, which is why our Buying Better, Inspiring Change initiative is there to draw a line in the sand: by 2020, we will ensure that 50% of our brands are better for people and for our planet under the terms of the United Nations' global goals for sustainable development.” Vega also outlines the company’s intention to put pressure on its partners as well as its plans to label items more clearly – a small step towards enabling consumers to make their own informed choices. The wealth of information available now means that we can start to undo the narrative which tells us we need to spend more on sustainable fashion when, in reality, we may not have the means to do so. There’s an argument around sustainability in the fashion industry which is deeply rooted in class; for those of us working on a tight budget, balancing the desire to invest in well-made pieces and the reality of perhaps needing new clothes for our jobs or our children can present an ethical dilemma.
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