Book review: Sustainable Fashion & Textiles - Design Journeys

Over the last year there has been a relative rush of books on eco and ethical fashion published in the UK. We think this is an excellent indicator of the public's awareness of how, what, where and whom produced the clothes in our closets. First was Tamsin Blanchard's Green is the New Black and Mathilda Lee's Eco-Chic. Then most recently Kate Fletcher's Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys and Sandy Black's Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox (review coming soon).

For all students of new subjects it's often sensible to start with the general overview and then, as knowledge and interest increase, start digging into the more complex layers. Fortunately the order in which these books have arrived on the shelves has enabled us to do just that. The clear and simple journalistic approach of Blanchard and Lee's books got us off to a good start and now Kate Fletcher takes the reader into deeper waters with her wealth of experience and knowledge built up over the last 15 years working within the textiles and fashion industries.While Fletcher brings her academic background to bear in this book, published by Earthscan, it is certainly not a difficult read. The volume is beautifully put together, with gorgeous illustrations, glamorous images and clear data tables. The eight chapters have been laid out as individual subjects, or 'Design Journeys', which can be read in consecutive order or just as easily accessed by dipping in and out. The first half of the book, chapters 1-4, deals with 'Fashion and Textile Products', e.g. evaluation of materials, ethical production, consumer care, reuse and recycling.

The second half of the book, chapters 5-8, is devoted to 'Fashion and Textile Systems' which explores various concepts of how we can work to, as Kate puts it, "influence the root cause of many sustainability problems." For example, addressing our society's need to consume, the possibilities of working locally, issues surrounding fast fashion and how designers and users can collaborate to create a "more connected and active engagement with fashion and textiles."

In this second half it is particularly interesting to read about the research projects that Kate Fletcher and other designers have been working on to try and develop more eco-friendly designs and consumer attitudes. She highlights Otto von Busch's Reform Project, the do shirt collaboration between do and Droog design, and TreeHugger favourite Alabama Chanin, as well as her own 5 Ways project which developed the 'Updatable t-shirt'.

The key strength of Fletcher's book is her ability to clearly illustrate the complexity of sustainability without making it more confusing. An example of this comes in the first chapter where she goes through an evaluation of each textile group explaining the environmental costs and benefits of each, seeing how they measure up to each other. "Cultivating 1kg of cotton draws on as much as 8000 litres of water (an estimated average across the global cotton crop). In comparison, producing 1 kg of polyester uses little or no water. Polyester manufacture does, however, consume twice the energy needed to make the same amount of cotton."

Fletcher patiently emphasises that there is no one golden ticket to solving sustainability issues in either the production or consumer sectors, but we should look for a portfolio of solutions and "we must design with a more pluralistic, decentralized and diverse view of what our industry can be." As Warren McLaren said in his preview post on this book "we look forward to seeing it help to change hearts and minds in an incredible wasteful industry." There's no doubt that the depth of Fletcher's writing will take people's understanding of 'Sustainable Fashion and Textiles' to a new level.

:: Kate Fletcher
:: Earthscan

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