Commissioned and published in the CSM Public Newspaper (, Pg 45

Winning group for BA FDM and FJ pathways, LVMH project. Photo: Paul Cochrane

With production, distribution and marketing, the global fashion industry is hurting the environment by becoming increasingly unsustainable. The amount of waste disposal and outsourcing of workers and materials in production is fast polluting the name 'Fashion'. Each year, CSM’s fashion programme run a number of dedicated projects to explore and analyse the crucial issue of sustainability. This year, two project strands were devised bringing fashion communication and journalism students together with fashion design students. For the duration of Sculpting Utopia: Transforming Fashion industry insiders and outsiders Pauline Bohl, Senior Sustainability Manager at Marc Jacobs and fashion designers Christopher Raeburn and Walid al Damirji of By Walid, talked with students, generously providing expert insight and information.

Utopian Sustainability

The brief for Sculpting Utopia (the fashion design and marketing project) asked students to design, market and address, in terms of journalism, the idea of a utopia that had sustainable solutions, focusing on resources, lifecycles, recycling and design systems. LVMH sponsored fabrics from brands such as Bulgari and Loewe for students to then reuse and recycle into their own designs. Some of the final work was exhibited in the windows that face onto Kings Boulevard, the busy walkway that runs from Kings Cross to Granary Square. ‘In House’, the winning group, looked at the idea concept of nudity and the nature of dress, set in a dystopian future in which household items became items of clothing, creating a new form of sustainable fashion and up-cycling consumer waste.

“Through this project, I really became more aware of how unsustainable the industry is, especially as most consumers have very little knowledge of where their clothes come from.”

- Sanjeeva Suresh, BA Fashion Journalism student.

The Ethical Fashion and the Kering Group: Sustainable Fashion' challenged students to explore how luxury brands could raise and maintain an aspect of sustainability through design and promotion. Students from the Knit and Print pathways, working in teams with Fashion Communication and Promotion students were assigned brands from the Kering group such as Gucci, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and Bottega Veneta and developed concepts of sustainability for their assigned brand. Each group produced a short film, four finished outfits, two handbags, press releases and a group presentation work to display the stages of creation. The work was then presented to Marie-Claire Daveu, the chief sustainability officer for the Kering group.

“This project really puts you in the mind set of professional work, especially as we were working with existing brands within the Kering group.”

- Lydia Chan, BA Fashion Communications and Promotion student

Winning group for Stella McCartney, BA Knit, Print & FCP pathways, Kerring Project. Photo: Melanie Ashley

NATALIE CHUI goes to American Apparel and H&M to examine their sustainability schemes.

Images by Natalie Chui and Collage by Kathryn Rust

“Fast fashion” is dubbed fast fashion for a reason, its production, packaging, selling, disposal is all a cycle of repetition and efficiency is the main target. The goal of this cycle is to be the first, the cheapest, the fastest and the trendiest. Once a new trend is announced, high street stores will have it in stock by the morning. Thus, slowing down is not a term in the high street’s vocabulary. As a result, this cycle of fast fashion has increasingly deepened the systems fatal flaw of unsustainability. The increasingly high rates of production has resulted in many unethical practices happening within the industry, often going unnoticed, especially in the use of poor materials and the employment of cheap labor. Thus, in an attempt to shed its unsustainable image, two high street retailers, American apparel and H&M have all implemented sustainability schemes to help give their brand a green edge to its production and consumers. But is this really an attempt to enforce green living or just plain old green washing in order to inject higher profits?

American Apparel, the American high street clothing store, with several UKL and international branches, dutifully noted by the countries plastered on its shopping bags, has always prided themselves as a ‘sustainable’ retailer. Despite its recent announcement of going bankrupt, American Apparel is alarmingly popular amongst today’s 15-25 year old girls, especially due to its aggressive social media. Since 2002, American Apparel has advertised their sustainability, saying they are ‘made in America’ and in ‘sweatshop free’ environments. These slogans can be found on their storefronts and advertising campaigns, which are often spread over their facebook and instagram page. American Apparel’s factory is based in Los Angeles, which is a stark difference to other high street retailers whose factories are based in south east Asia or China due to lower costs. American Apparel’s clothing is priced slightly higher than other high street stores like Monki or H&M due to the ‘sustainability’ of their clothes. Zoe Suen, a 19-year old fashion blogger, worked as the media consultant for American Apparel, where at the age of 16, she was paid £1,160 a month to run their instagram account. “American Apparel’s clothes are more expensive than other retailers like Monki and h&m, but that’s because their clothes are made of good quality, so that justifies the price.” Suen says. “I have to admit it does make me, as a shopper, feel better when I see that its ‘made in America’ and ‘sweatshop free’ because it makes me feel like I’m wearing something that’s been cared for. I think sustainability makes up for a big part of the brand, its always been on their posters, and they sell simple basics, encouraging you to buy good quality clothes you can keep for a long time.”

Due to the fact that their factory is based in one place, it’s easier to trace back the clothing to the source; however, there are many gaps in its system. They aim to create organic products with the ‘organic collection’, a line of t-shirts and underwear produced from 100% USDA Certified Organic and pesticide-free cotton. Yet the organic range only holds 16 products, including men’s, women’s and children’s, c actually only making a small portion of the entirety of what’s in store. American Apparel’s factory workers earn USD$18.50 an hour and supposed health benefits, a significantly higher fee than what most retailers pay their workers. Yet this masked a bigger problem in its unethical and highly sexualized advertising often featuring teenage girls in a Lolita style fashion, as created by former CEO Dov Charney. Ultimately resulting in the downfall of American Apparel, with sales declining 19% in the last quarter. Paula Schneider, the new CEO of American Apparel was hit with controversy after garment workers were seen hitting a piñata filled with candy, made in her likeness. Those involved called it a ‘protest’ against the unfair firing of three workers, including one that was the leader of a union that fights against worker injustice within American Apparel.

Despite that its made by well paid workers, American Apparel’s fame is due to their provocative advertising of their clothing, especially to its target of teenage girls. And unfortunately, its sustainable factor only plays a secondary act to the general consumer. American Apparel may brand ‘made in America’ and ‘sweatshop free’ all over their stores, but like its small print on the upper left-hand corner of their infamous store banner, sustainability makes up for only a small part of American Apparel.

H&M is arguably one of the biggest high street retailers with international stores world-wide and branches into fragrance, furniture, make-up and many more. Though H&M prides itself on ‘fashion and quality at the best price’, price is more of an area they focus on as H&M is infamous for selling cheap, trendy clothing. In the past years however, they’ve begun to introduce more ethical initiative into their production and their advertisement. In 2014, H&M introduced the fair wage method, developed by the fair wage network in three factories (Bangladesh and Cambodia, as seen on most H&M labels), to help pay sweatshop workers fairer payment. H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson reported that through this ‘Overtime has been reduced by 40%’ and that ‘wages have increased’. H&M also have another green initiative called ‘H&M conscious’, a line of clothing that has all been made sustainably, especially focusing on using organic cotton and recycled polyester and retaining the original pricing structure of H&M’s own clothes. Although H&M conscious is only a small amount of clothing produced by H&M, its growth has risen from its start in 2012 when 9% of all materials used were sustainable. In 2014 the number rose to 14%. However, H&M’s most recognized scheme is its garment collection. “I know that H&M’s got this recycling scheme, where you can give them clothes so they use the fabric in their own designs” says Amber, a 20 year old Australian living in London responded as she exited H&M with plastic shopping bags. “ I feel better about giving it to them because it’s easier than throwing it all away and it seems like such a waste to do so.” The garment collection scheme has been implemented into all h&m shops, yet it almost seems as if it were part of the Christmas decoration, stored away in tight corners next to clothes with the same #hmconscious signs displayed over them.

Ultimately these high street stores are big corporations and although these initiatives have been enforced, high street stores will continue to produce high volumes of clothing at a fast pace so they can make the most profit out of what they’re doing. The more clothing being produced, the more difficult the traceability behind the garment becomes and these stores are unlikely to go completely eco-friendly overnight. However, if the initiatives are any indication, it’s that sustainability in fashion is starting to become a more recognized issue in fashion. But until then, consumers need to be made aware of the green washing happening and its hidden nature reveals the shame in the “sustainable” shopping of high street stores.

Published on for Who's Jack London

There was a strong sense of uniform and alliance in Maharishi’s SS’16 collection with models clad in caped hoods, draped robes and various head gear, yet despite the heavy military influence and frequent use of camouflage, Maharishi’s soldiers are not fighting for war, but for peace. Creative director and founder Hardy Blechman explained that “One of the strap lines we’ve used is pacifist military design and that is what its about for me. I’m heavily inspired by military clothing only because of its utilitarian nature, its hardware, its practical aspects, that’s one side of it. The other side of it is through the use of camouflage, which through deep research, comes from natural history developed by artist.” Taking a strongly identified pattern as camouflage, Maharishi’s collection have made the point of turning it into a beacon of peace. Blechman further explained that “It’s not really the domain of the military. Those two things coupled with the fact that there’s such an enormous surplus of military uniforms that allows for a great toolbox for recycling. All these things really draw me towards the military and their clothing so much so that I think its necessary for me to make it clear that I’m pacifist.”

For this collection, the influence in religious behaviour was particularly strong and reflected through the colours of the collection. Initially the collection began with hooded designs that were worn in head to toe white. Blechman referred to taking white, a colour strongly identified with themes of purity, as a ‘spiritual pureness’. The collection then moved into a burnt orange that was molded into caped and hooded robes that swayed along the catwalk. “The orange is the standard colour for a Thai Buddhist monk robe. It’s also the beacon colour within the US army so the reverse of a MA-1 flight jacket is the same bright orange that a Thai monk wears” Blechman said as he spoke about the incorporation of religious colour with the hard utilitarian shell of his designs. The bright colours contrasted against the camouflage colours of the military which helped to express the pacifist ideals that Blechman adamantly expresses. “Its more celebration of nature and no intention to hide.”

The collection moved on into dark purple tunics that took colour inspiration from the robes of Catholic popes and ended with a golden and green hooded pull over that had mesh detailing over the face. This tied the catholic ideals as well as the overall military influence of the collection,

The music was one of the highlights of the collection with several audience members agreeing that the mix of prayer chants and grime gave the pieces more context. “This season we worked closely with Richard Russell who has always had a deep love of grime and is well along his path of spiritual development. I think that kind of melanges in a way a great reflection of the collection” remarked Blechman.

One of the most notable pieces of the collection was a Go Pro, strapped to the head model clad in a loose button up top in the Thai Buddhist monk colour of orange. ” Despite the Go Pro being mainly used in society as a means of recording sport or any physical action, the use of it in Maharishi’s collection lies a deeper meaning “I’m hesitant to talk about it because I don’t want to be disrespectful in any way but as I’ve been studying these devotional or religious habits and uniforms for these past few months. One of the strongest looks is the Hasidic Jews and they happen to wear an item called a tefillin, that is a box worn strapped to the head, that I believe may contain a copy of some kind of prayer or blessing. There are amazing similarities between the look of the tefillin and the look of the Go Pro worn on the head. So it was with respect, another wink towards another detail of a devotional uniform.” Blechman said. A final nod to his sportswear aesthetic and fascination with religious behaviour.

As the models took a bow of prayer at the end of the catwalk, one could only think to have bowed for the work that Blechman had put into Maharishi’s SS’16 collection.

Words: Natalie Chui

Images: Carolyn Kang


Freelance Journalist & Content Editor