The hottest trend last year wasn't the oversized puffer jackets, patchwork coats, or resurgence of lowbrow patterns such as tie-dye and leopard prints. Instead, the dominating trend of 2019 was the topic of sustainability. During the spring/summer seasons, major brands such as Ralph Lauren and Adidas capitalized on a growing consumer interest for eco-friendly products by releasing green polos and running shoes wholly made from ocean waste and recycled plastics. By autumn, Kering — the parent company to Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Brioni, among other big luxury labels — announced that it would commit to being carbon neutral across all of its operations. At the behest of French President Emmanuel Macron, François-Henri Pinault, the chief executive of Kering, also spearheaded an effort to get other major labels to do the same. Known as the Fashion Pact, the global coalition includes over 60 signatories, ranging from H&M to Hermes. They say they'll make significant changes in their business to help meet science-based targets in three areas: achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, restoring biodiversity, and preserving oceans by reducing their use of single-use plastics. No punitive measures, however, will be imposed should they fail to meet their goals.
Of course, much of this comes as a result of the scrutiny the fashion industry has faced over its impact on the global climate crisis. There have been a lot of disturbing facts hastily thrown around, many of them not carefully checked. It's often said that nearly three-fifths of the fashion industry's annual production — estimated to be upwards of 150 billion garments — ends up in incinerators or landfills within years of being made. That results in about 10% of the world's annual greenhouse gas emissions, more than the aviation and maritime shipping industries combined. As Vox noted, actual evidence for this is scant, although the fashion industry is indeed a mess. If anything, we know there's too much clothing in the world by merely looking at our closets. Similar concerns have come up before, even if not directly about global warming. During the 19th century, as industrialization made things more affordable, many Europeans felt wonder and anxiety over their new material abundance. People worried about how to use goods well, what abundance might be for, and how not to be spoiled by possessions. Human virtues such as restraint and simplicity came to the fore, and some questioned whether the sheer quantity of objects around them would dull their senses.
When it comes to sustainability in fashion, discussions follow a very predictable course. The focus is often on tangible dimensions, such as build quality, materials, technology, transport, and recycling. In an interview on the podcast show Time Sensitive, Gabriela Hearst says her experience growing up on a ranch gave her a deeper appreciation for the calmness that comes with knowing that things around you don't need to change, including the clothes on your back. "I really thought about why I am so attracted to things of quality," she said. "It is because things have to be made well to last and to endure, so I grew up with things that were made to last and endure, not necessarily from an ostentatious point of view but from a quality, utilitarian aspect." The only sensible and sustainable antidote to throwaway culture, then, is to purchase timeless, long-lasting clothing that you can wear for life.