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The Growth of Sustainable Fashion in the UK, From Haute Couture to High Street

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In the past, eco-friendly fashion had two connotations. It could be prohibitively expensive and relegated to elitist boutiques. Or it could be utterly bland, inspiring visions of loosely woven hemp and rarely-washed shapeless sacks. These days you'll find sustainable fashion in a variety of places, from quirky online shops to East End warehouses to up and down the high street.

Sustainable Designs Making Headlines

One approach to sustainable fashion is in the use of local talent and materials. The Scottish designer Henrietta Ludgate is an example of this approach, winning the Ethical Fashion Forum's "Fashion Innovation Award" at London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2010. She draws upon Scottish individualism and heritage as well as minimalistic architecture in her coolly structured designs. Ludgate's commitment to ethical, sustainable fashion is clear in her use of locally sourced British textiles, all produced in her own studio in Scotland by skilled artisans. Many of the fabrics used in Ludgate's collections are recycled from British fabric mills.

Bodkin is an American fashion label founded by Eviana Hartman in 2008 with a similarly architectural approach to design. Sustainability is also important in her work, as the garments are made using vegetable-based dyes, certified organic cotton, and new fibre blends. Hartman scouts out factories that have been able to reduce their carbon footprint, and all clothes are made in the USA to ensure fair labour practices. Ada Zanditon is another up-and-comer in the UK, having worked with notables such as Alexander McQueen and Gareth Pugh. She uses all natural, organic fibres sourced from ethical suppliers, and blends these into carefully sculpted and beautifully dyed pieces.

Apart from using local sources and sustainable fabrics, eco-fashion is also about recycling fabrics and garments that would otherwise make their way to the rubbish heap. Junky Styling was launched in 1997 by Annika Sanders and Kerry Seager, who started off buying men's suits from charity shops and transforming them into completely restructured outfits fit for their nights out on the town. Currently operating out of Shoreditch, they have helped make "upcycling" such a buzzword in the fashion industry. Junky Styling creates everything from bespoke outfits to an internationally stocked ready-to-wear women's collection, all created from reworked and reconstructed secondhand clothing.

New Ethical High Street Choices

Whether you're interested in reducing the amount of throwaway clothing you purchase or want to find garments made from local, eco-friendly fabrics, there are increasingly affordable options. You can now find sustainable, green fashion on the high street, from H&M to Topshop. Topshop has teamed up with the popular green fashion label From Somewhere and its Reclaim to Wear initiative. They launched a capsule collection together on 15 June this year, making use of discarded materials as well as surplus jersey, cotton, and denim from Topshop's own stock. The results are slouchy, lightweight, and guaranteed hits for the festival season.

The popular label People Tree can be found in high street favourites like ASOS, John Lewis, and Topshop. They are certified by organizations such as the Soil Association, using Fairtrade practices, natural materials, organic cotton, and environmentally-safe dyes whenever possible. H&M has jumped on the eco-friendly bandwagon as well, launching a collection last year featuring recycled textiles and organic cotton called the Conscious Collection. And Marks and Spencer is making strides with their Indigo Green collection, having made a commitment to make 50% of their food and clothing completely sustainable by 2020. To this end, they've partnered with the World Wildlife Federation to reduce pesticide use and Oxfam to encourage more clothing donations.

Pushing the Trend Further

The fact remains that many UK consumers are slaves to cheap, disposable fashion and can't pass up the lure of a £5 top or £20 dress meant to be worn for only one season. Unfortunately, according to DEFRA one million tons of clothing still gets thrown away each year, a high percentage of which ends up in landfills. Hopefully the fact that sustainable design practices and fabric recycling is becoming a trend in the fashion world will help even fast fashion junkies develop a greater conscience, and make more responsible purchasing choices. If the public votes with their wallets in favour of the eco-friendly fashion that is becoming more widely available these days, the industry will take even greater heed.