Sustainability in the Construction Industry: How Their Methods Can Be Utilised Within Fashion
Less is more is a fundamental part of sustainability. But beneath the surface of the luxury fashion sector, there is a complex web of questions, complications and consumer demands which need addressing. But the construction industry may have some promising solutions.
There’s a greater demand for transparency, and suddenly, everyone’s scrambling to make changes. Some fashion houses are publishing workforce initiatives and adopting complete transparency in their practices. Others are developing new ways of sustainable working and banning real fur. And some Luxury brands are finally putting an end to the unnecessary, and detrimental event of burning unsold goods.
This sounds promising. And it is. But is it enough? Is the fantasy, or the mirage of something artistic and magical, creating a gauze over what’s going on beneath the surface? Is it too late?
The Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) have created and have started to enforce an industry-specific framework. This delves into ecological, social, cultural and economic systems, before dividing into eight further issues. They have also joined forces with the Kering Group to deliver a course striving to craft “tomorrow’s luxury in a sustainable and responsible way." They’re forming a catalyst for change. So why am I noticing measures in the construction industry to be greener, more ethically and socially sound than in fashion?
The relationship between nature and fashion is prominent. As seen in the V&A’s Fashioned From Nature exhibition, “fashionable dress alongside natural history specimens, innovative new fabrics and dyeing processes” come together frequently. What's even more apparent when we think of nature’s link to fashion is the way in which nature's vast components decorate the pages of a designer’s sketchbook and therefore inspire collections.
Alexander McQueen, Dolce & Gabbana, Liliya Hudyakova and Gucci are some designers who have directly emulated nature in their collections; from feathers to skeletal structures and ocean waves, to bright lemons, snakes and floral patterns. Inevitably within the arts, nature is either copied or forms a basis for creative interpretations. And yet the fashion and textile industry has led to intensive land use and loss of nature—destroying the very thing that is both practically and creatively vital. In destroying nature, we cannot have the raw materials needed to sustain the growing demand, nor can certain communities live safely when their waterways are being poisoned by dyes, or their workplaces are left unsafe to work in.
Surprisingly, fashion and construction share similar concerns: nature, wildlife, contamination, moral principles, and so forth. This is why I’m exploring how the construction industry uses their frameworks to successfully address issues that fashion is not targeting as well.
Who, if anyone in the industry, is considering the rehoming of wildlife displaced at the hands of textile production? The 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) form a working example. Together, they state that one cannot disturb or kill any living creature. If, for example, bats are found on a construction site, roosts must be properly managed and protected during construction. New roosting opportunities must also be provided post-construction. Under environmental law, these companies and their employees can be prosecuted in doing so. Such prosecutions are also enacted on any waste that is landfilled.
According to the summary of findings by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the total greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production is at 1.2 billion tonnes annually. The use of Green Roof or Green Wall systems could not only filter out pollutants caused by textile and fashion production but would also form spaces for wildlife to thrive. The greywater derived from these systems can also be used to flush toilets, and thus reduce the strain on freshwater—specifically in areas where such water is scarce, where consequently, much of our clothing is made. Would it not also be highly beneficial to the mental health and happiness of workers in various production buildings, to be able to enjoy these beautiful spaces?
It’s unlikely that the industry could survive without colour. And it shouldn't have to. Yarn or garment dyeing is essential. This, however, forms the second largest polluter of clean water globally. The same contaminated waters are often the only source of water and food for deprived communities and there’s a slow progression towards the use of ethical dyes. Where the construction industry could face contaminating water, they heavily enforce two precautions: working at least 10 meters from any watercourse, and on non-impermeable areas.
Fashion has, for many years, succumbed to various criticisms. Instagram accounts are highlighting the mistreatment of workers, specifically interns, and others call out brands “knocking each other off." But these are the people with a voice and a platform. But what about those in the developing world—those without either?
Buildings central to fashion and textile production are often not fit for purpose, whilst basic human rights, safety, and welfare are compromised. Fashion must create safer working environments if it is to continue keeping up employability within these regions and increasing economic growth worldwide. CITB laws state that a covered area with tables and chairs with backs must be provided, as well as something to boil water and heat food. Only if the toilet facilities are lockable can female and male workers use the same facilities. First-aid boxes must be at every site, and site inductions and safe assembly point talks must be held. These are simple. They are required for global sustainability.
Coming to mind is architect Frank Gehry’s architectural principle via his online Architecture and Design Masterclass: “Design something that one would want to be a part of." This translates to fashion and echoes the heart of the discussion and the CSF framework. As Professor Dilys Williams (of the CSF) states in a course lecture, we must “think carefully about any potential unintended consequences of our designs."
Without a doubt, the fashion industry is becoming more sustainable. Where there is currently a disconnect between elements of the luxury sector, high street sector and all that falls in between, more light must be shed. But there should be something tangible. There are more questions than there are answers, and adopting certain changes will be a long process in such a multifaceted industry. Most of all, there are changes to be made that lie within everyone.