Green is the new black: Fashion Takes Action runway show highlights sustainable fashion

When it comes to sustainable fashion, "if it's ugly, no one's going to buy it," says Kelly Drennan, founder of the non-profit organization Fashion Takes Action, which held a runway show this week in Toronto highlighting sustainably made clothing.

Nancy Mac, Preloved, Miik and Bellantoni among labels featured in Toronto runway show

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      When it comes to sustainable fashion, "if it's ugly, no one's going to buy it," says Kelly Drennan, founder of the non-profit organization Fashion Takes Action.

      The group held a runway show this week in Toronto highlighting sustainably made clothing.

      While social concerns might impel designers and consumers to consider ecologically minded and responsibly crafted garments, "sustainable fashion should always be about the fashion first," Drennan said.

      The Fashion Takes Action show aimed to challenge negative stereotypes around eco-fashion, which often evokes images of hippies or notions of poor quality.

      The event featured 10 Canadian labels that have embraced ethical practices and included a diversity of designs, from high-end couture ball gowns to recycled cotton dresses. 

      A woman models an outfit from Julia Yeh at the Fashion Takes Action sustainable fashion show in Toronto on Thursday. (Anushila Shaw)

      But can sustainable fashion truly become mainstream? It's one thing for indie designers to embrace the concept, but a another matter for major chains and consumers to follow suit. 

      What is sustainable fashion? Fashion Takes Action's criteria

      • Locally made.
      • Fair trade.
      • Use of organic, sustainable or recycled fabrics.
      • Upcycled or repurposed.
      • Natural, non-toxic dyes.
      • Zero waste.
      • Slow fashion (quality-made garments, not mass produced).

      "I believe, eventually, sustainable fashion will have to become mainstream," said Anika Kozlowski, who monitors the Canadian fashion industry and is currently completing a PhD in environmental science, with a special focus on sustainable fashion, at Ryerson University.

      "Consumers are aware about sweatshop labour, poor working conditions and some of the larger environmental issues, such as water pollution or chemicals used for growing cotton. The biggest problem right now is that — despite consumers' best intentions to shop responsibly — the retail environment, ads, blogs and media in general [support] mass consumption of products."

      An outfit from Preloved is modelled at the Fashion Takes Action show. (Anushila Shaw)

      It's a myth that sustainable clothing needs to be expensive, she said. "It's all relative. The consumer is much more receptive to paying for responsibly made clothing," Kozlowski said.

      Paying garment workers a true living wage only adds 10 cents to the final retail price of a T-shirt, she said, citing a recent report by Asia Floor Wage Alliance, an international activist group comprising trade unions for garment-producing countries. 

      A model shows off an outfit from Askere Afana. (Anushila Shaw)

      Today, there is a mix of labels creating garments respectful of the environment and made in a socially responsible way: large brands with money for research and development, as well as smaller peers who control their entire production, said Kozlowski, who has studied the domestic fashion industry for more than a decade.

      But there's still much work ahead for the wider world of fashion to weave sustainability into its fabric. 

      For instance, Kozlowski noted, Canada lags behind European countries, Australia and the U.S., where both government and corporations support green initiatives in their respective fashion industries. 

      Overall, "it will require new mindsets in how we sell and consume fashion," she said.

      "Diversity of business models and new perceptions of what fashion clothing can be — in terms of we what produce, use and consume — will be the future of the industry."

      A sustainably made outfit from Nancy Mac is modelled at the show. (Anushila Shaw)