Starting out in high street fashion, sustainable clothing designer Clare Farrell initially thought she could transform the industry from within. However, after decades of experience producing upcycled clothing, her hopes for positive change lie in more collective solutions.
Throughout her career, Clare has worked for companies such as Topshop, designing products, developing brand images and engaging suppliers. But as someone who recognises the problems inherent to fast fashion, she feels passionately that a gargantuan shift is needed to remodel an overly consumptive industry into something that will fit planetary boundaries.
“I tried for so long to work in radical ways inside the industry,” she recounted, “and it is so obvious that that’s not going to change the beast that it is.”
After leaving high street fashion, she set up her own upcycled label, Goodone. Sourcing post-consumer textiles waste, she transformed it into one-off garments made from contrasting panels. She supported another upcycling initiative called Trade Remade before launching a collection of durable cyclewear, No Such Thing, that is “designed to meet needs, instead of creating them”.
After persevering with sustainable fashion initiatives for so long, today she prefers to work towards broader changes, campaigning for Fashion Action, leading panel discussions and spreading awareness about the solutions to fast fashion.
“It makes loads of sense to me to go from the impossible project of trying to change fashion, to a bigger project of trying to bring about system change,” she explained.
‘So fast it can’t get faster’
For Clare, the main concern is the industry’s impact on people and the planet. Brands compete in a race to the bottom, seeking progressively cheaper labour sources around the world, leading to exploitation and rural dislocation.
On top of this, the textiles and garment industry accounts for around 20 per cent of global water wastage and 10 per cent of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, nearly 90 per cent of the fibres used to produce clothing are incinerated or end up as landfill, according to the World Bank.
“Fast fashion relies on big agriculture and the petrochemical sector. Then, thanks to innovation and neoliberal business models, production has sped up to the point where fashion is so fast it can’t get faster,” Clare said.
A ration on fashion
But the positive news is that the solutions are out there. Clare suggests we react to the climate crisis similarly to how we have historically responded to war. For fashion this means cutting back. In a Guardian opinion piece, she wrote: “Fashion culture now would benefit from studying the ‘make do and mend’ attitude of the second world war.”
While we’re on track to consuming 102 million tons of clothing a year by 2030, she recommends introducing a rationing system for how much clothing people can buy. To tackle wastage she wants manufacturers to produce more durable items and calls for “fashion to be made unfashionable”. By this she means treating clothing as a necessity rather than a disposable good.
To achieve this scenario she believes the most effective tool is the power of everyday people. After passing through the commercial fashion sector, social enterprises and charitable work, Clare is adamant that the “complex mess” of the fashion industry can only be untangled with radical transformations from without. While governments stall on making urgent changes, she believes citizen-led democracy is more conducive to progress, as demonstrated by initiatives in France, Canada, Ireland and elsewhere around the world.
Although it will take an international movement to tackle fast fashion, she has faith in the changing attitudes of young people and the public, saying: “It feels as if there’s a sea of change with the younger generation of consumers coming up who don’t want to shop unsustainably any more.”
For more information and to get involved with the campaign for a more sustainable garment industry, visit Fashion Action or Fashion Act Now’s website.