A Lesson in Sustainable Fashion: Blurring the Boundaries Between Art and Science

The discussion surrounding sustainability in general has been one that’s become more and more prominent over the past few years, in particular finding ways to be more sustainable when it comes to buying clothes. It’s something I’m personally striving towards, having written previously about my thoughts on fast fashion and how we can try to combat the problem, but I feel there’s still a long way to go, so I wanted to speak to someone who really knows what’s what when it comes to sustainable fashion.

Milda Lebedytė is a Chemistry undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh, and she’s extremely passionate about sustainable fashion. She always wanted to study fashion design, but after finding a love for chemistry in her final years at school she decided she’d find a way to combine her passion for art and science. She tells me the two disciplines are becoming increasingly intertwined, with textile production startups cropping up all over the world such as Orange Fiber, an Italian company who use byproducts from the orange juice industry to create a silk-like fabric.  So far the company has only worked with the high-end market, making an entire collection with Ferragamo in 2017.

1From the Orange Fiber x Ferragamo collection, 2017. Image: OrangeFiber.it

Since arriving in Edinburgh just over a year ago, Milda has been heavily involved with many groups, both in Edinburgh and internationally. She’s a student ambassador for the global organisation Fashion Revolution, and has worked with Sustain.ed – an Edinburgh University student initiative – to put on a  fashion show alongside Edinburgh Textiles Collective using recycled fabrics donated by IKEA. Now she’s going to put on her own: the ‘R Sustainable Fashion Show’ at Edinburgh College of Art this Sunday, 11th March. The aims for the show are to engage others and raise awareness of sustainability in an increasingly throw-away, materialistic world. Milda’s collection ‘Intrude’ – made especially for the show – is based on geology, another aspect of science she is interested in. The garments are designed to symbolise crystal-like formations that intrude into rocks during the natural recycling process in the Earth’s surface. The chosen materials reflect on her personal materialistic tendencies, as she uses her own clothes in the pieces and combines them with other mixed media.

Speaking about her own approach to design, Milda believes that ‘the ultimate form of sustainable design is one that can transcend from one field into another: in modern consumerist culture, we generate a scary amount of waste, and this collection begs the question, what if all of this was valuable? ‘Unrecyclable’ is a hard term to define when, with a bit of imagination, everything can be re-utilized’.

Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 13.43.51From Milda’s project ‘Reclaim’ (2017). She created a piece that can be worn different ways from re-purposed materials. 

This idea of re-purposing your old clothes is a great way to be sustainable on a budget, as you don’t have to go out and buy new things but can get the feeling of wearing a new piece by altering it yourself, which is something Milda does. For those of us who are less creative, but are still living on a budget (i.e. most people), I asked Milda to suggest some other ways can be more sustainable, since we probably can’t afford to shop from designers who are using the most innovative technologies. She recommends watching ‘The True Cost’ documentary (available on Netflix), in which Olivia Firth says that being sustainable is not a case of throwing out all your clothes from high street shops and exclusively buying high-end products: the key is to buy less clothes. She lives by the rule that if you know you will wear something more than thirty times then buy it, and if not then don’t bother.

This is something I have found has helped me a lot when shopping, as I mentioned in my post on fast fashion. Charity shopping and shopping second hand is an obvious one to mention, but it really is one of the best ways to be sustainable. Rather than throwing away unwanted clothes, if you can’t find the creative streak in you to repurpose them for your own use then donate them to charity, or even sell the less-worn pieces on Depop for some extra cash.

We both agree that the awareness of the importance of being sustainable – particularly when it comes to our fashion choices – is definitely growing amongst our generation, and brands are becoming more transparent about their production methods. Reformation use deadstock fabric (unwanted rolls) as well as giving customers a true picture of how their clothes are made by stating on their website how much CO2 was produced in making every garment.  Some fast fashion stores such as H&M seem to be doing their bit for the planet too, with their recycling scheme and ‘conscious’ collection, however they aren’t 100% transparent about their production and the fabrics they use are almost exclusively man-made, which makes it hard for consumers to make well-informed, sustainable choices without breaking the bank.

thumbnail_PRINT 3Details from Milda’s collection for the Sustain.ed Fashion Show in 2017.

Speaking to Milda has opened my eyes to the future prospects for sustainable fashion, thanks to the blurring of boundaries between science and art, which has given rise to the development of these new technologies. After our conversation I feel quite positive about the future of fashion. In principal, these scientific innovations to recycle waste products combined with the desire to produce high quality, sustainable materials seems like a win-win situation. But will it catch on? And perhaps more importantly, will sustainable fashion ever be fully accessible to everyone?

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