Sustainable Fashion Milestones from the 2010s: A Recap of Key Moments from the Past Decade

Olivia Gecseg Monday, 13 January 2020

2019 has a been a big news year for the environment, and by the looks of things, it's only set to become more central to global affairs in the coming decades. Underlining this, the Oxford University Press last year named 'climate emergency' its Oxford Dictionaries' Word of the Year for 2019, while for Collins Dictionary it was 'climate strike' that summarised the headlines. The urgency of both is an indicator of how the way we speak about the environment today is becoming more heated and action-driven. 

Natural disasters such as the awful and ongoing Australian bushfires, David Attenborough's Our Planet series highlighting the impact of climate change on life on earth, and the disruptive actions of climate activist group Extinction Rebellion are just some of the big news stories to have turned people's attention towards the environmental crisis our world is facing.

And the environment was equally present in the fashion press; Sweden’s cancellation of Stockholm Fashion Week in September, Oxfam’s second-hand September campaign, and the UN electing for a greater role in the clean up of the industry all hitting the headlines this year. Not to mention, the now-mainstream use of words like ‘sustainable’, ‘conscious’ and ‘ethical’ plastering articles and branding, leading to another major trend of 2019: greenwashing.

The prevalence of the environmenal debate in fashion hasn't emerged overnight. Several key events have taken place to lead us to this point. There have been fluctuating highs and lows which have led to the changes we are witnessing today. In this blog, we run through those key moments in the sustainable fashion movement of the past decade, from 2010 right up to 2019.


2010

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is launched by Dame Ellen MacArthur. The Foundation aims to ‘accelerate our transition to a circular economy’.

Livia Firth launches the Green Carpet Challenge®, a sustainability initiative to bring eco-friendly fashion to the red carpet. The GCC raises the profile of brands with eco credentials and draws attention to the environmental cause using the celebrity status of its wearers. 

“EcoChic” fashion show takes place to coincide with the United Nations 2010 International Year of Biodiversity. The event highlighted the possibility to avoid environmentally damaging production processes in fashion and included designs from Diane Von Furstenburg, Bora Aksu and Edun among others. 

2011

Greenpeace launches the ‘Detox My Fashion’ campaign to highlight the environmental issues caused directly by the use of hazardous chemicals in textile and apparel manufacturing. 

Fair Trade USA Apparel and Home Goods programme launches. Yoga wear brand prAna was the first brand to market a t-shirt that was the first Fair Trade certified product. Learn about setting up a Fairtrade Certified manufacturing unit in this webinar. [Professional Members only] 

The Ethical Fashion Forum launches SOURCE, a ground-breaking platform of tools and services for the fashion and textile industries. 

2012

Major high street fashion retailer H&M launches their Conscious Collection using sustainable materials including hemp, organic cotton and recycled polyester. [Vogue]

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) launched the Higg Index, an industry standard for measuring the environmental and social sustainability through supply chains. In the same year, they also incorporated the Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), a practical tool that scores materials based on their environmental impacts from raw material extraction to post-manufacture processing. 

2013

Tragedy struck in Bangladesh with the deaths of 1,129 garment workers caused by the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory. The factory produced garments for major retailers across the fashion industry and the disaster acted as a wake up call to many of the awful conditions of garment manufacturing in developing countries. Fashion Revolution Week was created to mark the anniversary and which raises awareness of the requirements for more ethical fashion.

2014

Levi’s develops a new water recycling standard to reduce water waste in denim manufacturing. The company created a new process to use 100% recycled water for finishing its jeans, an industry first. [The Guardian]

The first Fashion Revolution Day takes place, commemorating the Rana Plaza disaster and launching a global campaign for a more ethical clothing industry.

2015

The True Cost, a documentary directed by Andrew Morgan, premieres at Cannes Film Festival to coincide with Fashion Revolution Day. The film exposes the social, natural and economic impact of the fashion industry to wide audiences.

The European Clothing Action Plan (ECAP) launches, a four-year project aiming to reduce clothing waste across Europe and embed circular economy approaches in the industry.

2016

The Ethical Fashion Forum successfully raises investment to set up Common Objective, a business network providing resources and connections for sustainable working methods. 

Emma Watson wears a Calvin Klein dress made from recycled plastic bottles to the Met Gala, as part of the Green Carpet Challenge. [The Telegraph]

2017

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation releases its report, ‘A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future’, calling for the fashion industry to adopt a new vision in light of shocking statistics uncovered about its waste and environmental impact.

2018

Luxury fashion brand Burberry are exposed for environmentally damaging and wasteful practice of burning unsold stock worth millions of pounds. [BBC]

Over 290 companies sign the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Commitment to end plastic waste and pollution at the source in collaboration with UN Environment.

2019

Environmental activist group, Extinction Rebellion, stages funeral at London Fashion Week. [The Guardian]

The Swedish Fashion Council cancels Stockholm Fashion Week due to sustainability concerns. It announces it will relaunch once it can find a sustainable way to stage the event. [WWD]

The UN launches the Alliance for Sustainable Fashion at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, aiming to coordinate improvements in the fashion industry that contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Our free, monthly eco-networking events are returning for 2020. Join us on 20 January at The Marylebone, London or tune in online to take part. More information