TV presenter Liz Bonnin on how shopping sustainably can help take care of the planet

As London Fashion Week kicks off, it’s an opportunity to ogle some incredible designs and find out what the latest trends are.

However, it’s also a chance to take stock of how eco-friendly the fashion industry is. There’s no denying it has a problem with sustainability, and considering the popularity of fast fashion, it can be easy to feel, as a consumer, somewhat detached from the environmental issues. After all, you’re just buying another t-shirt, right?

Science and natural history presenter at BBC Planet, Liz Bonnin, has teamed up with sustainable fashion brand Mother of Pearl to tackle these issues head on, and make sure sustainability is front and centre at LFW. For the occasion, they’ve created a capsule collection using eco-friendly methods, and will unveil a short film (which will be available to watch across BBC Earth social platforms), narrated by Bonnin, that delves into fashion’s impact on the planet.

We spoke to Bonnin and Mother of Pearl creative director Amy Powney to find out more about the fashion industry’s eco record, and what we can all do to help.

The fashion industry has a major impact on the environment

(BBC Studios/PA)
(BBC Studios/PA)

Bonnin is no stranger to discussing environmental issues facing the planet – last year she made BBC One documentary Drowning In Plastic. However, she is still shocked by the fashion industry’s impact – even if she’s not totally surprised.

“The facts and figures are harrowing with this particular industry,” she says. “But they’re harrowing with a lot of other industries contributing to our environmental crises, too.”

Both Bonnin and Powney agree the culture of fast fashion is a big contributor. “Fast fashion is a huge problem, and it’s just a matter of time [before] social media leaks the truth and for people to really start taking note,” says Powney.

According to a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, if nothing changes, the fashion industry could use up more than a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050. Every year, it releases half a million tonnes of microfibres into the ocean – the equivalent of more than 50 billion plastic bottles.

It can be easy to feel detached from the fate of our clothes

When buying a new top online or picking up some trousers in your local shopping centre, thoughts of environmental sustainability are probably far from your mind.

For Bonnin, one of the most startling things she learned in making this documentary, is how little clothing features recycled material. “Less than 1% of the materials used to produce clothing are recycled – I always thought we were more responsible than that,” she says. “You’d think we’d be able to recycle more natural materials, like cotton – so how is it that less than 1% is recycled?”

It’s a good point, and makes you think: What do you actually know about what happens to your clothes after you throw them out? “We don’t think enough about how we take from the natural world and then how we dispose of it,” says Bonnin. “It’s so easy to think things are different, and to throw away things we use, thinking they go somewhere to be taken care of responsibly.”

Powney has been considering issues of sustainability and fashion since producing her graduate collection more than a decade ago. When asked why it’s taken so long for the industry to catch up with her, she pauses, then says: “The kindest answer is, a lot of people don’t know how complex it is and how bad it is. From a consumer point of view, people don’t relate fashion as having an environmental impact – they haven’t put the two together, and quite frankly, a lot of people in the industry don’t know either.”

It’s a case of being more mindful of how you shop

Amy Powney: “I’m a true believer in small things done by everyone being much more powerful than one person on their own” (Mother of Pearl/PA)
Amy Powney: “I’m a true believer in small things done by everyone being much more powerful than one person on their own” (Mother of Pearl/PA)

“There’s something incredibly empowering and joyful about taking responsibility for how you shop,” says Bonnin. “Whether you’re giving back to nature by wearing a garment and not dumping it, or buying less, there’s a feelgood factor which encourages us to act more responsibly.”

Helping the environment, even in your own small way, can make you feel great – but what can you actually do to contribute?

“It is a bit of a minefield,” notes Powney. “It’s still a bit complicated knowing exactly what to buy.” However, “shopping consciously is something that’s really important,” she explains.

“Before you buy something, ask yourself: Do you really want that piece? Do you feel emotionally engaged with it so you want to wear it again and again? If the answer’s ‘no’ you should maybe put it back on the rail.

“It’s finding that love again for your garment. I remember being a child and begging my mum for a party dress – you loved it, you stared at it, you couldn’t wait to wear it, and I think we need that back.”

It’s not always easy to shop ethically – the information on factors like supply chains are often quite hard to obtain, but you can still make an effort to shop consciously. Perhaps adopt the Marie Kondo method – if it doesn’t spark joy, is it really worth spending money on?

“If you do fall out of love with something or grow out of it, think about reselling, repurposing or repairing,” Powney advises, “even if throwing something in the bin is the easiest thing to do.”

This will have a knock-on effect on the industry

Powney believes we’re in a moment of real change. “Sustainability in fashion wasn’t a widely discussed topic – until now,” she says. “Consumers are waking up and asking where their products are coming from. There’s a movement towards that in general across the world, so fashion’s next.

“I do think there’s a really positive possibility for consumers to drive that demand, which fundamentally will make a lot of brands change [their ways].”

“To turn something around of this scale – how we consume and how we produce – does take time,” says Bonnin, but there’s hope. However, it’s clear we all need to act now – before it’s too late.

Mother of Pearl’s eco capsule collection, created alongside BBC Planet, will be available from June. 

- Press Association

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