SUSTAINABLE fashion, a fashionable concept - but what does it really mean?

Unlike "organic", which has a enforcible meaning in law, "sustainable" ebbs and flows with the whims of the user, particularly when the user is part of the clothing industry.

The environmental impact of fashion is dire, as even the most unfashionable person must be aware.

According to think tank the New Standard Institute, more than 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the apparel and footwear industry while its CO₂ emissions are projected to increase by more than 60% in the next 10 years.

As well as the Yeti-like carbon footprint, there is also the negative impact of tens of thousands of tonnes of clothing being sent to landfill each year.

There is the issue of the microplastic fibres released into the environment when washed. These synthetics are non-biodegradable and pollute rivers, lakes, lochs and reservoirs. While we're speaking of water, clothes manufacturing is highly water-intensive, a particular problem in countries where water is scarce but cotton production is high.

We all know, too, about disposable fashion by now. Fast fashion, the trend for buying cheap clothing not designed to last beyond a few wears. So cheap it can then go in the bin without much care about the damage to wearer's bank balance.

Where 20 years ago fashion brands would offer two collections a year, some chains now produce as many as 24, furthering the feeling that clothing is a short term commitment to be donned and dumped.

It's obvious we can't go on like this. A push from consumers to be more environmentally friendly has had a knock on effect on fashion brands, some in meaningful ways and others paying nothing more than lip service to the issue.

Last week I was speaking to a fashion student and designer about the issue of disposable fashion. Jillian Halfpenny, who runs an online vintage boutique Hawkers Bazaar, and is opening her own design studio In The House Of, was one of six students chosen to take part in The Modern Artisan project - a fashion endeavour from The Princes Foundation, Prince Charles's charity, and Yoox Net-a-Porter, a global fashion brand.

Prince Charles, of course, is a vocal supporter of environmental issues and the project was based at Dumfries House, the headquarters of the Foundation, where all sorts of green initiatives are underway.

The buzzword of this project was similarly "sustainability" but in this case that meant using high quality materials, hand stitched into high end garments on sale for as much as £1295.

Jillian spoke of her fashion ethos: rather than slavishly following trends, there are more benefits to buying a good quality, well designed and made piece for more money but that will last for decades. Her designs for In The House Of and the vintage clothes she sells repurpose fabrics and clothing, rather than creating from new. Jillian would rather alter a piece than bin it for something new.

It made me think of a recent visit to V&A Dundee to see the Mary Quant exhibition. Of all the beautiful pieces on display, it was the packages of dress making patterns that prompted the most memories in my mum, memories of sewing her own outfits. This was a standard activity for her generation but not something many of my peers would even know where to start with.

At the other end of the scale from £1200 designer garments was an appeal from Glasgow City Council for nearly-new warm coats to supply children and young people who don't have the right clothes to keep warm in classrooms where the windows are open for ventilation to tackle Covid-19 transmission.

Of course it is a scandal that families cannot afford to buy appropriate basic clothing for their children.

But a lot of the noise around this initiative was that of it being a crying shame that children from deprived backgrounds have to make do with second hand clothes. Emails arrived from readers asking why the council couldn't buy new coats or hoodies for pupils, rather than pleading for donations.

It's interesting that some people see a stigma in an anonymous second hand jacket but not the stigma of being the one child in class wearing the cooncil hoodie.

It's interesting too, that at one end, second hand clothing is vintage if you're middle class and a shameful hand-me-down if you're working class. It's a cheeky swap party find if you're a woman having fun with her friends on a Friday night and a damn wee shame if you're setting up a clothing swap shop in a primary school.

The council's appeal for coats is noticeable because it comes hand in hand with the side effects of the coronavirus crisis. But clothing banks are available year-round in many schools and they don't solely exist for children who's families can't afford new. Handing down uniforms makes absolute sense for family budgets and, importantly, for the environment.

If people really think that buying thousands of clothing items to fill a short term need is preferable to using existing clothes otherwise destined for landfill then the green message isn't getting through.

There's shame in a social security system that leaves people unable to afford the basics. But there is no shame in second hand clothing.

"Sustainable" might be a flimsy term but it certainly shouldn't vary its meaning depending on class.

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