What is fast fashion and what can we do to make fashion more sustainable?
Since the 1990s, the manufacture and consumption of clothing has increased significantly. We buy more clothes and wear them less before discarding them. This is having a catastrophic effect on the environment.
This resource offers ideas and suggestions for:
exploring the impact of the contemporary fashion industry on the environment
researching and discussing solutions for making fashion more sustainable
understanding what we as individuals can do
Art & Design activities that explore alternative and sustainable approaches to fashion design and production.
This Art and Design resource is written for KS 4 and 5 / CfE Levels 4 and senior phase students and students in Further and Higher Education. Teachers could also use and adapt sections of the resource for KS 3 / CfE level 3 students.
- Produce creative work - Become proficient in craft and design techniques - evaluate and analyse creative works - Know about great artists and understand the historical and cultural development of their art forms - Actively engage in the creative process of art, craft and design in order to develop as effective and independent learners, and as critical and reflective thinkers with enquiring minds - Develop critical understanding through investigative, analytical, experimental, practical, technical and expressive skills - Develop and refine ideas and proposals, personal outcomes or solutions with increasing independence - Acquire and develop technical skills through working with a broad range of media, materials, techniques, processes and technologies with purpose and intent - Develop knowledge and understanding of art, craft and design in historical and contemporary contexts, societies and cultures
Pupils should be taught: - to use a range of techniques to record their observations in sketchbooks, journals and other media as a basis for exploring their ideas - to increase their proficiency in the handling of different materials - to analyse and evaluate their own work, and that of others, in order to strengthen the visual impact or applications of their work - about the history of art, craft, design and architecture, including periods, styles and major movements from ancient times up to the present day
Design and technology
- Identify and solve their own design problems and understand how to reformulate problems given to them - Develop specifications to inform the design of innovative, functional, appealing products that respond to needs in a variety of situations - Use a variety of approaches [for example, biomimicry and user-centred design], to generate creative ideas and avoid stereotypical responses - Develop and communicate design ideas using annotated sketches, detailed plans - Understand and use the properties of materials and the performance of structural elements to achieve functioning solutions
- Understand the processes that give rise to key physical and human geographical features of the world, how these are interdependent and how they bring about spatial variation and change over time - Understand how human and physical processes interact to influence and change landscapes, environments and the climate; and how human activity relies on the effective functioning of natural systems
Science – Biology
Interactions and interdependencies – relationships in an ecosystem - How organisms affect, and are affected by, their environment, including the accumulation of toxic materials.
Genetics and evolution - Changes in the environment may leave individuals within a species, and some entire species, less well adapted to compete successfully and reproduce, which in turn may lead to extinction - The importance of maintaining biodiversity and the use of gene banks to preserve hereditary material
- Researching, gathering and interpreting information from direct experiences, observations, memory, imagination and a range of traditional and digital sources; - Developing an appreciation of the work of artists, designers and craft workers from their own and other cultures, past and present; - Developing creative thinking skills and personal creative outcomes through investigating, realising, designing and making; - Using the visual elements with understanding when engaging in art and design; - Evaluating and appreciating their own and others’ work through discussion and reflection
- Develop a sense of place through the study of: a range of local, national, European and global contexts; contrasting physical and human environments - Investigate the impact of conflict between social, economic and environmental needs both locally and globally, for example, erosion, flooding, pollution, loss of biodiversity, climate change, desertification, deforestation, etc. - Explore how we can exercise environmental stewardship and help promote a better quality of life for present and future generations, both locally and globally, for example, sustainable classrooms, eco-schools, Citizenship Action Projects, resource and waste management strategies, promotion of geo- and bio-diversity, sustainable towns/cities, conservation of natural resources, eco-tourism, Fair Trade, etc. (Key Element: Education for Sustainable Development)
- Through creating a range of reference material, I can demonstrate my skills of observing and recording and apply them to work in other areas of the curriculum (EXA 4-04a) - By working through a design process in response to a design brief, I can develop and communicate imaginative and original design solutions (EXA 4-06a) - I can analyse art and design techniques, processes and concepts, make informed judgements and express considered opinions on my own and others' work (EXA 4-07a)
Design and technology
- I can explore the properties and functionality of textiles and equipment to establish their suitability for a task at home or in the world of work (TCH 4-04a) - I can confidently apply preparation techniques and processes to make textile items using specialist skills, materials, equipment in my place of learning, at home or in the world of work (TCH 4-04b) - Showing creativity and innovation I can design, plan and produce increasingly complex textile items which satisfy the needs of the user, at home or in the world of work (TCH 4-04c) - I can apply skills of critical thinking when evaluating the quality and effectiveness of my own or others' products (TCH 4-04d) - Having chosen personal themes and developed my own ideas from a range of stimuli, I can express and communicate my ideas, thoughts and feelings through 2D and 3D work (EXA 4-05a) - By working through a design process in response to a design brief, I can develop and communicate imaginative and original design solutions (EXA 4-06a) - I can analyse art and design techniques, processes and concepts, make informed judgements and express considered opinions on my own and others' work (EXA 4-07a)
People, place and environment
- I can discuss the sustainability of key natural resources and analyse the possible implications for human activity (SOC 4-08a) - I can develop my understanding of the interaction between humans and the environment by describing and assessing the impact of human activity on an area (SOC 4-10a) - Having researched the globalisation of trade, I can explain the interdependence of different parts of the world and assess the impacts for providers, consumers and the environment (SOC 4-11a) - I can identify threats facing the main climate zones, including climate change, and analyse how these threats impact on the way of life (SOC 4-12a)
Science – planet earth
- I can explain some of the processes which contribute to climate change and discuss the possible impact of atmospheric change on the survival of living things (SCN 3-05b)
- Having selected scientific themes of topical interest, I can critically analyse the issues, and use relevant information to develop an informed argument (SCN 4-20b)
- I can explore and experiment with my own creative ideas and those of others, demonstrating technical control, innovation, independent thinking and originality, showing confidence to take risks and developing resilience in order to overcome creative challenges. - I can investigate and analyse how creative work is used to represent and celebrate personal, social and cultural identities. - I can independently research the purpose and meaning of a wide range of creative work and consider how they can impact on different audiences. - I can critically evaluate the way artists use discipline-specific skills and techniques to create and communicate ideas. - I can synthesise and apply experience, knowledge and understanding with sophistication and intent when communicating my ideas. - I can design creative outcomes to professional and industry-standard with sophistication, clear purpose and intent. - I can consider artistic intent, purpose and audience in an informed way when performing, presenting and marketing my creative work. - I can use effective strategies to take risks with my own creative work and can display resilience to overcome creative challenges. - I can evaluate and judge the appropriateness of my creative work in relation to ethical and legal considerations and its effect on participants and audiences.
Progression step 5:
- I can independently undertake a range of full and thorough enquiries, selecting the most effective approach and justifying my methodologies. - I can evaluate and reflect on my findings, synthesise information, analyse patterns and trends, predict possible outcomes (where appropriate), and present well-supported and justified conclusions. - I can critically evaluate the usefulness, validity and reliability of qualitative and quantitative evidence. - I can explain and analyse the wide range of interrelationships and interdependencies between human actions and physical processes that shape places, spaces, environments and landforms over time - I can evaluate the extent to which economic, social, political, cultural, religious and non-religious beliefs, practices and actions have led to changes to the natural world. - I have built a detailed understanding of what it is to be an ethical, informed citizen and can critically evaluate my role as one, recognising my responsibilities and those of others towards society, the environment and creating a sustainable future. - I can explain the importance of the role played by groups, governments, businesses and non-governmental organisations in the creation of a sustainable future, and how they impact on people and their rights and on the environment.
Science and technology
Progression step 5:
- I can link experimental findings and theoretical knowledge to draw valid conclusions. - I can critically evaluate the quality of data and justify improvements. - I can evaluate contemporary issues that affect the planet and biodiversity. - I can evaluate the effectiveness and impact of scientific and technological solutions on a personal, societal and environmental level. - I can tackle challenging problems, independently and collaboratively, to address wider design requirements in increasingly unfamiliar contexts. - I can use my making skills and knowledge of materials to produce high-quality and effective outcomes. - I can apply and justify responsible habits of working which take into account impacts on the environment and society.
Discussion: what is fast fashion?
Discuss with your students what they think is meant by the term fast fashion. You could discuss:
Have you heard the term fast fashion?
What do you think it means?
What do you think contributes to fast fashion?
What do you think might be the negative impact of fast fashion on the environment and on people who work in the manufacture of clothing?
Fast fashion explained
The term 'fast fashion' refers to the production of high volumes of cheap, trendy clothing that match runway and celebrity styles. It allows consumers to buy the latest catwalk fashions, which they then typically only wear a few times before discarding. It encourages consumers to keep buying new clothes in order to stay on trend.
'Fast fashion plays into the idea that outfit repeating is a fashion faux pas and that if you want to stay relevant, you have to sport the latest looks as they happen.' – Solene Roturier, 'What is fast fashion and why is it so bad?' Good On You
You may think that affordable, fashionable clothes are a good thing, but let's find out about the impact that they have on the environment.
The impact of fast fashion: watch and discuss
This short animation explains some of the different ways that fast fashion can negatively impact the environment as well as the lives of the people who work in fashion manufacturing.
Ask students to watch the film and:
make notes about the different ways that fast fashion impacts the environment
share their thoughts and ideas afterwards as a class
What is the impact of the fashion industry on the environment?
There are four main ways that the fashion industry affects the environment.
Land use and threats to animal habitats
Increasingly forested areas are being destroyed to provide agricultural land to help feed the fashion industry's requirements for cotton, leather and other materials.
Land is converted from animal habitats for agricultural use for growing cotton. The cotton crop depletes soil so that more and more land is needed as well as the established cotton fields.
Grassland is needed for cattle farming – and the supply of leather for the fashion industry.
Deforestation also occurs to supply the wood needed to manufacture cellulose fibres that are used to make materials such as rayon, viscose and lyocell. The US NGO, Canopy, found that over 150 million trees are logged annually for the cellulose fibres for clothing, including from endangered and primary forests.
At the current pace, by 2030 the fashion industry is projected to use 35% more land for cotton cultivation, forest for cellulosic fibres, and grassland for livestock.
Significant amounts of fresh water are used both in growing cotton as well as in the manufacturing process.
Did you know that it takes around 2,700 litres of water to make just one t-shirt? This would last one person nearly three years as drinking water.
Pollution – water pollution and landfill
Insecticides and pesticides are used to grow cotton.
Chemicals used to prepare and treat textiles, as well as in the drying process, pollute rivers.
Microplastics from the washing of clothes made using manmade fibres pollute rivers and seas, harming fish and entering our food chain.
The huge amount of clothing that is discarded each year ends up in landfill.
Produced by the manufacture of clothing, often in countries that rely on coal, the most polluting of fossil fuels contributes to climate change.
Greenhouse gases are also produced in the transportation of raw materials to countries where clothing is manufactured and the transportation of finished garments to the places where they are sold.
Activity: fast fashion taskforce
Divide students into small groups – or they could work in pairs. (This activity could also work well as a homework activity.)
Task them with investigating ONE of the environmental concerns caused by the fashion industry.
They could also look at possible solutions that are being explored.
They should present their research and ideas as a presentation including images, facts and figures.
We have learned about the damage that fast fashion can cause to the environment. Although awareness is making things better, this isn't happening fast enough as the consumer is still demanding fast fashion and brands still want to make large profits!
How can clothing brands be sustainable and still make a profit?
If clothing brands can be persuaded to adopt a circular supply chain rather than a linear one, this would help.
'Circular fashion is a system where our clothing and personal belongings are produced through a more considered model: where the production of an item and the end of its life are equally as important.' – Good On You
Circular fashion explained
Perhaps the best way of understanding circular fashion is to compare it to a linear approach. If we imagine these two approaches as line diagrams:
linear fashion is a straight line from the beginning point of manufacture to its endpoint as waste when its life is over
circular fashion is a circular line that curls around from the point of manufacture, through various rotations and then ends up back at the beginning to be started all over again, with no waste
With the circular fashion model, the focus is on the longevity and life cycle of our clothes. It involves thinking carefully about the materials that are used and how they are produced; emphasising the value of wearing clothing for as long as possible; then repurposing clothing into something else at its endpoint.
What can fashion brands do?
By minimising waste and pollution in the design and manufacture of clothing, fashion brands could help to reduce the negative impact of clothing manufacture. They could do this by:
using less materials in the production of individual items to make the clothing more recyclable
removing non-recyclable and polluting materials from the manufacturing process
using or recycling waste – in every step of the process from garment offcuts to packaging
setting up systems so that clothing can be used and re-used for as long as possible including collection recycling schemes so that materials can be used again
making sure that any unavoidable waste isn't damaging to the environment
Watch and discuss
Watch this video to find out about an initiative in Italy that is helping to pioneer a circular approach to fashion – recycling fibres so that they can be made into new clothes.
Discuss the film afterwards with your class. Think about:
the processes involved in sorting and organising the clothes
the different ways that clothing is recycled by the companies
how clothing manufacturers could put procedures in place to implement a more circular approach to fashion
What can individuals do?
There are things the fashion industry (by implementing procedures to help fashion to be more circular); governments (through legislation to limit the destruction of animal habitats and pollution); and scientists (developing new processes and textiles that have less impact on the planet) can do to reduce the impact of fast fashion on the planet.
But we can also help through changes in the way we buy, wear and dispose of our clothes.
Ask students to think about and discuss how their own behaviour might contribute to fast fashion.
How often do they buy clothes?
How often do they wear clothes?
Why do they stop wearing their clothes?
What do they do with their clothes when they don’t want to wear them anymore?
Fast fashion calculator
This fast fashion calculator works out how our fashion habits impact the planet. Give it a go…!
She designed garments that can be worn in many ways. The clothes can be worn inside out or clips and straps are used to change the length or silhouette of the garment. The clothes are also unisex, and one size fits most body shapes.
To help students understand how the design and construction of a zero-waste garment works, you could task them with creating a paper coat using V&A's pattern download inspired by Spanish fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga.
Here are some tips:
Cut out the two squares and stick the white sides together. The check pattern will be the outside of the coat and the grey square is the lining.
Make two horizontal cuts at either side of the paper, then fold in each side to make the front of your coat. Fold down the top to make the front of the arms.
Make small cuts and folds to form the neck shape of your coat. See numbers 5 and 6 on the template guide.
Finally, make folds in the side and shoulders of your coat to give it an elegant shape.
Design a zero-waste pattern
Once students have understood the concept of a zero-waste pattern, task them with designing their own. It could be any type of garment, but keeping it simple will help in planning the design!
Depending on the ability of your students and the equipment you have available, task them with making a zero-waste robe or simple coat using one of the patterns provided - or they could make a garment from their own zero-waste pattern design.
Activity: design and make a garment or accessory from recycled fabrics
Task students with designing and making a garment or accessory from recycled materials or objects.
Ideas and inspiration from art!
Research and explore artists who work with textiles or recycled objects for inspiration:
Jann Haworth is an American artist who has lived and worked in Britain and America. One of only a small number of women creating Pop Art in the 1960s and 1970s, she became a leading artist in the British Pop Art movement. After graduating she moved away from painting and began to work with textiles. Calendula's Cloak is made from scraps of used fabric. Although conceived as an artwork it might provide ideas for using second-hand fabrics for clothing.
Haworth often sees her textile artworks as storytelling. Calendula's Cloak is a tribute to her mother who taught her how to sew. Is there anyone that you are close to or admire that you could use as the inspiration for your design?
Trained in textiles, Ruth Spaak likes to reuse fabrics and objects in unexpected ways. She hunts around car boot sales to find materials to work with and is fascinated by the stories behind things other people have owned. She takes the things she finds apart and combines them, often weaving or binding them together, to create her sculptures.
Do her tiles made from recycled plastics give you any ideas for how you could reuse plastics to create a textile that could be used for a garment or accessory?
Solveigh Goett has a rich archive of fabrics that she chooses from to create her textile artworks. She stitches fabrics together to create small book-like artworks that she sees as intimate story spaces that tell stories which reflect memories or wider human experience.
Tracey Emin has often used embroidery and applique techniques in her practice. Her fabric banners combine text and images that make statements or reflect her feelings about her own life or the things happening around her.
You could think about using text in your garment or accessory to reflect something that is important to you – what about creating a statement t-short or bag from recycled fabrics?
Artist Paul R.P. Nicholls wound threads around small pieces of wood to create this box-like sculpture.
How could you use recycled thread, wool or thin strips of fabric – reclaimed from old garments – and wrapping techniques to create an accessory? Think about combining shapes and different coloured threads for unusual and spectacular jewellery.
Multi-media artist Zadie Xa draws inspiration from a range of sources from ecology to science fiction to explore how people imagine and inhabit their worlds.
She often references traditional Korean clothing in her work and uses techniques such as quilting. How could you use fabrics and techniques to reflect your cultural background or identity?