Reimagining Fashion At COP26 And Beyond

Written by guest writer, Claudia Lee 

COP26 dominated the news and social media feeds over the past two weeks. COP, also known as ‘Conference of the Parties’, is the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference where parties to the conference meet to discuss their environmental sustainability related goals. This year’s Glasgow Conference was put under particular spotlight, especially after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced that climate change is ‘code red for humanity’.

Many saw  COP26 was seen as a ‘make it or break it’ chance to keep the world to task on its previous ambitions of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

As much as we love it and perhaps hate to be reminded of it, the fashion industry is well known for its far reaching negative environmental impacts, including its hefty carbon emissions that range from 2 to 8 per cent of the global total. With fashion being the third-largest manufacturing sector in the world, after the automobile and technology industries, it rightfully deserves to be under the spotlight at COP26. 

Fashion businesses coming to the table – together

We read big headline statements from world leaders about COP’s importance: “Make or break opportunity to take action” and “Change requires a herculean effort by everyone”. But this is all music to our ears. Many climate activists, environmental groups and even some leaders have considered COP26 a failure

Nevertheless, it’s enlightening to seemany global fashion industry leaders came together at COP26 to make renewed climate pledges and call for policy changes to incentivize a more sustainable fashion industry. 

One big step was the reveal of renewed commitments by the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, a signatory group that has a mission to drive the fashion industry to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050. Within the Charter are 130 companies, including big-wigs like H&M, Nike and Kering and smaller players like The R Collective. The Charter’s renewed commitments range from achieving net zero emissions by 2050; deriving 100% of energy sources from renewables by 2030 and producing 100% of garments from ‘environmentally preferred’ materials by 2030. The full version of the Charter’s commitments can be found here

Also prominent at COP26 was non-profit organization Textile Exchange which has 640 global leading fashion industry members, which submitted a trade policy request on behalf of 50 supporting stakeholders, including fashion brands, suppliers and industry associations. Textile Exchange requested for preferential tariffs on ‘environmentally preferred material’ - defined as those from certified, verified sources that can be traced from raw material to finished product and that are connected to data-driven environmental impact reductions - to level the playing field for fashion and textile companies looking to lower their environmental impact. 

Another organization with a strong rallying cry was think-tank Fashion Roundtable, who joined forces with Fashion Revolution and Eco-Age to publish an open letter ahead – take a look here - of COP26 to stress the urgent need for the world’s leaders the recognise the impactful role fashion can play in reaching net zero, eliminating waste and exercising business responsibility. 

Reimagining fashion to support a low carbon economy 

Several luxury fashion houses, such as Burberry and Stella McCartney, took part in an exhibition by the British Fashion Council where they showcased how they are innovating to minimize the industry’s carbon footprint. 

Models and designers outside the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum for the GREAT Fashion For Climate Action event


Closer to ‘home’ and under The R Collective’s passionate eye, it’s great to see award-winning sustainable designers, who are Alumni from the Redress Design Award, the world's largest sustainable fashion design competition organised by sister charity, Redress, innovate using rescued, reused or recycled garments and textiles. Below are three designers who have inspired me by their original collections.

Recircle by Grace Lant

Before discovering Grace Lant’s work, I wasn’t aware of some fabrics need to be incinerated because they are ‘IP sensitive’. IP sensitive silk fabrics are routinely incinerated because they contain highly sensitive branding and patterns. R Collective partnered with High Fashion Group to recycle these fabrics, transforming them into 100% recycled silk yarn knit capsules. 

Designer Grace Lant developed her ‘Recircle’ capsule collection using this recycled silk material. The collection takes advantage of the materials’ natural sheerness to create elegant, pieces with a subtle sheen. 

Denim Reimagined by Jesse Lee

Using Levi’s aged inventory and leftover samples, Designer Jesse Lee launched ‘Denim Reimagined’ to prolong denim’s lifespan. Jesse took a problem-solving approach to his designs, coming up with ways to maneuver and stitch together multiple pieces of discarded denim. 

Despite the complexity of reconstruction, Jesse engineered a chic collection with statement details such as marks of unstitched pockets and raw edges that pays homage to the piece’s past life. 

Rinse by Wen Pan 

Created entirely with excess luxury fabric, Wen Pan’s Rinse Collection is proof of the endless potential to repurpose fabrics. Designed with the ‘strong, confident’ woman in mind, Wen Pan’s collection offers a sense of understated luxury. 

I am especially drawn to the rouge Islington Dress. Made of upcycled silk with asymmetric seams, the fiery red establishes immediate confidence while the soft silk balances this with a feeling of dreamy romance.

Despite the many brands who are innovating with textiles and embracing a circular economy, individual initiatives are insufficient without the support of effective policy. As highlighted by the Textile Exchange’s request, political leaders need to step up and enact policy that can support a sustainable and circular fashion industry.  


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