An increasing number of Finnish people are interested in ecological fashion and sustainable choices regarding clothes. The companies that have been caught of greenwash are boycotted and synthetic fibres are avoided. How is ecological fashion visible in Finland? This is one of the questions we asked from a designer focused on ecological fashion, Tiina Varrio.
When did you first become aware of the environmental crimes in the fashion world?
Back in the day, I began my studies to become an artisan and to develop my craft but it wasn’t until studying clothing design in polytechnic when I discovered the truth and started to think my career choices on a deeper level.
Why did you want to become an ecological designer?
In the middle of my studies I worried a lot about the environmental issues concerning the clothing industry and I thought about it a lot whether I wanted to be a part of this system. Perhaps the insecurity I felt towards the unethical aspects of the industry were growing pains because now I feel motivated to act as a link between sustainable designing and sustainable consuming.
As a designer I get to act as a buffer between the origins of the product and the consumer. As an ecologically-oriented designer, I aim to change the attitude related to the consuming of products and the industry involved in the production of clothes towards a more environmentally-friendly way of thinking.
Fortunately the world of the excess of products and consuming is changing towards a more moderate and sustainable way of living. This turning point also provides an important opportunity to work as an ecologically-oriented designer.
Which fabrics are your favorites and why?
I like to work with natural materials the most due to the fact that they are comfortable to wear - in the end, it is very important for the user how the garment feels when worn. This is often the reason why uncomfortable clothes stay in the closet or end up in the trash or the flea market. It is also pleasant to work with natural materials.
My new favourite material is hemp which has excellent ecological qualities concerning the whole production chain. Unfortunately, at the moment hemp is an underused and underappreciated textile. I aim to change the situation with my own behavior.
What do you think about materials made of plastics (for example recycled polyester)?
In my opinion, all polyester products and clothes made of plastics could be more expensive, or better yet, totally forbidden. There has already been a suggestion to add an environmental tax to plastic clothes, which I think is a good idea.
Of course the re-utilization of polyester can be done in an acceptable manner through well-organized recycling, closed cycle and processing in factories. Polyester endures recycling well without the fibres losing their strength, since plastics can be processed again and again. Polyester is kind of a double-edged sword: it has its place when used in working clothes due to the fact that it endures usage well. However, when washed, recycled polyester also releases microplastics which is not possible to fully filter from the sewage water even with modern techniques.
As with all textiles and fibres, the essential question is how long the material will stay in the cycle. From this perspective, recycled polyester is good as long as the product doesn’t end up in landfill and recycling is done in a way which follows sustainable methods. When it comes to recycling, you need to consider the consumption of water and energy, the amount of waste, the transportation of the raw material to the factory and other factors related to logistics.
Recycled polyester is only one example of how these matters can be examined and there are both good and bad sides in the selection of any material.
How is ecological fashion visible in Finland? Which trends are involved in it?
New innovations continuously arise in the clothing industry regarding the recycling of materials, for example. The majority of the Finnish brands are ecologically-oriented which is a delightful trend that has already been going on for a long time.
However, new questionable phenomena have arisen as ecological fashion has become more mainstream. For example, a big clothing brand offers a discount coupon to the consumer who brings used clothes to the store. I hope that the consumers keep their eyes open with this kind of behavior, which in the end only makes you buy more. If you can just return the product to the shop after using it, will it be more difficult to question your ways of consuming?
Which are your dreams or goals related to ecological fashion?
I am determined to start working consistently with hemp textiles. Making hemp a more common and more easily accessible choice is my professional dream. I also want to contribute to creating a new kind of attitude towards consuming. Design which lasts is my most important guideline.
Could you give your most important tips regarding ecological consuming and the acquisition of ecological clothes?
1. The material or origins of the product are not the only factors contributing to how ecological a product is, but it also matters how long the product can be used. Organic products can also be unecological if they end up in landfill after a short period of usage.
2. Washing the garment in the appropriate way and repairment when needed extend its usage period. Sometimes just airing the garment is enough to refresh it. For example, an undershirt made of cotton protects the top layer from sweat and the tallow of the skin.
3. Follow your own style, not fashion! “Fashion fades, style is forever”, said Coco Chanel. The single most important thing you can do for the environment is to avoid fast fashion.
4. Dumping your own unused clothes to the flea market is NOT recycling. It’s better to build your wardrobe so that the products will stay in use for a long time.
5. It’s also possible to overconsume ecological clothes. Buy something only when you need it. A good rule of thumb is to buy less but more quality.
6. Do you really need to own everything? Could some of the trendier clothes be rented, for example for a wedding or other party?
7. You can find dressmaker’s shops in many areas that can revise and fix your clothes, if needed. This is also a good way to support local businesses.
8. Ecological clothes are produced all over the world but the transportation of the product from a far distance can easily minimize the environmental benefit of the garment. Consider whether you could find the same product in Europe, preferable in your country of origin.
Sustainable design against fast fashion
Varrio is certainly not alone with her ideology.
On February 25, 2017 the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat published an interview of Timo Rissanen, the professor of sustainable design at the Parsons School of Design in New York, in which he discussed fast fashion and sustainable design. Rissanen hopes that designers would understand the effects of his work - like Varrio has understood.
“The history of fashion is the history of producing waste”
According to Rissanen, synthetic materials should be banned and replaced with high-quality and long-lasting textiles.
“Sustainable thinking should be applied all the way from the cultivation of the fibre to the processing of the clothing waste. Now problems exist in all phases, and they are severe”, says Rissanen.
Rissanen hopes that the ecological food trend would also spread to the clothing industry where the origins of a garment, the ethicality of manufacturing and the journey of the garment is still almost impossible to find out.
“Fortunately we now have really good students. They dream of becoming fashion designers but they also want to change the world”, Rissanen summarizes.
- Tiina Varrio, email@example.com
“Against fast fashion”, Kaisa Viljanen Helsingin Sanomat. Published February 25, 2017 2 am. Updated February 25, 2017 11:14. https://www.hs.fi/elama/art-2000005102017.html