British model-actress Lily Cole thinks that the term “sustainable fashion” is oxymoronic, but only in the sense of “fashion” meaning trends. And it’s not a problem that’s unique to the clothing industry, either, she explains to The Guardian on Monday. “I mean, the fact that there’s already a second iPad out now is ‘fashion’, in a similar way,” she says. “I don’t think this is fashion’s fault. It’s a broader issue to do with the capitalism, and an economy which needs us to keep buying, and creating this superfluous kind of waste.”
Cole isn’t disavowing the fashion industry, of course. After all, she’s the co-founder of The North Circular, an ethical knitwear label that uses the talents of local grannies and wool from rescued sheep. “It’s not that I don’t believe in creativity and innovation and new ideas, and the creativity that comes with fashion, which I really respect,” she says. “But one of my biggest concerns is just how cheap we expect everything to be.”
“One of my biggest concerns is just how cheap we expect everything to be,” Cole says.
As an ambassador for the Environmental Justice Foundation and a supporter of Climate Week, Cole is aware of the social and environmental ills that plague the conventional supply chain. “I’m not against people buying clothes,” she insists. “I think clothes are wonderful, and I’m very materialistic myself—but there’s a way of finding a compromise. I just think we can buy less and pay more, to make sure people aren’t being exploited. Am I making sense?”
The self-effacing 22-year-old (“I’m a hypocrite. I’m not perfect—and I admit it”) recently returned from a trip to India with the EJF, where she traced the production of an organic cotton T-shirt from fiber to finished product. “It was such an amazing and heart-warming and optimistic experience,” she says, “just to know you could produce an affordable T-shirt and it could be a positive process, employing people and not dumping loads of chemical dyes into the local river.”
The shirt in question, which benefits the EJF’s “No Place Like Home” campaign for climate refugees, is available at Tesco for £10 in honor of Climate Week. Watch the video below to follow Cole’s journey.