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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Red Carpet Fashion Needs to Be Green

Imagine if, the day after the Oscars, discussion of the best (and worst!) dressed attendees focused as much on the sustainability characteristics of their choices as on how they looked.

One of the biggest challenges facing the fashion industry in its move towards greater sustainability is changing the way we consume fashion.

It could be argued that the very term “fashion” implies unsustainable behaviour — with its emphasis on regularly changing tastes and the need to discard garments as soon as they are “out of fashion,” rather than because they are no longer fit to wear.

Perhaps the most discussed fashion event of the year will be the Oscars and its red-carpet parade on 12 March 2023, with live-streamed blogs of the fashion choices on show and much discussion in subsequent press coverage.

Red-carpet outfits are often the antithesis of a sustainable fashion choice. They are often impractical for day-to-day or even second use — there is usually little consideration for the material used and its sustainability profile; and re-wearing red-carpet outfits has historically drawn criticism from fashion commentators. Sometimes, attendees will even use more than one outfit during an event — changing from their red carpet outfit to a second stunning, single-use ensemble for various after-parties.

The perception of fashion as a disposable good has helped drive up consumption of clothing. According to analysis by McKinsey, the number of garments purchased per capita increased 60 percent between 2000 and 2014. The European Environment Agency estimates EU citizens consume approximately 15kg of textiles per year and dispose of 3.8kg. These discarded textiles are often exported to other countries and many may end up in landfill or discarded in the environment. This level of waste and overconsumption is unsustainable and a key challenge for industry change.

An important driver for changing the way fashion is consumed will be changing focus away from novelty in attire and instead lauding more sustainable choices such as vintage items or those made from recycled fabrics. The influence of popular culture in driving such a mindset shift is an important consideration.

Fashion brands see events such as the Oscars as highly rewarding showcases for their styles, with actors often paid substantial sums to wear particular designers. Although the high-end couture worn at these events will typically be well out of the price range of most consumers, the styles chosen are quickly picked up and pushed by cheaper fast-fashion names keen to cash in on the buzz by bringing new lines to market in a matter of weeks or even days.

The widespread media coverage and buzz around certain styles and designs makes such events important points of influence for the next big trend or designer. However, the attention paid to the outfits worn at events such as the Oscars provides a potentially important point of leverage for changing the discussion around fashion. Imagine if the next day, discussion of the best (and worst!) dressed attendees focused as much on the sustainability characteristics of their choices as it did on how they looked. A focus on the sustainability characteristics of the “best” dressed would likely also pressure the fast fashion names to try and follow in any imitative outfits they produce.

Happily, there are already some efforts being made to make red-carpet events greener. Individual actors have made notable sustainable choices in recent years. For instance, Lady Gaga wearing a dress made from upcycled coffee filters. Actors including Emma Stone, Kate Winslet and Jane Fonda have also pushed back against the need for novelty by ‘boldly’ re-wearing outfits from previous events; and everyone from Meryl Streep to Emma Watson and Viola Davis have walked red carpets in gowns made from recycled plastic bottles. There are also broader efforts such as the Red Carpet Green Dress initiative, which works with designers and actors to promote more sustainable fashion choices at the academy awards.

We hope to see the trend towards more sustainable fashion choices on the red carpet continue and that this starts to receive as much coverage as does “best” or “worst” dressed opinions.