'Fashion Reimagined' and Sustainability Through Film

14 Feb 2023 BY Charlotte Micklewright in Film Features

7 mins

The pace at which we buy and throw away new clothes seems to be at an all-time high. We purchase three times as many clothes as we did in 1980 and wear them for half as long. From haute-couture to fast-fashion, this mass-manufacturing industry has become a major contributor to climate change. Fashion Reimagined is the latest documentary that exposes the environmental impact of producing clothes in a globalised world, following the journey of a young British fashion designer who wants to find a sustainable way forward for enjoying fashion.

British designer Amy Powney grew up in a caravan on a farm, with no electricity or running water. Her environmentally conscious parents promoted a frugal lifestyle, but at the time Amy was more conscious about trying to fit in at school, where she got teased by her materialistic classmates. She channelled her creativity into studying fashion and it was making clothes, and realising the overwhelming consumerism generated by the industry and the devastating consequences for our planet, that finally led Amy to embrace sustainability.

The documentary opens with Amy, now Creative Director of the clothing label Mother of Pearl, as she receives the prestigious Vogue award for the Best Young Designer of the Year. Amy decides to use the cash prize to create a fully sustainable line of clothing, rethinking each step of the production process and how it impacts the environment. So begins an odyssey that will take her and brand manager Chloe up mountain sides in Austria, through vast plains in Uruguay and into busy Turkish factories to find the best practises in the textile industry to support their eco-mission.

Documentaries about the fashion industry have often explored the blood, sweat and tears that lie behind the effortless looking finished product. The September Issue and McQueen offer an insight into an exciting yet cut-throat environment, detailing the work of iconic fashion journalist Anna Wintour and designer Alexander McQueen. The unrelenting pace of fashion also takes its toll on the environment. We produce over 100 billion garments a year, and three out of five of these end up in landfill within one year of purchase. Then there's the pollution and water consumption caused by clothing factories. Taking a closer look at the fashion industry can feel like opening a can of worms for young people who are curious to know more about where their clothes come from.

In the past four years, the number of clothes described as 'sustainable' has quadrupled. But fashion's impact is only getting worse. Amy's approach to creating a sustainable collection, which she calls ‘No Frills', is to draw up a set of rules for how the clothes will be made. She wants to use natural fibres such as cotton and wool, that are also organic, meaning that they are treated with as few harmful chemicals as possible. The documentary covers helpful terminology: a relatable moment is when brand manager Chloe admits to searching online ‘what is a sustainable fabric', demonstrating how clarifying these definitions can dispel some of the confusion over how best to help the environment. 

It becomes clear to Amy and Chloe that in order to guarantee that their clothes have been produced in an eco-friendly way, they need to be able to trace their journey through the whole supply chain, which, considering that a typical garment travels over five countries before it hits the shelves, proves very difficult. Retracing the many steps involved in order to transform raw materials into finished products is arguably the biggest challenge for sustainability. This subject is also explored in the highly accessible documentary The Biggest Little Farm and short animation The Story of Plastic, both available on Into Film+. In Fashion Reimagined, Amy is determined to source wool from South American sheep, whose snowy white coats are proudly tended to by Pedro, a friendly farmer who champions animal welfare. The film shows how, while it can be frustrating to try and stick to your values when the system in place doesn't make it easy, connecting with other people who share your concerns is one step that could lead to finding a solution.

In many ways, Amy is the perfect guide for an environmental documentary in 2022. At once accessible and aspirational, an insider and an outsider, Amy is a credible voice […] She's uniquely positioned to bridge worlds, at a time when many experts agree the most important thing we should be doing to tackle climate change is talk to each other.

Becky Hutner, director of Fashion Reimagined

Back in the frenetic London fashion scene, the final stich is carefully sewn on, and the No Frills sustainable collection is ready to launch. They represent a 'capsule wardrobe' of timeless, versatile outfits, which is a great way for anyone to shop responsibly without accumulating excessive items of clothing. Other affordable and creative ways to protect the environment through your fashion choices are to buy second-hand or to learn sewing skills, an initiative encouraged through the hashtag #FashionOurFuture. Fashion Reimagined is about more than clothes, it's about people acknowledging how our choices in everyday life impact the future of our planet. It is an example of how documentaries can deepen your understanding and stimulate a wider discussion, engaging young people to think creatively about climate change, global issues, consumerism, and how to use their voices.

You will find many more films suitable for young audiences available to stream on Into Film+ that address the topic of the environment and how to live an eco-friendly life. In a reverse scenario to Amy's, it was a teenage Greta Thunberg who encouraged her family to embrace sustainable living, as seen in the revealing documentary I Am Greta, while Eve is a short film about a young girl living in an off-grid sustainable community, which offers an accessible introduction to environmental action from a child's perspective. You can also find lots of film guides and activities to complement the viewing of these films and generate further reflections on these subjects. Inspired by The People Vs Climate Change, an eye-opening documentary about collective and personal responsibility towards the planet, we have created set of a GCSE specific teaching resources on climate change, including a film guide to engage students in questions around the fast fashion industry.

Fashion Reimagined is released in cinemas on Friday 3rd March. Into Film is delighted to host a limited number of free screenings of this film as part this year's Spring Screenings. Browse all of our upcoming events here.

Charlotte Micklewright news author image

Charlotte Micklewright, Curation Officer

Charlotte has an MSc in Film, Exhibition and Curation from the University of Edinburgh. She has previously worked for various film festivals across Europe and for the educational online platform Mygrants.

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