Not so plastic fantastic

PARIS, FRANCE – JANUARY 22: A detail of the Hailee Steinfeld’s bag pictured during the Chanel Spring/Summer 2013 Haute-Couture show as part of Paris Fashion Week at Grand Palais on January 22, 2013 in Paris, France. (Photo by Julien M. Hekimian/Getty Images) Photo: Julien M. Hekimian Fashion student Bronson Jack fitting model Mollie Miles with a latex/rubber leotard. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Plastic clothes and accessories featuring on catwalks this northern spring might be turning the heads of fashionistas, but the proliferation of PVC is also putting the environmental credentials of high-end style under the spotlight.

While H&M and Stella McCartney have chosen to incorporate recycled plastic bottles into their latest collections, many fashion houses appear less inclined to embrace environmentally friendly materials.

See-through plastic garments were recently shown by Charlotte Ronson, Jean Charles de Castelbajac and Givenchy, while Margiela and Michael Kors toed the line with perspex shoes.

Plastic has also featured in the accessory collections of Valentino and Gucci, and is the central feature of Burberry Prorsum’s kitschy ”doctor” bag. Resembling a chunky, oversized Lego piece, a brightly coloured plastic clutch designed by Chanel head honcho Karl Lagerfeld can be yours for about $10,000.

Used extensively in packaging, car parts and building materials, PVC – polyvinyl chloride or “vinyl” as it is commonly known – has become the third-most widely produced plastic in the world, with demand projected to reach 49 million tonnes by 2017.

In fashion, the material is an economical replacement for rubber and leather and contributes gloss to garments. Connie Gialouris, the national wholesale manager for Australian label Shakuhachi, said customers were attracted to plastic and synthetic materials for their affordability.

“Buyers are becoming more price conscious and savvy, looking for the runway looks at affordable prices,” Ms Gialouris said.

Greenpeace says PVC is the single most environmentally damaging of all plastics. But Sophi MacMillan, the chief executive of the Vinyl Council of Australia, said that contention was outdated.

Since Greenpeace put PVC under the spotlight 20 years ago scientific advances and industry efforts had vastly improved manufacturing processes and the life cycle of PVC, Ms Macmillan said.

“PVC’s environmental performance is comparable to – or even better than – alternative materials”, she said.

Jeff Angel, the executive director of green group Total Environment Centre, said plastics, however they were used, needed to be evaluated on the environmental impact of their source material, and what happened at the end of their lifespan.

“Plastic fashion has to ask itself: are the raw materials sourced in a sustainable manner and how are the clothes disposed and where – the recycle bin or landfill or dumped? Finally, are there more environmentally responsible alternatives?” Mr Angel said.

The principal scientist at Greenpeace Research, Paul Johnston, said the organisation would oppose further use of plastics in clothes.

”Use of plastics involves use of oil as a feedstock which is a non-renewable resource, and some serious questions remain about the impacts of plastics … which would only be added to if they became widely used in clothes,” Dr Johnston said.

Some Australian labels, such as jewellery and homewares brand Dinosaur Designs, take pride in sourcing recycled material.

“The type of resin we use is a byproduct from the oil industry, which would usually be discarded,” said designer Louise Olsen.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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