Fashion, Sustainability and the Anthropocene

Emma Rigby, Andrew Brooks*, Kate Fletcher, Robert Francis, Thomas Roberts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


The unbridled consumption of clothing threatens the environment. In fashion communities, a discussion is developing around the adoption of new materials and economic models to reduce the impacts of clothing production and use. We discuss these emergent technologies in the wider historical setting of the Anthropocene, a geological term that denotes the global scale environmental changes brought about by agricultural and industrial activity. The long history of human-environmental interactions is inter-woven with the development of international garment economies that have shaped biological and physical systems. This article provides an account of how changes in clothing manufacturing and consumption patterns have effected environmental systems over time, with a particular focus on laundry practices in Britain. We draw on one technical solution that has emerged in recent times – closed loop recycling – to discuss how the forward-looking corporate fashion ideas privilege the status quo and incremental change. Optimistic solutions to fashion and sustainability challenges are a signal example of mechanisms that are responding to a ‘good Anthropocene’, a utopian ecomodernist argument that human systems can adapt and prosper in a changing world. Such flawed solutions hide from view more radical visions to transform the relationships between fashion, technology and the environment.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)482-504
Number of pages23
JournalUtopian Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Fashion
  • Sustainability
  • Anthropocene
  • Laundry


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