Sequins – all for their aesthetic appeal are terrible for the environment, most are made from petroleum plastics and synthetic resins, that are not bad for the environment, but the workers tasked with sewing them on, but also the wearer as emit carcinogens and hormone blockers. We do note that chemicals used in the fashion industry amount to 25% of all chemical output according to green peace.
During production, 33% of the material is wasted in the punching process. Considering these garments are realistically worn for only a few hours on the dance floor, they take thousands of years to decompose, is it worth it? Combined with micro fibres from synthetic textiles, these are one of the major sources of micro plastics. Recent studies in remote Scottish waters found that 7% of the micro plastics could be traced to vinyl acetate, used to make sequins.
At the current rate, by 2050 our oceans will contain by weight more plastic than fish, as plastic production is set to increase by 500%. It is also thought that 1 in 3 people in the uk consumer fish containing microplastics regularly.
I can here you are screaming but I recycle and take my clothes to charity. But unfortunately, most fast fashion doesn’t make it to charity shop floors due to poor construction and lack of resale value, 70 -90% is bundled up and sold abroad, but again a small percent enters usage again, but most ends up in landfill. As far as recycling goes only a small percentage of our plastics can be recycled and the costs involved in removing sequins from the backing fabric, make it an unsustainable practice.
But it’s not just the environmental impact of sequins that’s an issue, the social implications. Firstly, whilst award ceremony gowns are mostly sewn by fairly paid workers, it breeds and influx of cheap mass-produced copies. It’s this fast fashion that must stop. It’s unlikely that all those sewing these hand sewn sequins have been paid a living wage, or are underage, or in modern Slavery. The unregulated labour of women and children in the garment industry is a seismic issue, not only applicable to international works, but even in the uk, e.g., companies in Leicester supplying boohoo, new look and misguided, where revealed by channel 4 to be paying 75 to 95% of their regional sector a wage amounting to £3.00 per hour, when minimum legal wage in the uk was £8.20. So, it is easy to surmise that the sparkly sequin top on social media is highly likely to have been crafted by a human subject to illegal working practises.
So, what does the socially just sequin look like?
To be honest unless you are paying thousands for the garment, it’s probably never going to be ethical in any way.
Historically, sequins did exist in platelets, small, hammered circles of wire in, gold, silver, or copper. Modern day versions exist in aluminium too. The sparkles where also added with glass beads, far more ecologically sound and just a sparkly, or of course the real pieces of shell, stones and precious gems added (though this isn’t cost effective for most )
Another historical option is beetle wings, less ecologically sound but again still an option.
But there is hope,
Rachel clowes, having studied fashion and the environment at London college of fashion, Rachel created sequins using recycled PET plastics, her sequins can be found on her etsy shop, she’s also supporting work into biodegradable sequins.Elissa Brunato’s bio irridesant sequins created while studying her masters at Central St
Martins. She created sequins entirely made of cellulose. She late founded Radiance matters
Philip lim and Charlotte McCurdy, fashion designer Philip lim joined forces with Charlotte McCurdy as part of slow factory’s one x one design incubator in 2020 to create bioplastic sequins from algae.
Carbon capture studio created sequins using PEN-100 sourced from carbon captured in air recycling.We ourselves are experimenting with alternatives, such as leather sequins, clay sequins and wood versions to be incorporated into are commission and private work
We already aim to be plastic free in the business if possible.
The best thing is to give up the sequins, similar effects can be achieved through shot fabrics etc. But we also need to change our relationship with fashion. Historically women didn’t own 1/3 of what we own now. We don’t repair garments, that’s another blog! its more to do with being able to adapt items, a dress was two parts allowing items to be mixed and matched, or just a part replaced, but an average of between 4 and 16 gowns would have been acceptable, variations to be allowed for social class and funds available. Items where reworked to allow for changes in fashion.
For example, a list for a Bride’s Trousseau
1910 allows for
The wedding gown may be of satin, silk, crêpe de chine or chiffon cloth. It should be high in the neck with long sleeves, and if it is made with a yoke of fine lace which may be detached, it can be used without alteration for evening dress afterward.
One or two or three evening dresses might be desired, and these have all the range of evening colours and materials from which to choose. A black net or lace dress is perennially useful and is always handsome and in good taste. With such a wardrobe, an evening wrap would be a necessity.
A plain tailored suit for traveling, shopping and streetwear are necessary, and another beautiful cloth gown might be added for afternoon wear, calling, and the like. One or two afternoon-dresses of light colours and delicate materials would be found useful for teas and home entertainments.
A satin foulard or taffeta, a thin cloth dress, of voile or etamine, a short cloth skirt for morning wear with odd blouses or a princess dress for wear with various guimpes are all rather important.
House dresses should not be overlooked, and no bride ever regretted any excess provision of dressing jackets, tea gowns, and nice lounging robes.
The trousseau lingerie all but deserves a chapter to itself. When the time does not enter into consideration, these garments should be made entirely by hand, and time will produce beauty that only great expenditure of money can equal.
There is no reason why the most moderately circumstanced bride, if she has several months in which to make ready, cannot, with clever fingers and good taste, equal the lingerie of a far wealthier bride.
It is a pity, however, to waste handwork on a poor-quality material. Linen lawn is always the first choice for delicate handwork. Batiste is good, also the various qualities of nainsook, while long cloth and cambric will serve for the heavier garments, such as long white petticoats and the like.