“One day you’re in, and the next you’re out,” are the infamous words Heidi Klum used to tell designers on Project Runway. It’s the most succinct way to sum up how quickly the fashion industry changes. And while this may be exciting for consumers, it is harmful for the environment.
You might think, “Well, I don’t care about fashion or trends; I don’t contribute to this problem,” to which I would echo the infamous words of Meryl Streep from The Devil Wears Prada: “…[I]t’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.” And even if you don’t have on a lumpy, cerulean sweater like Anne Hathaway, it still holds true. If you wear clothes, you’re involved.
Fashion is everywhere you look- from online ads to your favorite movies and TV shows. And it’s there perhaps, that we digest it the most without thinking about it. When a costume designer dresses a character, she influences both the industry AND the consumer.
Patricia Fields of Sex and the City is the reason we all tried to wear tutus in the early 2000s. A costume designer is as crucial to telling the story as a writer because clothing informs the audience before an actress speaks her first line.
So how do all these environmental considerations impact the costume design industry where it is literally their business to bring in new clothes for a shoot? I talked to Heather Pain, costume designer for Single Parents, Teachers, Those Who Can’t, and who received an Emmy nomination as an assistant costume designer on Grace and Frankie.
Has the costume design industry made strides in being more environmentally conscious in practice?
I feel as a costume designer, moving towards a more environmental conscious direction has been a little easier in recent years. I know clothing companies for years have offered better environmental practices, but more companies in the past 10-15 years are making it a part of their ad campaigns or part of their company mission statement. This makes it easy as a costume designer working in a very fast paced industry to identify these companies and make informed decisions. With the trend of fast fashion for so long, which is on the decline thankfully, fast fashion has made small strides in eco friendly clothing, [for] example H&M and sometimes Zara.
When I started out 25 years ago, there was not a lot of talk about the end result of creating a character and the need for the clothing to be eco friendly, sustainable or ethically produced. But in the past 10-15 years, more and more designers, actors and producers understand and want to support companies that produce clothing supporting good environmental practices.
What do you feel are some challenges in the film industry regarding being environmentally friendly in regards to costumes?
One of the number one challenges is time. Everything moves so quickly in TV and film; unless, of course, you are on a nice size budget movie with plenty of prep time. Most costume designers are not so lucky with extra lead time and normally, late casting on actors happens too often, so that will limit on where you shop. I have found a lot of these clothing companies are online and have no time to order and ship, or you cannot find style and size for the character you are creating.
If you are looking for environmentally friendly options, are there specific things or brands you look for?
When I’m working on a contemporary show leaning towards more fashion, I find it easier to find pieces that fit in the eco friendly category. I also consider thrifting eco friendly and [pull] from costume houses and do as much of that as I can for a character. As a costume designer, my first step is, “What is the look of this character? Where would they shop?” If I’m able to achieve a look and still be responsible with how a garment is made and the contents, then that is a bonus.
Find out more about Heather: