Sustainable Fashion in TV and Film

WRITTEN BY Katie McKenna

February 19, 2023

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Sustainable Fashion in TV and Film

by | Feb 19, 2023 | Fashion & Lifestyle

Katie McKenna

19 Feb, 2023

Why costume designers are incorporating thrifted pieces to reflect the ethos of Gen-Z and Millennial consumers. 

Their ethos is that purchasing power = the power to make a change. So, they take into careful consideration the environmental impact of their purchases and are the most likely sector of our population to purchase secondhand clothing, furnishings and anything else. 

Case in point; a joint study by BCG (Boston Consulting Group) and Vestiaire Collective indicates that used clothing will account for 27% of resale buyers’ wardrobes by the end of this year. According to the study, Gen-Z is the driver behind this increase, followed closely by Millennials.

This change has been coming for a while. Trend analyst and writer Mandy Lee (@oldloserinbrooklyn on Instagram and TikTok) predicted a move away from overconsumption in 2021. In one of her videos, she speaks about a rise in the popularity of ‘de-influencing’: trend that focuses on a slower approach to fashion and a move away from ‘haul culture’ towards more meaningful consumption. 

To her, de-influencing is arming people with the tools to question their behaviours and become more conscious shoppers. This ties in with the emerging fashion trends for 2023, as indicated by the Instagram Trend Report she presented on TikTok. The report found that recycling, reusing and reconstructing are going to be priorities for Gen-Z, proving that Gen-Z are even going as far as customising their clothes to avoid purchasing new materials.

The New York Times has also predicted that customisation is going to be a trend this year, especially for those with limited  budgets who crave unique pieces of clothing and want to eschew fast fashion.

It’s clear from these predictions, across both new and traditional forms of media, that this is the year of the eco-conscious consumer. Gen-Z-ers and Millennials have been joining environmentalist groups like Extinction Rebellion and attending the slate of climate protests more than ever, in recent years. Therefore, changing their shopping habits to match their values was the logical next step.  

This revolution has even infiltrated the entertainment industry, with the eco-consciousness of these generations being reflected in styling choices made by costume designers aiming to accurately reflect the values of these characters through their clothing.

On Normal People, for example, the costume designer was careful to make styling choices that reflected who the character of Marianne was, as a person; she mostly wore secondhand clothes, a decision made to reflect her values. 

“She considers things in life quite deeply. I thought that she would probably be into sustainability and recycling” the costume designer stated in an article by the Financial Times.

In Fleabag, the stylist once again incorporated sustainable fashion to reflect the values of the character. Fleabag wore a red floral mini in season two designed and made by the ethical brand Reformation.

The costume designer gives an insight into the decision-making process behind this choice in The Guardian, stating “…it was “perfect for Fleabag…slightly inappropriately short hemline and good ethics”.

Designers working in the film industry are also using sustainable fashion to reflect where their characters are at in their life. In John Carney’s film Begin Again, the costume designer shopped mostly secondhand to dress the character Greta; a struggling musician played by Kiera Knightly. The costume designer did this consciously, wanting the looks to be authentic and intending to reflect what an actual struggling musician might wear.

Jacqueline Durran, the costume designer on Beauty and the Beast, created a sustainable costume worn by Belle. Emma Watson, who played Belle, wore this costume during the performance of ‘Something Somewhere’. 

In 2017, when Watson was touring on promotional duties ahead of this movie, the actress opted for consistently eco-friendly looks. She sported outfits like a dress made from certified organic silk, and one made using solely leftover fabric waste. 

Duran created the costume in collaboration with Disney and Eco-Age, explaining in an article for Women’s Wear Daily that she wanted to reflect Emma Watson’s typically eco-conscious morals and fashion choices.  

Sharing the details of her outfit on Instagram, Watson wrote “the cape was made from upcycled, traditionally woven British Jacob’s wool, from around 1970, bought at a vintage fair. The fabric was overdyed using natural dyes, and the lining was made from paperlike Tussah silk”.  

Once again, the eco-consciousness of millennials was on full display.

As you can hopefully get a sense of, from the examples above, the industry is beginning to prioritise sustainability in a way it hasn’t always done. In Ireland, Fís Éireann or Screen Ireland is making funding available for a Sustainability Advisor to be available and utilised within Screen Ireland-supported productions. Funding like this will help to guarantee that more productions incorporate sustainable practices. 

One thing is certain; we’ll soon see plenty more industries that will have to bend, shape-shift and reinvent themselves to fit the eco-conscious mould set strongly in place by Gen-Z and Millennials, and we’re not mad about it.


  1. Alice Bassie

    Hi Kate,

    Would love to chat more about this topic.

    Alice Bassie

    • Katie McKenna

      Hi Alice,

      I’d love to chat more about this topic too. Where can I reach you?

      Katie McKenna


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