The fashion industry has come under fire for several ethical issues over the years, including chemical pollution, exploitation of workers, textile waste and more.
Many of these issues stem from fast fashion, a trend that, despite having a catchy name, is proving harmful in almost every way.
Luckily, sustainable fashion options are on the rise and may be the antidote to fast fashion.
Defining Sustainable Fashion
Let’s start with an explanation of what sustainable fashion is. Sustainable fashion refers to garments and other products of the fashion industry that are designed, created and distributed using materials, processes and practices that minimize negative environmental and social impacts.
Unfortunately, the recent trend of ‘fast fashion’ is the opposite of sustainable. Fast fashion refers to garments that are designed to be cheap, usually of poor quality and intended to be worn only a few times before being thrown out and replaced with newer cheap clothes.
Environmental Costs of Fast Fashion
Let’s start by examining the negative environmental impacts of the fashion industry, so we can learn how sustainable fashion minimizes these negatives to provide an alternative that is better for people and the planet.
The following list isn’t exhaustive, but it gives you and idea of the consequences of choosing fast:
- Harmful chemicals: Recently, significant amounts of the heavy metal lead were found in clothing produced by one fast fashion manufacture.
- Exploitative work conditions: For clothing to be made cheaply, it usually involves workers living in countries where working conditions can be terrible and pay is very low. Plus, the resulting product can be of bad quality.
- Hard on the environment: Even natural fibres like cotton can hurt the environment because they require pesticides to grow. Fast fashion means clothing is thrown away sooner and more clothing needs to be made. Which means more cotton requiring more pesticides.
- More carbon emissions: Clothing manufacturing accounts for between 2% and 10% of all emissions, including textile manufacturing and transportation. More clothing means more emissions.
- More waste: It goes without saying that the fast fashion trend is intended to produce more waste that ends up in landfills.
When considered on a global scale, it’s easy to see how fast fashion can create a massive amount of harm.
What then, is the solution?
3 Tips for Making Conscious Fashion Choices
Aim for Quality Over Quantity
Fast fashion has made it possible to get clothes for ridiculously low prices, but when you think about how long cheap items last, it’s no wonder that you may go through many items in a short period.
If you’re like many people, you’ve had new clothing fall apart after one cycle in the washing machine!
Instead of buying into this type of consumerism, choose sturdy high-quality clothing that is built to last.
Will it be more expensive? Yes.
But it will also last longer and might even save you money in the long term compared to buying 10 cheaper versions of one good garment. This way, you have a reliable item of clothing you love and our landfills are not clogged with unnecessary garments – a win-win!
Choose Products Made With Sustainable Materials
Sustainable fashion involves using natural and organic materials such as cotton, linen, bamboo and hemp.
These types of materials are better for the environment because they are biodegradable, meaning they will break down eventually instead of languishing for hundreds of years in a landfill.
In contrast, synthetic materials such as polyester and acrylic don’t breakdown quickly and release microplastic into the environment, which eventually end up in our air, oceans and bodies.
Keep in mind that just because a material is natural, it doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Consider wool, for instance.
Producing wool yields nearly twice the amount of emissions as producing an equal amount of polyester. (The emissions are high because growing wool means growing sheep. And sheep, like all ruminant animals, produce lots of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas.)
So, there are no easy answers. But perhaps the most meaningful advise is to buy quality and make sure the clothing you buy is something that you’ll wear for the long run, not discard in a few months.
Support Ethical and Transparent Brands
To protect the environment, vote with your dollars. Support brands that are upfront about their entire value chain, from sourcing materials and manufacturing to distribution.
Brands that have nothing to hide will be transparent about the materials they use and the practices they are committed to for minimizing waste and will often have certifications such as B Corp to prove it.
Look for brands that demonstrate tangible ways to reduce energy and water consumption, use natural materials, pay living wages and use renewable energy resources.
Support brands that use recycled materials to produce clothing. After all, fashion is all about creativity and what’s more creative than finding a way to create beautiful fashion items from materials that would otherwise go to a landfill?!
Sustainable Fashion Examples
Here are some examples of brands leading the way in sustainable fashion.
Stella McCarney’s latest tote bag is made from Bananatex, a completely natural leather alternative that is durable, plastic-free and waterproof.
The banana plants are grown without pesticides or fertilizers and nourish the local environment. Bananatex can be turned back into pulp, then into paper and eventually back to yarn again, providing a fully circular fabric.
Atelier Jolie is expected to launch in the fall of 2023 and will emphasize fashion created using vintage material and deadstock fabric already available.
By using already existing materials, Jolie’s brand will reduce energy usage and waste as well as provide livelihood opportunities to diverse tailors and artisans globally.
- Repairing is caring (for the environment)
Popular outdoor fashion brand Patagonia has launched an online repair portal that encourages customers to engage in circular fashion.
They provide online tutorials on how to fix different types of garments as well as an option to request a free repair in-store. Next time you’re tempted to replace a damaged garment with a new one, first ask how it can be repaired!
Sustainable Fashion FAQs
What is Sustainable Fashion (Explanation)?
Sustainable fashion refers to clothing and other fashion items that are designed, manufactured and distributed in a way that reduces negative impacts on the environment and people who produce the clothing.
What are the Three Pillars of Sustainability in the Fashion Industry?
The three key pillars of sustainability are environmental, social and economic sustainability.
These three aspects are important to consider when thinking about sustainability in general, as all three are necessary for something to be sustained over time. In other words, fashion items should be environmentally friendly, socially responsible and economically viable to be sustainable over the long term.
What are Some Examples of Sustainable Fashion Practices?
Sustainable practices that brands can follow include using natural materials that are grown and harvested sustainably, preventing pollution, using renewable resources, paying their workers fairly and avoiding plastic packaging.
As a consumer, you can practice sustainable fashion by being more mindful about what you buy.
Prolong the life of your clothes by taking good care of them. When you do shop, support brands that are transparent about their materials and manufacturing processes.
Shop second-hand at thrift stores and avoid fast fashion in favour of high-quality items that are built to last. When you tire of clothes, consider participating in clothing swaps, upcycling them to create new items, or donating your clothing to charities or someone who can use it rather than throwing it away.