Everybody seems to be talking about it — a catch-all phrase used to cover a wildly complex and confusing topic. If you are reading this, it probably means you are looking for a better explanation. So what does sustainable fashion actually mean?
Simply speaking, sustainable fashion describes clothes and accessories produced with the lowest possible impact on humanity and the environment. Ideally, this would mean without leaving a negative footprint at all. Brands who look to the future, working towards protecting and preserving our planet for the next generation can be described as sustainable.
With the rise of fast fashion over recent years, the impact on our environment is devastating. If we don’t take action now, it’s only going to get worse.
The fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters, attributing to 10% of global gas emissions, 20% of global waste water and a staggering 87% of textiles produced by the fashion industry is dumped into landfills or burnt.
The statistics are rather bleak but there is an alternative. As consumers, we have the power to change the narrative. We can start by simply buying less and when we really do need to buy new, choosing forward-looking, responsible brands.
Buying sustainably really does matter and here’s why:
Fast-fashion brands churn out new styles weekly and in an effort to keep up, producing high quality garments is low priority. Sustainable clothes are made to last, focusing on quality manufacturing and durable materials. Fickle fashion trends are ignored, breaking the vicious cycle of overproducing and overconsumption.
Not only this, sustainable brands deliver small quantities, fulfilling customer demand without creating excess waste.
The fashion industry makes billions in profit each year — a stark contrast to the worker struggling to afford housing or food for their family. The endless loop of exploitation continues with unsafe working conditions and long working hours to keep up with demand.
Sustainable brands pay fairly, typically above the minimum wage and advocate for safe working conditions for all. The plight of animals in the fashion industry is already widely understood, so what about our people?
Sustainable fashion reduces CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions
Responsible for emissions that surpass international flights and shipping combined, the impact of the fashion industry on global warming is astounding. The vast majority of clothes are made from synthetic material, such as polyester, acrylic and nylon, which are heavily reliant on fossil fuels.
Sustainable brands favour fabric alternatives made from natural or recycled fibres which require significantly lower amounts of energy to produce. They also call for little to no chemical treatment, less water and zero fertilisers or pesticides.
Fast fashion culture is detrimental to the world’s water supply with 9.3 billion cubic litres of water consumed each year. To put that into context, an astonishing 7000 litres of water goes into making your trusty pair of denim jeans.
Additionally, through textile finishing and dying, toxic chemicals seep into our waterways, contaminating the water we use to eat and drink.
Organic materials such as linen, cotton and hemp use very little water. In the long term, by shopping from sustainable brands, we can support the development of other regenerative fabrics and water-less technologies for dyeing and processing.
Animals are key to our ecosystem and a vital component to making our planet habitable. Nonetheless, each year billions of animals die and suffer for fashion. Surrounded by misconceptions, we are led to believe that materials such as leather are mere by-products of the meat industry but sadly, this is not the case.
Cruelty inflicted on animals in support of our fashion whims is unacceptable. Fortunately, many brands have already eliminated animal products completely, introducing vegan and eco-friendly alternatives. It’s an exciting space, with even pineapple leaves becoming a leading alternative to leather.
It’s all too easy to forget who and what is behind our wardrobe. In fact, the industry encourages us to remain detached as it makes their job far easier. Asking questions is fundamental to uncovering malpractices in an effort to lead to conscious consumerism.
Equally, there are already so many incredible people and processes involved in revolutionising the fashion industry. By raising awareness, we can encourage others to do their bit, putting the love back into what we wear.
This all makes for a pretty convincing argument to switch to sustainable practices. However larger companies are reluctant to implement change as sustainability equates to profit loss.
The process may be slow but over time we can force companies to reinvent themselves. Ultimately, without changing their practices, they are at risk losing business altogether. Buying differently, choosing consciously and supporting brands that advocate for change is a clear indicator of what we stand for.