If you are following along with what is happening in the fashion industry, you have probably heard that sustainable fashion is the new black.
Fashion brands all over the world are promoting themselves as sustainable and “climate-conscious” – but how do you know who is just saying their clothes are produced in a sustainable way and who is actually choosing to have a sustainable clothing production?
And what does it even mean to produce clothing in a sustainable way?
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Well, sustainable clothing production means that the clothes are produced in a way that affects the environment as little as possible.
In sustainable fashion production, organic and natural materials are used, working conditions at the factories are fair and the pollution emission is kept as low as possible.
Let’s take a closer look at what that actually means and how this works in reality at the factories. To do so, we have to look at the whole clothing production, from start to end. This is also known as a fashion supply chain.
The sustainable fashion supply chain
Did you know that the T-shirt you are wearing has been through a very long journey before it ended up in your closet? Before it went into your shopping cart or made the test in the dressing room, it has been through the hands of production workers at factories very far away.
Before that, the materials it is made of were picked out by workers, and even before that, the matrials weare sourced from fields or made synthetically.
But did you also know, that in traditional fashion supply chains more than 8.000 chemicals are used, enormous amounts of water are wasted and the working conditions at the factories are known to be inhuman and sometimes the work is even done by kids?
Yes, your t-shirt has probably been through a long journey. But the journey has been quite different whether you are wearing an organic cotton shirt that has been produced in a sustainable way or a regular T-shirt from a fast-fashion store.
Let’s take a look at exactly how different these two journeys are and how the sustainable fashion supply chain is different from the fast-fashion supply chain.
How is fast-fashion produced?
Before we explore the sustainable fashion supply chain let’s establish what the fast fashion supply chains look like. As the name might suggest fast fashion is about making fashion items as fast as possible so basically, it’s the opposite of sustainable fashion production.
In fast fashion, the focus is not really on how things are made but how fast they are made. It is on providing consumers with the newest trends, so they can consume more, and definitely not on the people or the environment behind the production.
This form of fashion is often synonym with high street chains where styles are mass-produced in a short a time as possible.
Do I need to say that focus is on saving money and producing as much as fast as possible and not on producing clothes in a sustainable way?
This is because the high street chains want to make close that you can buy for as little as possible. So basically fast fashion supply chains are actually just following the market and what the consumers want. But in recent years there has been a change in what people want.
Still not sure what sustainable fashion is? Learn what sustainable fashion is here
The word sustainability is becoming more and more popular within the fashion industry and brands wishing to make their production more sustainable are popping up everywhere.
But what does it mean to have sustainable clothing production and what factors need to be fulfilled before a brand can claim to have a sustainable fashion supply chain? Let’s look into the different aspects of the sustainable fashion supply chain below.
How Sustainable clothing production works
Now to the sustainable clothing production and sustainable fashion supply chain. This is basically the opposite of the fast-fashion supply chain. In sustainable fashion, everything needs to be thought about and requires both more work and money to make the wheels go around.
For a brand to be able to claim they have a sustainable fashion production, they have to live up to certain criteria regarding the use of material, working conditions, and impact on the environment. Let’s explore exactly what that means.
The choice of materials
Before the production of the shirt you are sitting in right now even started to look like a shirt, the fabric it is made out of was chosen by a design team. The same goes for sustainable clothing production.
The designers have to choose the fabrics that later on become the clothes you see in the shops, but here the choice of material has to live up to certain standards.
The material used in sustainable clothing production shouldn’t have affected the environment locally or globally in a negative way. This means that the growth of textiles used in clothes such as cotton has to be organic.
But that is not all. The production should also be free of unnatural and harsh chemicals and materials that aren’t vegan such as leather and fur are not sustainable either. Instead, the designers and the production team have to be creative when choosing materials for sustainable collections of clothing.
Maybe you’ve seen clothes made out of reusable plastic or recycled glass when shopping. Or maybe you’ve heard about sweaters made out of recycled wool or “leather” pants made out of pineapple leaves?
The designers are getting more and more creative when designing and choosing materials for their sustainable collection – and new ways of recycling fabrics and textiles are being found every season.
But some of the most sustainable fabrics are actually natural and organic ones such as linen or cotton.
Ethical working conditions
Sustainability is not only about protecting the earth, but also the people on it. An important part of sustainable fashion production is, therefore, the people producing the clothes.
The fashion industry has collected quite a bad reputation when it comes to working conditions at the factories? Over 50% of workers in factories are not paid the minimum wage in India and the Philippines, and minimum wages are half of what can be considered a living wage.
But sustainable fashion wants to end this reputation. Maybe you have heard the world ethical fashion mentioned in the same sentence as sustainable fashion and there is a good reason for that because they are two sides of the same coin.
Ethical fashion is about creating fair working conditions and giving the workers fair wages. But for fashion production to be categorized as sustainable, working conditions also have to be taken into account. Both safety and hygiene need to be good and the workers treated fairly in all ways and paid a fair living wage.
Eco-friendly production of clothes
This, of course, is connected to the choice of material and the ethical working conditions. Because the production of clothing should be considered sustainable, it has to live up to multiple factors.
The material should be organic or natural and harsh chemicals shouldn’t be used in the fabrics. Sustainable clothing production itself should affect the environment where the production takes place as little as possible.
This also means that the factory should create a fair working environment for the locals working at the factories and make the factories something that benefits the local area instead of draining it.
The use of water in the production process is also something that is important to look at and should be lower than fast fashion production’s use of water. You can check out the illustrated picture to see just how much water is used to produce one single T-shirt in regular fashion production.
In general, the production should have as little effect on the environment as possible, ethical and fair working conditions should at all times be respected and the whole production process should be transparent, so everyone can check if the brand actually is as sustainable as they say.
Transportation that doesn’t pollute
When the collection of the season has been produced at the factories the planning of how the clothes should be transported to the stores begins. This can be a polluting step in fashion production since the clothes often have been produced in parts of the world that is far away from the clothes’ end destination.
But sustainable fashion brands also have to make this process as little polluting as possible. It is important that the process of getting the clothes “home” is happening in a CO2 neutral way as possible.
This has also led many brands and fashion companies to replace their production factories or parts of them closer to the brand’s home country because the emission of CO2, therefore, will be lowered.
Why is sustainable fashion more expensive?
Maybe you are ready to abandon your relationship with fast fashion once and for all and only add sustainable clothing to your shopping cart from this day on. But something is holding you back. The price. Why does Sustainable fashion have to be so much more expensive than fast fashion?
Well, if you think about it, it actually makes sense. The process of sustainable fashion production requires more work and money than the regular fashion supply chain.
Sustainable fashion production has to live up to certain standards when it comes to working conditions at the factory, how it impacts the world and what materials are used in the clothes.
So, of course, sustainable fashion brands will have to charge a little more if they should be able to produce another collection next year.
When you think about it it’s maybe better that sustainable fashion is a bit more expensive, because it will make you buy less items, which, in the end, is better for our environment . See, nothing is so bad that it isn’t good for something.
How can I be more sustainable?
If you are sitting at home finding yourself nodding your head and agreeing with everything you read above and deciding that sustainable clothing production definitely is for you I’ve got a present for you.
We have a whole guide on sustainable fashion tips that are easy to follow. They will definitely help you started if you find it difficult to create a conscious wardrobe.