The fashion industry is not only one of the largest industries in the world. It is also one of the most polluting. But does that mean you can’t be a fashionista and care about the environment at the same time?
Your answer is found in two simple words – Sustainable Fashion.
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What is sustainable fashion?
So what is sustainable fashion? Maybe you’ve heard about this combination of words before or maybe you haven’t. But one thing is sure. Sustainable Fashion seems to be on everyone’s lips in the fashion industry at the moment.
Buy Less, Choose WellVivienne Westwood
Sustainable fashion is about finding a way to make, consume and wear clothes that protect the environment and secure fair working conditions within the garment industry.
Sustainability is a broad term combining areas such as climate, consumption, and the upgrading of local environments. But how does fashion relate to that? Let’s take a closer look at what sustainable fashion is and how sustainability fits in below.
The three pillars of sustainability
So what is sustainable fashion? Well, Sustainability, in general, is built on three pillars: Economic development, social development, and environmental protection. These three pillars are all about creating growth and development in a way that protects the earth and the people on it.
Sounds very theoretical? Well, it actually isn’t.
First of all sustainable fashion is about benefiting the people involved in the whole fashion supply chain. Fashion has a huge impact on communities around the world since many families are depending on the work that comes with it.
We as consumers have a choice to buy things that are made in places, where the garments are produced under good conditions and terms, or we have the option not to.
Sustainable Fashion is therefore not only about protecting the environment, but also about protecting the people working in the industry as well as making sure the industry is profitable for the community where the production takes place.
When did sustainable fashion start?
Before we dig deeper into the question “what is sustainable fashion“, let’s look at how the term made its way onto the catwalk.
It is difficult to say when exactly sustainable fashion was first introduced. But already in the 1960s, the hippie rebellion made it popular to be aware of the materials you wrap around your body. Natural materials were preferred and a simple and less materialistic way of living was embraced.
In the 1970s, second-hand became very popular and shops selling pre-loved items were suddenly not only for people who couldn’t afford clothes from the fashion shops. Through the 1980s, anti-fur movements also became more and more popular and sustainable fashion was getting a grip.
But through the 90s fast fashion and high street chains became more and more common, and sustainable fashion was kind of forgotten.
But now climate change and increased attention on human rights are making the fashion industry aware of their responsibility. Consumers are demanding more action and transparency, and sustainable fashion is making a clear comeback.
Hopefully, the fashion industry will take sustainable fashion seriously and not just see it as a fashion trend. And this leads us to another part of sustainable fashion – Greenwashing.
What is sustainable fashion without greenwahsing?
As consumers are demanding more eco-friendly products and fair working conditions in the garment industry the fashion brands find themselves forced to create products that are more sustainable. Or do they?
Did you know more than half of all consumers are willing to pay more for a product if it’s sustainable? Brands, especially fast fashion brands see that as a huge business opportunity.
Big brands then add items or even collections to their store that they claim is sustainable, when in fact there is nothing sustainable about the product. that is called greenwashing, and people are claiming that the sustainability concept in the fashion industry has lost its meaning because of this.
You can learn much more about greenwashing in our article on the subject here.
How does fashion affect the environment?
The protection of the environment and our earth is, of course, also a significant part of sustainable fashion. Do I need to say how much the fashion industry affects the climate? You probably already know it is one of the biggest sinners when it comes to climate change.
The clothing and footwear industry together has a greater impact on the environment than all international airline flights and maritime shipping trips combined! We are often told that if we want to stop climate change one of the best things to do is to stop flying.
But what about the fashion industry that is responsible for 10% of the annual global carbon emissions every year?
This is why sustainable fashion is so important. The focus is on producing clothes in a way that affects the environment as little as possible.
This is done by using materials that are kinder to the environment, adding reusable materials to the production, using natural dyes, and leaving out certain materials such as leather and fur.
Why is sustainable fashion better?
So what is sustainable fashion? Well, when we talk about sustainable fashion people seem to be having different opinions about what sustainable fashion actually is. Is it about recycling more? Is it about creating better conditions for garment workers? Or is it about consuming less?
Well, actually it is a combination of all these things. We as consumers have to be more aware of what we are buying and buy fewer but good things instead of following fast fashion trends.
But the fashion industry also has a huge responsibility during the production of the clothes. And that includes creating better working conditions, sourcing and producing responsibly, stop overproduction, using natural dyes and renewable energy, and much more.
What is ethical fashion?
Maybe you haven’t heard about sustainable fashion, but the term ethical fashion rings a bell? If not, ethical fashion can be compared to the “social development” pillar part of sustainable fashion.
Fast fashion has through the years been accused of creating inhuman conditions for the garment workers that make the industry go around.
Ethical fashion is shortly said a backlash against that. The focus is on the treatment of the people working with the materials and productions of the clothes.
That said, ethical fashion is often described as an umbrella term, meaning that it covers more than one meaning and goal. Some argue that it not only covers the working conditions but also animal welfare, fairtrade, sustainable production, and the environment.
Ethical fashion is, therefore, intertwined with sustainable fashion, and is a way of making garments in a more conscious way.
What you need to know about recycled materials
More and more brands add items to their collections that are made from recycled textiles, waste products, and materials such as plastic.
The designers are getting more adventures every season reaching new heights and experimenting with materials we never thought could make a dress.
But the use of recycled materials doesn’t make a brand sustainable alone. A brand should also consider how the production of this item affecting the earth, as well as where the materials are coming from, and how they are made.
Why is sustainable fashion important?
When the question “what is sustainable fashion” is answered another question probably comes to mind: Why is sustainable fashion important?
Every year the fashion industry takes up huge amounts of land and water. Just a single pair of jeans requires about 10,000 liters of water to produce. If you are trying to figure out exactly how much water that is, then it is about 10 years of drinking water for one person.
And if you think that is a heck of a lot of water then think about the fact, the fashion emissions are estimated to grow by 63% in 2030. This means sustainable fashion is not only very important but necessary if we don’t want more lakes to dry out.
Every year millions of tons of clothes become waste. And a huge amount of that is burned leading to even more pollution and CO2 emission. Some studies show that more than 90 million tons of clothes become waste every year! Imagine if all that clothes could be used or become recycled material.
Which fashion brands are sustainable?
There are two important players when talking about sustainable fashion: The fashion industry and you. But let’s start with the big one, the fashion brands.
What is sustainable fashion according to the fashion brands? Well, it is something they have to consider if they want to be a responsible brand and make their customers happy.
And even though many of the biggest brands have cut out fur, started to use recycled materials, and stopped burning waste clothes, that isn’t exactly making them sustainable (remember we talked about greenwashing+?). Some brands are fighting harder though to make sustainable fashion a natural part of the garment industry.
Stella McCartney is one of those designers who has gotten a lot of praise for spreading awareness around what sustainable fashion actually is and why it is important.
But there are many brands all over the world, which are making sustainability a key value of the brand. If you want to find out more about sustainable brands you can check out all our guides to sustainable, ethical, and slow fashion brands right here.
How can you be sustainable in fashion?
Many brands will only go where the market takes them. Because of this consumers also have an important role to play if sustainable fashion is to become an integrated part of the fashion industry.
We have to rethink the way we think about fashion and the way we consume. But how do we do that? First of all, it is important to check up on the fashion brands you like to shop for. What are their values regarding sustainability? Are they actually living up to these values or just claiming to do so? And then think about how much you consume.
Is it really necessary to follow fast fashion trends? Or would you actually be more grateful for one quality piece instead of four pieces of clothes you never really use anyway? And if you decide to hop on the vintage trend, the qualitative pieces sometimes aren’t more expensive than a high street dress.
Is sustainable fashion a trend?
So what is sustainable fashion? It is becoming an integrated part of the fashion industry or is it just another trend? I personally hope for the first one!
New fashion brands who are actually taking sustainability seriously are popping up, creating new more conscious shopping options for the consumers.
Sustainable fashion is very much moving from trend to permanent style. Not only are vintage shops getting more and more popular but customers are also calling out the integrated fashion brands to take action.
So no, I wouldn’t say sustainable fashion is just a trend. It is a new way of doing fashion and I only think the fashion industry will add items made of plastic or recycled materials to their seasonal collection.
It might take some time before sustainable fashion isn’t something that we talk about but something that is a natural part of the whole fashion industry. But I believe that this “trend” is moving towards a “must”.
So what is sustainable fashion? It is an alternative to fast fashion. It is a way to help to support the earth and the people on it. It is a way of making sure, that the people working in the industry are working under good conditions.
Sustainable fashion is the smarter choice and definitely something to keep in mind next time you want to buy a new item for your wardrobe. But remember to keep an eye out for greenwashing
Big applause to you for being interested in a topic that is beneficial for not only you but also the people and the world around you!
If you want to start exploring different brands I suggest that you have a look at our “eco brand posts”. You might want to check out this one on sustainable eco knitwear or this one on sustainable jumpsuits.
I hope you found the answer to your question “what is sustainable fashion”. If not, you are always welcome to write a comment below or send us an email.