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.
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, and I hope it will stay there for a very long time.
Sustainable fashion is basically about protecting the environment and securing fair working conditions within the industry while still being able to keep the industry going. Sustainability is a broad term combining things such as climate, consumption, and benefitting local environments. But how does fashion relate to that? Let’s look into that 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.
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 work is done under good conditions and terms.
Sustainable Fashion is therefore not only about protecting the environment, but also about protecting the people working in the industry and making sure the industry is profiting 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.
We can’t really set a specific date on the beginning of sustainable fashion. 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 material way of life embraced.
In the 1970s, second-hand became very popular and shops selling pre-loved items where 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, this time sustainable fashion isn’t a fashion trend but a term that becomes a fixed part of the fashionista’s wardrobe.
How does fashion affect the environment?
But of course, the protection of the environment and our earth is 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 every year is responsible for 10% of the annual global carbon emissions?
And this is why sustainable fashion is so important. The focus is on producing clothes in a way that affects the environment the least.
This is done by using materials that are more kind to the environment, adding reusable materials to the production and leaving out certain materials such as leather and fur.
What is ethical fashion?
Maybe you haven’t heard about sustainable fashion, but the term ethical fashion rings a bell? If not, ethical fashion is can be compared to the “social development” pillar in sustainable fashion.
Fast fashion has through the years been accused of creating inhuman conditions for the production workers that maks the industry go around.
Ethical fashion is shortly said a backlash against this. 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 therefor if not intervened with then related to sustainable fashion, and is a way of doing fashion in a more conscious way.
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 using more recycle? Is it about creating better conditions for people working in the industry? 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 by fewer but good things instead of following the fast fashion lane.
But the fashion industry also has a huge responsibility during the production of their products. And a great way to become more sustainable is by using recycled material.
More and more brands add items to their collections that are made out of 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 sustainability should definitely be one of the first words a brand thinks of when designing the newest collection. How is the production of this item affecting the earth? Where are the materials coming from? And how are they produced?
These questions are just some of the important factors that the fashion industry has to consider when moving towards a future that is more sustainable.
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 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 63% by 2030. This means sustainable fashion is very important if we don’t 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 as recycled material!
Are leather and fur sustainable materials?
When answering the question “what is sustainable fashion” we also have to talk about what sustainable fashion isn’t. And leather and fur production definitely isn’t a sustainable way of doing fashion. Some studies even argue that part of the Amazone burning down was due to the production of rattle cows for leather production.
The chemicals used to process the leather aren’t good for the environment either and can have an effect on the people working with these toxins.
But there is good news! Alternatives to leather and fur are showing up all around the fashion industry. And some fashion designers such as Stella McCartney have even decided to cut out leather and fur complete from here collections and is instead using so-called “fake” leather and fur.
Let’s take a closer look at the brands fighting for sustainable fashion.
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, have good PR, 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, some brands are fighting a little harder to make sustainable fashion a natural part of the fashion 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. Forbes made a list of some of the world’s most sustainable brands, which you can check out right here.
Fashion informers such as Harpers Bazar have also contributed with a list of their favorite sustainable fashion brands, so take a look right here and get inspired.
How can you be sustainable in fashion?
But many brands will only go where the market takes them. And, therefore, we as 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. What are their values regarding sustainability? And then think about how much you consume!
Is it really necessary to follow the 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!
Fashion weeks all over the world are trying to become CO2 neutral, new fashion brands based on sustainable values are popping up and the big bosses of the fashion industry are adding sustainable items to the collection and ditching materials such as fur.
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.
High street chains such as H&M are creating so-called conscious collections, where sustainability is key. Suddenly it isn’t difficult to make a sustainable choice when it comes to rethinking your fashion habits.
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 and ethical fashion is the smarter choice and definitely something to keep in mind next time you want to buy a new item for your wardrobe.
And a 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!
And if you have any great sustainable fashion advice share them with us in the comment section below! We love to hear from you.