Sustainable Fashion. Is this just another new term in the fashion world or is it the real deal?
Updated: Sep 5, 2020
Perhaps a better question is: What is sustainable fashion?
This guide will show you what is what.
The term first made its appearance circa 1962 and is specifically correlated to the movements that aim to protect the environment and became prominent with the publication of the book 'Silent Spring' by Rachel Carson. This book places emphasis on the adverse effects of environmental pollution via agricultural processes and chemicals. Subsequent movements lead to the derivation of 'sustainable fashion', a term that made its appearance in the mid-’80s.
Sustainable fashion is a fundamental and structured movement designed to incite change and “smart thinking” around the ways we approach processes in fashion production. The concept of sustainable fashion does not only focus on the types of textiles, chemicals, or products used in the creation of fashion items but rather it is a process of social engineering the way consumers think about fashion and the ecosystem of fashion. It also bears a significant impact as it inevitably intertwines and results in dealing with other co-dependent industries, businesses, and financial stakeholders.
Sustainable fashion affects all of us as current and future inhabitants of the earth.
It should be fostered among all of us as responsible guardians and citizens and thus it is our duty to implement simple systems that can slowly but steadily result in non-pollution of the environment. It can be a simple tactic as replacing one fibre or material type for one that is less environmentally detrimental or recycling materials. Other terms for sustainable fashion are Eco-fashion and ethical fashion. We explored some of the impacts of harmful processes within the fashion industry in several past publications. Some of these exposed the abhorrent practices of child labour and complete destruction of viable communities.
With that said, it is a fact there is no 100% foolproof way of being entirely sustainable in fashion. Nonetheless, small changes have massive positive impacts on communities and the environment.
Here is our quick guide to what we believe sustainable fashion is:
Fast fashion describes the process of rapid clothes production sold at a very low price point with the main aim of short-term use. Sustainable fashion on the contrary is the process that considers the whole production cycle of the clothing. It encompasses everything from the fashion design, the origination, and sourcing of the materials, the production methodology, and then finally but most importantly it then considers anyone, every living thing, and its surroundings that are consequently affected by this process. This can be a community, an ecosystem, a food-chain, workers, children, and the environment we live in. Sustainable fashion is a “reverse-engineered” approach to fashion and thus, it is rather complex and can be quite costly to set into motion and implement. This has not impeded many brands from addressing the issue though, and it is now becoming one of the staple considerations of many brands worldwide. Not only fashion brands. These are the five imperative issues being addressed in the fashion industry right now.
1. Water waste and usage
Despite it being a Blue Planet, fresh water is now becoming a scarce resource. The need for fresh water for agriculture and consumption is slowly surpassing more than it is readily available. Yes, even though the earth has large tracts of water, these tracts of water are salty or polluted. Therefore, it is only logical that we look at ways to recycle water and reduce how much water is used in production processes. Triarchy is a sustainable brand that has perfected this to a T, using ingenious techniques. They avoid water wastage and spearheaded the “how much water are you wearing campaign”.
2. Pollutants and chemicals
Chemicals such as dyes and by-products from extraction-based production processes not only act as a health hazard to workers. These by-products and pollutants find their way into natural water sources and community supplies of water. We do have filtration-based processes to remove harmful chemicals, but these chemicals affect those who actively work in factories or live in areas where fashion items are produced. Brands and fashion brands are now increasingly being pressured to find alternative Eco-friendly ways to address contamination via by-products. These may be using different types of dyes or avoiding harmful processes to obtain desired silhouettes or textures.
3. Clothing lifespan
Fashion retail outlets are forever launching new creations and designs to appeal to consumers so that they can update their wardrobes. This is the antithesis to the sustainable fashion process which focuses on producing less, buying less, and using things for longer spans of time. Therefore, clothes are made more durable or in a manner that can foster reuse.
4. Zero Waste
Clothing items with a shorter life span, means more trash, more products to dispose of. Creating clothing or items that are reusable or with longer lifespans fosters the concept of “less waste”. Sustainable fashion aims to deal with the issue of waste in many ways such as repair, reuse, mending, or recycling materials for production processes.
5. Farming and Agriculture
Naturally occurring fibres such as cotton are often cultivated using pesticides and chemicals that are not only harmful to farmers and workers alike but also wildlife and the entire ecosystem. Thus, within sustainable fashion we have seen the advent of more sustainable agricultural processes around growing organic cotton, creating organic linen and other like fibres. This results in the usage of less water that is required in more traditional agricultural processes.
What fabrics are the most sustainable?
Within sustainable fashion, anything that has been used prior is considered the most sustainable. Anything that has been recently produced sadly has some negative effects on the environment and is consequently lacking the sustainable idea unless made from sustainable processes or contains sustainable materials. Some of the most known sustainable fabrics are polyester made from recycled water bottles. Denoted by the label or tag “100% recycled polyester”. Others are made from 100% organic fabrics like organic cotton or Tencel. Some, for example, sustainable denim may have even been produced with less water or with less indigo dye-based chemicals that are detrimental to workers' health and natural water bodies.
Conclusively, we are seeing a growing movement of brands that are doing their bit to become more ethical in their approach to fashion production. It is now becoming a part of core corporate social responsibility and with the emergence of sustainable investment, we can only be more optimistic about the future.