Sustainable fashion is in the media all the time at the moment. And moreover most fashion shows have a sustainable section, brands are promoting their new additional sustainable lines and newspapers are full of this topic. But what does sustainable fashion really mean. While most like to talk about it, only a few give more information or a definition of what is behind the words.
First of all let us look at both words and their meaning:
A popular or the latest style of clothing, hair, decoration, or behaviour.
Fashion is mostly related to clothes, but can be as well a combination between clothes as well as a mix with accessories, shoes or bags.
Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.
This means something which is made to last, to stay or to maintain. Something sustainable is not going to lose quality but should be as it is from the first day on. But it also means not to over-use resources, means using resources without them running out.
So now, what does sustainable fashion mean?
Sustainable fashion means fashion, clothes, shoes, bags or accessories, made to last, while not over-using resources.
Here again the definition stays quite wide. And if you followed the news you might have read about the current G7 agreement: Around 150 brands did agree to the “fashion pact” during the G7 meeting in France. There are three goals: “global warming (the objective being to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in order to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius until 2100), restoring biodiversity (with a focus on restoring natural ecosystems and protecting species), and preserving the oceans (namely by reducing the use of single-use plastics).“ [Vogue] The pros and cons are discussed for good reasons- the pact still does not put anything into force, but gives rather a guidance of best practice. – For more about this topic, please read our blog article: G7 fashion pact 2019 – an article you should read
Back to sustainable fashion:
On the blog sustainablefashionmatterz you can read that purely sustainable fashion does not exist as fashion always consumes resources as water or energy to be produced. Of course it uses resources but as sustainability is a usage without over-using them. As for sustainable fashion can exist when following the right rules at the moment of purchase.
We like very much the definition given by “the curious button”:
“Sustainable Fashion: This refers to the effects of the production of clothing on the environment.” It is the use of pesticides in growing cotton, the dyes used for colouring tissues, water and waste treatment, energy reduction, using recycled materials, and water-consumption.
To be sustainable in fashion means to act in good matter with resources, use the least necessary and maybe even not to use something when this can help to make clothes less polluting, less water consuming, less harmful to the planet, animals and humans.
One famous quote from Vivienne Westwood is: “Buy less, choose well, make it last!” This is sustainable fashion! Choose carefully the clothes which are produced in good manner to the planet, check if it is organic materials, where it comes from and how it is made. In short maybe decide not to buy!
Second hand as alternative
So how to choose “sustainable fashion” without first doing some master degree in textiles? Think about buying second hand for example: This is a very sustainable way to offer a second life to existing clothes. Same for clothing swaps- these are events where you will bring the clothes you do not wear anymore as several other people will. You will simply exchange them with the goal to offer a new life to the things which otherwise would have been thrown away.
Vegan fashion might be an option for more sustainable alternatives. But be careful and do not mix vegan with sustainability. Vegan only means animal free- no fur, no leather, no wool, etc. But it contains most of the times plastics, PVC or PU (Polyurethane) – all of these made of oil, as result not sustainable at all and not possible to recycle. A middle way is recycled PVC- but still the material is not biodegradable.
Sustainable vs fair fashion
Do not mix between “sustainable fashion” and “fair fashion” neither: while sustainable fashion is paying attention to resources, fait fashion is about working conditions and how things are made, or how the humans making them are treated. Sustainable fashion can be fair and fair fashion can be sustainable but there is absolutely no rule between so let’s say a t-shirt can as well be made of linen, which can be made locally in France with very low water consumption and which is very sustainable.
But you can still exploit people who are sewing the t-shirt, making them work in bad conditions with low salaries, no health insurance, etc. This is not fair at all. It can be done same way around: pay people in good manner, let them be insured and have a nice workplace, while using PVC materials made from raw oil, using polluting colours and not pay attention to sustainability at all.
How about starting with a capsule wardrobe? – This is a way to have rather basic pieces which you can combine easily with each other so that you need to have less in the wardrobe, while being able to create a lot of different outfits.
You can find a lot of tips and tutorials, on how to create your perfect capsule wardrobe, online. You can find information on Good on you, in the minimal fashion book from Jan ‘n June, or from my Green Closet for example.
But please pay attention to the articles you find. You will see blogs posting about “summer capsule wardrobes” or “Paris fall capsule wardrobe” for example. The principle if a capsule wardrobe is to reduce pieces and not to create one per season- otherwise we are back to fast fashion, just calling it differently.
Can fashion ever be sustainable?
You see that sustainable fashion is a very wide and rather difficult topic to approach. To sum up we would like to point to an article from Mark Sumner, who is a lecturer in Sustainability, Fashion and Retail at the University of Leeds. He wrote a great article about the question if the fashion industry could ever be sustainable. He points out that “Our behaviour is far more selfish than we might like to believe.
That is to say that rational models of consumption are based on the idea that individuals make choices that balance costs and benefits. An ethical consumer will make rational judgements about purchases on the best outcome in terms of costs and benefits for them and the environment. But consumption, and in particular fashion consumption, is quite irrational.”.
After him fashion is a social activity to define status, it is driven by emotional desires and wishes to belong. This makes it difficult to change behaviour – “hedonistic subconscious forces are what make shopping for clothes exciting and pleasurable“.
Ethical behaviour still far ahead
„Ethical campaigners, journalists and even some brands have argued that consumers would be able overcome these subconscious forces of fun and excitement if they had more information about the ethical issues. But evidence shows that this does little to increase ethical behaviour. In fact, more information tends to reduce the influence of ethical issues due to the complexity of the issues. „ – As a result the amount of information and the overload of different numbers, information and facts make it actually more difficult to follow and to know what is true and whom to believe. It is easier to just buy than searching what is behind, while even not being sure that information provided is true.
He closes the article with: „The desire for new clothes is something that may be impossible to change. So instead of trying to appeal to the consumer’s supposed ethical streak, perhaps brands should aim instead to use new technology and business models to design products that can be recycled or re-engineered into new styles with minimal use of virgin materials, water, energy and chemicals. „
To sum up- let us, the brands already to our job of producing sustainable fashion to offer a chance for the consumer to find what they are looking for and to allow them to trust in fashion again!
Article cover photo credit: Fashion Green Days