Sustainable fashion, eco-fashion, ethical fashion. This seems like a good idea in theory, it should be a no-brainer in 2017 with the advancement of technology. The reality is different. Buying sustainable clothing can be expensive, finding a local or accessible brand can be tricky, and knowing what to look for in an eco-friendly brand can be confusing. With the amount of decisions we face on a daily basis, why should we add sustainable fashion to the list? Does it even matter? What are the cons to shopping sustainably? Can consuming less and buying sustainable make a difference? These are all very good questions. Questions that I have been posing to myself lately. Let's investigate, shall we?
What is sustainable, eco, ethical fashion?
Sustainable or eco fashion, is a part of the growing design philosophy and trend of sustainability, the goal of which is to create a system which can be supported indefinitely in terms of human impact on the environment and social responsibility. It can be seen as an alternative to the trend of fast fashion. (Source: Wikipedia)
Two brands who embraced sustainable design models in the late eighties to early nineties are Esprit and Patagonia; both companies made important changes to their supply chain, the types of fibers they used and the methods used to process raw materials. The result was a movement in fashion and sustainability. (Source: Wikipedia)
As I understand it, sustainable fashion is a closed loop system of designing clothing, sourcing fabrics, manufacturing garments and distributing finished products in a manner that is equitable for all parties. It considers the environmental impact at every stage. These companies design a garment for longevity, source fibers that are sustainable or recycled, ensure fair wages and safe working conditions for garment factory employees and have a low carbon footprint in the distribution of their product.
Why is Fast Fashion a problem?
The list of reasons to be concerned about the Fast Fashion industry is a long one. Let's explore the definition of Fast Fashion; it is a term used by fashion retailers to describe the process of catwalk designs moving quickly into production and then into retail stores, their aim is to capture current fashion trends and get them into the hands of the consumer. The purpose of this model is to optimize aspects of the supply chain, so that clothing is designed and manufactured in an expedient and cost-effective manner thereby allowing an affordable product for the average consumer. (Source: Wikipedia)
Fast Fashion has also come under criticism as cheap and disposable because its designs focus heavily on trends and the garments are sewn quickly in whichever factory has the lowest bottom line. Another undesirable aspect of this industry is the unfair treatment and poor working conditions of garment factory workers in developing countries. The collapse of factory Rana Plaza in 2013, in which 1,129 Bangladeshi people lost their lives, was a massive tragedy and brought the serious issues caused by the fashion industry to the forefront. (Source: Wikipedia)
This brings us to pollution, but what does that have to do with fashion? Fashion comes in second as the most polluting industry next to Oil. One way the fashion industry pollutes is by the use of chemicals and dyes to process and color raw materials into textiles, this can take the form of air or water pollution. Another is cotton. Unless growing organic cotton, farmers must use pesticides to control crops. This can be harmful to the soil, workers and potentially to the person who wears the garment. Garment production is typically outsourced to developing nations. Fabric comes from one place, is shipped to another for sewing, then shipped back to the country where it will be sold: huge carbon footprint. Another in-direct pollution by the fashion industry is the amount of textile waste that is sitting in our landfills and polluting our oceans. With the rise in clothing consumption in developed countries comes the rise in waste. Natural fibers such as cotton and linen will biodegrade over time but it can take up to 200 years for a polyester shirt to disappear.
What are the cons to shopping sustainably?
Now that we know the differences between the two models of fashion we now have to decide which direction to go in. This decision will depend on a few factors and it doesn't necessarily have to be one or the other. Buying sustainably seems like the obvious decision but for the average consumer, it may not be the desirable one. Here are the problems with making the switch to sustainable:
1. Fast fashion is inexpensive, readily available, and follows the trends that we are constantly exposed to through social media.
2. Fast fashion feeds our desire to consume; we buy, we wear, we tire, we chuck, we repeat.
3. Shopping is cathartic, social and sport. This doesn't need much explanation, if you like to shop, you get it.
4. The mentality of quantity over quality sometimes wins out. We want a deal, we want more for our money and we want lots of options.
5. We are materialistic, we are grown in a society that has us believe that our stuff defines who we are.
6. We care what people think. We have become so consumed with our image, (full face of makeup, designer bags, never wearing the same outfit twice, etc.) fast fashion keeps our ego fed.
What are the pros of shopping sustainably?
There are many benefits to shopping with sustainability in mind, it means that each person is thinking beyond just themselves when making purchases and are looking at the bigger picture. Here are the ways to benefit from shopping in a more eco-friendly manner:
1. Buy locally designed, manufactured garments not only does this support your country's economy, it reduces your carbon footprint and will create more jobs within your community.
2. Research purchases beforehand, this ensures the brand aligns with your values, this will prevent impulse buys and help you to treasure and appreciate each item for years to come.
3. It's better for the planet. Is buying sustainable fashion going to fix the environmental damage caused by humans? Not very likely, but it's a start. We know there is only one habitable planet in this solar system and if we destroy it then what?
4. People are people and everyone should be entitled to fair wages benefits and a safe work environment. An industry who supports and values all members in its supply chain deserves recognition.
5. Sustainable fashion may come with a higher price tag when compared with the usual go-to retailers who are forever offering 30% off. However, the decision to part with our hard-earned money over worthy investment pieces will, over time, instill quality and longevity into your wardrobe.
Will my choice to shop sustainably make a difference?
I believe so but I am new to this puzzle and I don't yet have all the pieces. Alone, one person's decision to change their shopping and consuming habits won't make a dent in the problem. But by leading the way and showing others a possible solution, we can make a larger difference.