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,
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.
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.
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
What are the cons to
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
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.
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.