Sustainability regarding the fashion industry is defined as clothing, shoes, and accessories that are manufactured and marketed in a way that considers its environmental and socio-economic impacts, as well as upholding a “three pillars” value system, known as the Triple Bottom Line: economic, environmental, and social.
The aim of sustainable clothing should be to minimise any negative environmental effect from the product’s lifecycle, whether that be its use of natural resources, the selection of renewable energy resources at every stage possible, and maximising the repair, remake, reuse, and recycling opportunities of the product.
Additionally, all stakeholders need to be accountable for the working conditions of their workers, whether they be in factories, fields, transportation, and stores, as well as practising and implementing ethical practices, and international codes of conduct.
The fashion brands are not the only ones who are a part of this movement; you, the consumer, are as well. Your roll includes being aware and educated about what you buy, which philosophies you are supporting through your purchases, and being aware of the end use of your purchase; “will you actually wear it?”, and “how will you care for and wash your garments?”, as well as your mindset, attitudes, and behaviours towards your consumption of clothing.
To put it short, sustainable fashion is achieved through the brand and consumer. A sustainable approach to all aspects of the product, from production to use, is key to protecting our planet, as well as the lives of those involved in the garment’s creation.
Why do we need to be Sustainable?
So why do we need to be sustainable in our practices? To put things into perspective, the fashion industry is one of the biggest industries worldwide, accounting for about 2% of the global GDP. However, it is still a growing industry, meaning it is important to take measures to minimise its negative impact on the environment. The production process for our garments is lengthy and requires numerous steps such as fabric dyeing and the sourcing of raw of materials, all of which can easily become toxic to the environment. It can become so toxic that the industry is ranked as the second most polluting industry after oil. This demonstrates that there is an urgency for all of us to be aware of the damages caused and to move towards eco-friendlier alternatives. Other non-environmental issues include ethical problems such as the safety of workers and the ever-growing popularity of fast fashion. Essentially, fast fashion can only be possible and affordable through cheap labour, which in turn is damaging to the workers themselves and the development of their countries in which the factories are situated in.
What Makes Fashion Sustainable?
It is complex to determine whether a brand is sustainable as there are too many factors involved. A brand could claim that the cotton they are using is organic but the cotton farm from where it is sourced could be situated on forest land that had been cleared for farming, thus no longer making it sustainable. To make sustainable fashion more identifiable, The Ethical Fashion Forum has created a 10-point-criteria to determine sustainable and ethical fashion, as well as addressing all three pillars:
- Countering fast, cheap fashion and damaging patterns of fashion consumption
- Defending fair wages, working conditions and workers’ rights
- Supporting sustainable livelihoods
- Addressing toxic pesticide & chemical use
- Using and/or developing eco-friendly fabrics and components
- Minimising water use
- Recycling and addressing energy efficiency and waste
- Developing or promoting sustainability standards for fashion
- Resources, training and/or awareness raising initiatives
- Animal rights
In addition, below are 7 categories/ways that a brand could be labelled as “sustainable”:
It is important to note that it is impossible for fast fashion to be sustainable. The rate in which clothes are produced and distributed promote a throwaway mentality of excessive consumption, causing a quick ever-changing of trends, the rapid growth of cheap collections, and mass production of waste as we are throwing away more clothes into landfill than we ever have before. In order to get garments out on time, they need to be made cheaply, which takes advantage of all workers involved through low wages and poor working conditions.