The fashion industry is a hugely polluting business- it’s one of the largest water consumers and produces 20% of industrial wastewater pollution. The industry also relies heavily on chemicals that are harmful to both humans and the environment.
Sustainable clothing is a way of addressing these issues. The goal is to reduce waste, energy and chemical consumption while ensuring ethical production practices.
What is it?
The fashion industry has a massive negative impact on our planet. It contributes to 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, it dries up water sources and pollutes rivers, and it sends a huge amount of microplastics into our oceans every time we wash our clothes. The majority of companies in the fast-fashion business source their materials from developing nations, where workers are paid a poverty wage and spend long hours working under appalling conditions. Sustainable clothing brands, on the other hand, support a safe workplace and prioritize fair remuneration for their employees.
Sustainable garments are made with natural or recycled fibres, free from pesticides and synthetic chemicals that are harmful to humans and the environment. They also reduce the number of times they need to be washed, as well as using recycled or non-toxic dyes and inks that are water based. The best sustainable garments are designed to last and can be worn again and again, reducing the need for new garments being bought all the time.
Many sustainable brands are also invested in circularity, where they aim to make their products last as long as possible and reduce the amount of waste they produce in the process. This can be done by using durable fabrics that are designed to last, or it can be achieved by combining different fabrics in the same design (e.g. a cotton-polyester mix) to increase the lifespan of each individual fabric, rather than having to use more virgin fabrics every time.
Another way to reduce the negative environmental impact of your wardrobe is to choose organic, plant-based materials such as bamboo or cork instead of plastics that re-release microplastics in each wash and can take centuries to decompose. It is also a good idea to look for fabrics that are as close to their natural state as possible, meaning they haven’t been subjected to bleaching, sandblasting (which gives denim that ‘worn’ look) or heavy dyeing.
If you want to know more about the sustainability of a brand, ask them questions and keep a healthy dose of skepticism! There is a lot of greenwashing in the fashion industry, so be sure to research your brand carefully and make wise choices. It is also important to remember that the most sustainable garment of all is the one hanging in your closet right now!
Why is it important?
When people use the term “sustainable fashion” to describe a style of dress or clothing, they usually mean a brand that uses natural materials, avoids toxic chemicals, and focuses on ethical production. However, sustainable fashion is much more than that. It encompasses a wide range of values including social justice, animal welfare, and ecological integrity. In order to truly be considered sustainable, fashion must be made with these values in mind from the beginning of the design process all the way through to the end of life.
In addition to using natural fabrics and avoiding chemical dyes, sustainable brands should also ensure that their workers are treated fairly. The textile industry has a notoriously bad record when it comes to worker welfare, with many factories using sweatshop labour and paying workers less than they should. In some cases, the wages are so low that workers can’t even afford to feed their families. This is a clear sign that the current fashion industry is not sustainable and needs to change.
Another issue is the fashion industry’s hugely negative impact on the environment. A large amount of the world’s resources go into making clothes, from oil to produce synthetic fibres and fertilisers for growing cotton to an endless list of chemicals used to dye and finish fabrics. Many of these resources end up in landfills where they can take centuries to decompose.
The most significant environmental impact that the fashion industry has is its enormous carbon footprint. One study found that the global fashion industry releases a whopping 98 million tons of greenhouse gases each year, which contributes to climate change.
Sustainable brands reduce their carbon footprint by reducing the amount of clothing they produce and encouraging consumers to buy fewer clothes. This helps to stop the vicious cycle of overproduction and consumption that has driven fashion to its unsustainable state.
Other ways that sustainable brands try to reduce their footprint is by limiting the number of times their clothes are washed, and only washing them when they need it. They also try to limit the amount of water used for laundry, and encourage consumers to reuse their clothes by re-wearing them. The best way to make a real difference is by embracing sustainable fashion, and looking for brands that are dedicated to eco-conscious practice.
How can I make a difference?
The fashion industry is responsible for massive amounts of negative environmental and social impacts. It contributes to climate change, pollutes water sources, dries up rivers and streams, and even releases microplastics into the ocean when we wash certain fabrics. Additionally, fashion production often involves a high number of worker safety risks and many workers are not paid living wages.
One of the best ways to make a difference is to buy from sustainable brands that produce garments that are ethically made with environmentally-sound materials and processes. These companies will be transparent about their resources, update their lines less frequently, and pay their workers a fair wage. They will also invest in circularity, which is how they keep their clothes in use for as long as possible by reducing waste and using renewable energy in their operations.
Another way to make a difference is to educate yourself on the impact of your purchases. Read labels, research the companies you shop with, and beware of greenwashing. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
In addition, we can demand that our government rule makers price negative externalities. This includes taxing carbon and water to include their social costs, instituting extended producer responsibility laws like those in California for textiles (to require manufacturers to pay upfront for the cost of disposal), and encouraging renewable energies and a shift away from fossil fuels.
We can also encourage a fashion revolution that puts the environment first, which means prioritizing the health and survival of our planet over profit. In particular, this will help us address the global injustice of the disproportionately negative impact that climate change is having on the Global South and people of color.
Finally, we can be digital activists by following accounts that promote sustainability in the fashion industry like ash_rev, @remakeourworld, and our account @consciousstyle and sharing their posts with our friends and family. We can also send brands emails and direct messages asking them questions like #whomademyclothes and whether they pay living wages. This type of activism is an essential part of the movement towards a more sustainable fashion industry.
What are the steps I can take?
There are a few things you can do to make a difference. For starters, try to buy less stuff and swap or borrow from friends and family. If you do purchase new clothes, look for brands that use organic or recycled fabrics, have a cradle to cradle or Cradle to Cradle certification, and are transparent about their supply chain. You can also support brands that take their social responsibility seriously and pay living wages to their workers. Also, shop secondhand and thrift stores for one-of-a-kind pieces. This can reduce your environmental impact by reducing the amount of clothing that is produced and shipped, and it gives your wardrobe a unique twist.
Another way to be more sustainable is to choose garments that are high-quality, well made and fit you well. This will help to lengthen the life of your wardrobe and minimize the need for new purchases. Lastly, try to avoid synthetic fabrics such as polyester which is derived from fossil fuels and takes years to degrade. Instead, seek out natural textiles like organic cotton, hemp and linen. Today’s professional woman is savvier than ever, and many are choosing sustainable textiles for their work attire.
Look for companies that have a deep sense of sustainability and care about their product afterlife, including repair programs, resale options, and environmentally-friendly disposal methods. Also, check out their packaging and labels to be sure they are not engaging in greenwashing. For example, a clothing label that claims to be “sustainable” may not actually be if it is using non-organic or conventional cotton, and even organic cotton uses pesticides and toxic dyes.
Remember that the climate crisis is already affecting communities across the globe, especially people of color, who will have fewer resources to adapt or recover from its effects. You can also help to make the fashion industry more sustainable by voting with your dollar and supporting leaders who are committed to addressing climate change.