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What is Sustainable Fashion? Why Does it Matter and How to Achieve it
The concept of sustainable fashion and ethical clothing has gone beyond a trend, and become a business imperative for the industry. In a 2022 survey conducted by Statista, 35% of customers in the U.S. reported that they would be willing to pay significantly more money if the clothing line is eco-friendly or sustainably produced. Customers are, clearly, actively participating in reducing the environmental impact of fashion. As a result, brands also need to evolve to keep up with this outlook. To be able to do that, it is important for professionals seeking to enter this industry to upgrade their knowledge of sustainability in fashion. This can help them guide brands through this significant shift in the way they do business.
What is Sustainable Fashion?
Sustainable fashion is an all-inclusive term that refers to products, processes, activities, and stakeholders (policymakers, brands, consumers) aiming to achieve a carbon-neutral fashion sector based on equality, social justice, animal welfare, and ecological integrity.
Sustainability in fashion concerns more than just addressing textiles or products. It addresses the entire product lifecycle process, which includes the way the clothing is produced, consumed, and disposed of in landfills.
Sustainable Fashion Examples
Let’s look at a couple of brands in the U.S. that are actively advocating for the sustainable movement.
1. Wholesome Culture
With its eco-friendly clothing, Wholesome Culture is on a mission to make the world a kinder and more sustainable place. They use 100% organic cotton, recycled plastic bottles, bamboo, and eco-friendly water-based ink to print designs on their products. Moreover, all shipments are done using recycled or biodegradable materials.
Their most recent line of recycled nylon and fishing net activewear is made in Bali in collaboration with local artists. Additionally, they donate a part of their profits to ranches and sanctuaries as well as organizations that support the environment.
Location: New York, U.S.A
2. Christy Dawn
Christy Dawn uses deadstock fabric, or extra rolls of fabric left over from major fashion houses to create sustainable garments.
Additionally, with its farm-to-closet initiative, the brand is transitioning from sustainable to regenerative fashion. The brand employs traditional farmers and artisans from the Oshadi tribe in India. They do this to cultivate their own cotton, utilizing age-old techniques that do not include chemicals. The brand’s goal is to establish a reciprocal relationship with the planet and minimize pollution via a regenerative supply chain.
Location: Los Angeles, U.S.A
Why is Sustainable Fashion Important?
1. Reduced Waste Generation
The global production of municipal solid waste is anticipated to rise to 3.4 billion metric tons by 2050. This is due to a number of factors such as consumer shopping patterns, urbanization, and population growth. Sustainable brands aim to reduce waste generation by manufacturing premium apparel from long-lasting materials. These clothing companies try to copy seasonal fashion trends, thus reducing the amount of waste generated in the long run.
2. Fair Wages and Healthy Work Environment
The majority of fast fashion companies that manufacture cheap clothes and launch multiple collections in a year, source their clothing from developing nations. Their workers are barely paid a living wage while they work long hours in poor safety conditions. There is a constant pressure to manufacture that contribute to an environment that results in the exploitation of workers. Moreover, frequent accusations of child labor have also been made against these brands. Sustainable clothing companies, in contrast, prioritize a safe workplace and fair remuneration for workers.
3. Reduced Carbon Dioxide and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Sustainable clothing uses biodegradable components from natural or recycled fibers. These materials grow with no pesticide or fertilizer use, consume less energy and water, and employ no chemical treatment, thus reducing the overall carbon footprint of these brands.
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Sustainable Fashion Trends
The following are the top five trends that are part of the drive towards sustainable fashion.
- Ethical and fair-trade fashion: This refers to the activities conducted for the welfare of the people working in the garment industry. This includes the prevention of child labor, equal gender rights, safe working conditions, fair wages, and all other social justice aspects.
- Eco-friendly and green fashion: This trend involves green-fashion companies advocating the replacement of plastics with eco-friendly, biodegradable, and natural fibers such as organic cotton, hemp, mushroom leather, and kelp leather.
- Vegan and cruelty-free fashion: This trend refers to products manufactured without the use of materials of animal origin or obtained without any cruel means to educate consumers about commercial animal farming and their exploitation in fashion.
- Upcycled fashion: The practice of reusing and repurposing textiles, materials, and clothing to re-create fashion is referred to as upcycled fashion. In fact, upcycled fashion is becoming so popular amongst fashion designers and celebrities that this trend is observed as a new form of high-end luxury fashion.
- Circular fashion: The phrase refers to ‘closed-loop’ processes, or manufacturing strategies intended to recover wasted materials and repurpose them for use in manufacturing. Circular fashion innovations can be of various types, but recycling polyester and other plastic-based materials and reusing them in the fashion industry is currently the most common form.
Sustainable Fashion Report
In an attempt to open, inform and connect the global fashion industry, the Business of Fashion (BoF) releases a new report on the BoF Sustainability Index, which aims to provide a transparent and reliable benchmark to track clearly defined, measurable progress of the sustainability goals in fashion. The report uses proprietary methodologies to assess 15 of the world’s major fashion companies as a proxy for determining the direction in which the entire fashion industry is headed.
Fast Fashion vs. Sustainable Fashion
Fast fashion is a method of producing inexpensive clothing at a rapid pace to respond to the latest fashion trends. With shopping evolving into a form of entertainment in the age of fast fashion, customers are contributing to what sustainability experts refer to as a throwaway culture. This means customers simply discard products once they are deemed useless rather than recycling or donating them. As a result, these disposable items add a huge burden to the environment.
To resolve the throwaway culture and fast fashion crisis, the concept of sustainability in fashion is brought to the spotlight. Sustainable fashion involves apparel, footwear, and accessories that are produced, distributed, and utilized as sustainably as possible while taking into account socio-economic and environmental concerns.
The Myth of Sustainable Fashion
According to a Harvard Business Review 2022 article, top brands like Zara offer around 24 clothing lines in a year and H&M offers 12-16. They also refresh their collections frequently. Moreover, popular eCommerce sites like Shein sell tops for $7, dresses for $12, and jeans for $17, making Zara and H&M appear expensive and slow. Therefore, as long as overproduction is the most profitable path, brands are unlikely to hit the brakes and become truly sustainable. This is the biggest reason why sustainable fashion is still a myth.
How To Achieve Sustainable Fashion
We’ve outlined the two main areas of critical consideration that will help implement the concept of sustainable fashion in the real world.
1. Understand the Concept of ‘Truly’ Sustainable Fashion
Let’s consider a situation in which a fashion brand is deemed ethical because it ensures decent working conditions and fair pay for workers. However, the same label becomes unsustainable if it makes use of plastic and other synthetic materials. Therefore, engaging in only one of the actions is insufficient to qualify as a sustainable brand. To guarantee environmental and social sustainability, the brand must adhere to as many guidelines as possible and understand sustainability holistically.
2. The Issue of Greenwashing
Greenwashing is a type of marketing spin. False marketing is utilized to convince the public that a brand’s products, objectives, and policies are environmentally friendly. Greenwashing in fashion happens through deceptive certifications. The goal of certifications is to increase consumer and retailer trust. However, it is frequently enough to make just one organic cotton t-shirt for a brand to acquire one of these certifications. So, always check the certificate issuer’s credibility and the origin of the materials.
ALSO READ: Why Companies With Sustainable Development Goals Matter to Job Seekers
Upskill Your Knowledge of Sustainability with Emeritus
With the awareness of the detrimental impacts of fast fashion increasing among consumers, it is imperative for the fashion industry to upgrade its knowledge of sustainable fashion. Emeritus, in association with the world’s top universities, offers a wide selection of online sustainability courses to deliver essential skills to professionals and help brands level up their sustainability credentials.
By Rupam Deb
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