When it comes to purchasing sustainable fashion, I am often asked two questions: what exactly is sustainable fashion, and how? They are both excellent questions, and at times can be difficult to answer, but let me try to break it down.
The what, or the why?
Sustainable fashion is a complex topic, some choose to focus on the environmental aspect, the water use, chemical use, waste and transportation. But if we look at the industry in a holistic way, we must account for the human element behind the clothes we wear. The farmers that grow the cotton, those that mill the fibers, the tailors and manufactures and those who sell our clothing. And we cannot leave out the designers. Before the garment makes its way to your closet, it has passed through the hands of many others before you.
We know that outside of the extraction industries, fashion is the SECOND largest polluter in the world. Cotton, one of the most commonly used fibers is referred to as the ‘dirtiest crop’ as it takes up only 2.5% of all arable land, yet uses 17% of all pesticides sprayed worldwide. The industry employs millions of people from around the world, many often working in precarious conditions.
This can be seen as quite overwhelming and daunting as you go out to purchase your next tshirt. For the most part, we don’t have the capacity to take on researching each element of this very complex supply chain. With the advent of fast fashion (think fast food – quick, easy and cheap, but you often feel guilty after you consume it), we have moved from 4 seasons to 52 micro-seasons. New trends come in and out of style in a matter of weeks and fashion lovers and consumers are now consuming fashion at a rate that sends billions of pounds of textiles to landfills each year.
So now that I have sufficiently depressed you with the issues surrounding fashion, specifically fast fashion, how do we combat this? We love fashion as much the average person, and luckily there are many fashion designers that have taken to producing slow fashion – a slowing down of the production cycle and a respect for the planet and those that make our products.
Sustainable (ethical) fashion can include certifiers like Fair Trade, GOTS, MadeBy (for more information on 3rd party certifications), it can also mean using recycled textiles or eco-friendly fibers (tencel, modal, hemp – for more information on sustainable fabrics). Sustainable fashion can also include non-toxic dyes, or locally produced. Check our blog Causes to better understand how we break down ethical and sustainable fashion options.