Firstly, what does sustainability mean?
The Collins dictionary defines ‘Sustainability’ as ‘Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.’
In other words, not using more natural resources than the planet can naturally replace, and not producing anything that the planet can’t naturally reabsorb.
The linear model currently employed by the fashion industry of ‘take, make, dispose’, is at odds with this concept of sustainably.
What is ‘Sustainable’ fashion?
'Sustainable' fashion refers to garments that have been made in a way that is mindful of the many environmental issues the fashion industry touches upon.
The main four issues to consider when it comes to sustainability and fashion:
- Water consumption and contamination (high levels are not only consumed in the production of clothing, but also when we wash our clothes)
- Energy emissions (high use of energy in the production of synthetic fabrics, for example, and in the washing, drying and ironing of our clothes)
- Chemical usage (fertilizers and pesticides used in the production of raw materials like cotton)
- Waste creation (the levels of textiles that are incinerated or sent to landfill are enormous).
See my post 'What are our shopping habits really doing to our planet? Now we know' for more insight into the environmental aspects of fashion.
Why is fashion key to the discussion around sustainability?
The word ‘Sustainability’ in the context of fashion most prominently refers to the environmental impacts of making (raw material creation, processing and manufacture), wearing and caring for (use) and the disposal of clothing (end of use).
We take resources and use water and chemicals along the way, to create a garment. You buy and wear the garment and then throw it away (or donate it) when you’re done…. But then what happens? Generally it goes to landfill or is incinerated.
Today, only 20% of all clothing is recycled.
In order for the fashion industry to really become more sustainable, brands need to work towards developing circular systems whereby garments become fully recyclable after use, reducing the need to create virgin fibres.
And while big industry players are pursuing this, it will take time.
In the meantime, addressing our individual consumption rates, by reducing the volume of clothing we buy, as well as dispose of, can help.
10 brands that are good to buy from:
Want to know more about sustainability and fashion?
Good videos to watch and podcasts to listen to, to further understand sustainability and fashion:
Material world: What on earth are you wearing? (selfridges.com, Jan 17)
Lady boss alert: I talked about sustainable fashion with Maxine Bedat… (ecocult.com, Oct 16)
'You are what you wear' by Christina Dean (youtube.com, Ted Talk apr 2014)
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