Sustainable fashion is about making clothes that take into account the environment and the working conditions of people in the fashion industry.
The fashion industry is among the largest industries in the world. It also contributes disproportionately to environmental pollution, accounting for approximately 10 per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions globally (1).
For this reason, significant changes to the industry are necessary, beginning with creating an awareness of sustainable fashion practices.
Sustainable fashion is both a method of manufacturing and a change movement in the fashion industry itself, with a focus on its connection to ecology, social justice and integrity. Therefore, sustainable fashion can be complicated to understand. And yet, it has a significant effect on the entire supply chain, from producers to consumers to recycling facilities. This makes it paramount to have a comprehensive guide.
Significance of Sustainable Fashion
1.Reduced garbage waste in sustainable fashion
First of all, one reason for sustainable fashion’s significance to the industry is that it reduces waste. A large amount of textile waste ends up burned or dumped in landfills. Most of these textile wastes are created by a fast-fashion industry that frequently introduces new trends at cheap prices and with poor-quality products.
In addition, sustainable fashion aims to produce long-lasting, quality-based products, which reduces the amount of trashed textile materials and thereby cuts pollution and increases recycling. Not adopting sustainable fashion practices could lead to the extinction of future industries in the sector. Consequently, a focus on a circular economy is essential to the fashion industry’s future.
2.Employees working conditions in sustainable fashion
Moreover, sustainable fashion also provides better and safer working conditions than fast-fashion products. Many fast-fashion products are manufactured under punitive working conditions, which include long hours for employees, poor health and safety conditions, barely livable wages (especially in developing countries) and even the exploitation of child labor, based on the need for a more and cheaper workforce to meet manufacturing demands (2). Sustainable fashion, by contrast, ensures that individuals experience proper working conditions and fair wages (3).
3. Sustainable fashion saves water
Furthermore, sustainable fashion is also crucial because it saves water in both washing and manufacturing. This is significant in an industry that consumes a major amount of water. In addition, the fashion industry pollutes freshwater by draining toxic chemicals into waterways (1).
Besides, sustainable fashion advocates for policies that reduces water usage when manufacturing and processing clothes. Moreover, sustainable fashion products are primarily made using organic textiles like linen and cotton, which require limited to no water in production. What’s more, costs incurred by manufacturers of sustainable fashion products are lower than those of non-sustainable fashion products (4).
4. Sustainable fashion protects and balances the ecosystem
The production of sustainable fashion also protects the animal ecosystem (2). In addition, the threat to animal safety is a major concern, because each animal plays an important role in ensuring that the world is habitable. The fashion industry also influences animals’ ability to survive (1). The manufacture of products using leather and fur, such as shoes and fur coats, compromises the co-existence of animals by reducing certain animal populations.
Moreover, the pollution created during fashion production additionally affects the animal ecosystem. Hence, sustainable fashion reduces the exploitation of animals by using alternative materials. Therefore, to create a sustainable fashion market, it is important for individuals to adopt green fashion, which proposes to protect the environment. It should be noted that Green or Eco friendly fashion is about making clothes that take into account the environment and the working conditions of people in the fashion industry.
How to Improve Sustainable Fashion
i. Application of technology in the fashion industry
Some in the fashion industry have recently developed modern technologies that are transforming the industry. In the first place, several fashion brands have acknowledged their responsibility for waste management and reducing environmental pollution. Although most of these advanced technologies have not yet been declared viable, their development is meant to minimize the use of raw materials and thereby customers’ consumption of those materials.
For instance, some in the sustainable fashion industry have developed trial processes that enhance the breakdown of material fibres to their initial components. These are then re-fabricated into different fibres that can make new garments of similar quality. Subsequently, this would reduce reliance on the original fibres (5).
Apart from this, other brands have developed an advanced technology that generates raw materials from parts of plants and uses them in production instead of depending on animal materials like leather. One advantage of this transition indeed is that it creates attractive new investment opportunities within the fashion industry. Thus, the sustainability of fashion will be determined in part by the guiding process of investments and business owners’ evaluations of appropriate investment strategies to improve their competitiveness in the market (3).
ii. Adoption of second-hand fashion products
Tips for reducing your closet’s impact on the planet
1. Buy less and keep clothes longer.
2. Buy second-hand.
3. Invest in sustainable brands if you can.
4. Stay away from big oil’s fabrics.
5. Repurpose old clothes.
Additionally, operating a sustainable fashion business requires the organization to promote where they have done it correctly and communicate their progressive sustainability goals. Therefore, some brands have adopted renting and swapping fashion products instead of ensuring that individuals own each piece of clothing. Obviously, this is applicable and has grown due to the increased market of second-hand clothes, which helps disposal of fashion products to protect the ecosystem.
Moreover, the United Kingdom Environmental Audit Committee (UKEAC) claimed that in 2016 there were over 300,000 tons of discarded clothes in the UK alone (2). Therefore, changing customer behavior can help reduce this (6). For example, some brands have adopted renting and swapping fashion products instead of promoting individual ownership of clothing. This practice has grown along with the increased market for second-hand clothes, both of which reduce the disposal of fashion items and protect the ecosystem (7).
iii. Improvement of working conditions and development of policies
Overall, sustainable fashion businesses have the added advantage of higher worker recruitment and employee retention rates. Many people would prefer to work in companies or organizations with appropriate working conditions and strong environmental protection policies.
Even though sustainable fashion can take longer to make a single garment than fast-fashion products, employees are provided with appropriate working conditions that are safe and healthy. These include reasonable hours and breaks to make them comfortable at work. Thus, these conditions are appropriate for retaining employees as well as attracting additional workers during recruitment (3).
Therefore, before you shop next time check if the brands pay fair wages. Usually sustainably clothing brands pay fair wages to their employees. On the other hand, fast fashion brands tend to pay employees in developing countries under the living wage.
Sustainable fashion also utilizes local production and sourcing. This also increases transparency in the supply chain and guarantees appropriate working conditions and environmentally friendly production.
In addition, sustainable fashion businesses can even communicate their progressive sustainability goals to help build or improve their brand image. The adoption of sustainable fashion production illustrates a business’s responsibility toward society and the environment. With many customers now preferring to buy environmentally friendly products, a related brand image can help attract more customers to the business.
Finally, sustainable fashion ensures that products have a long lifespan. This attracts customers, reduces production and manufacturing costs, and has a beneficial impact on the environment, society and the economy. For these reasons, individuals are encouraged to adopt sustainable fashion.
- So what can we do for sustainable fashion?
- Next time you go clothes shopping:
- Remember to check if the products are from sustainable fashion brands
- Try to recycle your old clothes
- Bhardwaj, G. and Ditty, S. (2018) Understanding Sustainable Fashion. [online] Chatham House – International Affairs Think Tank. Available at: <https://www.chathamhouse.org/2018/10/understandingsustainablefashion?gclid=Cj0KCQjw6pOTBhCTARIsAHF23fJ67tIVH8kbXjpTmHYUZyrjLL0uv4kXSntDhDZLlAGMIuKebUvFLoaAqYiEALw_wcB>.
- Alves, A. (2021) What EXACTLY Is Sustainable Fashion & Why Is SO Important . [Online] The VOU. Available at: <https://thevou.com/fashion/sustainable-fashion/>.
- Henninger, C.E., Alevizou, P.J. and Oates, C.J. (2016) What is sustainable fashion? Journal of Fashion Markworketing and Management: An International Journal.
- Pucker, K. (2022) The Myth of Sustainable Fashion. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: <https://hbr.org/2022/01/the-myth-of-sustainable-fashion> [Accessed 26 April 2022].
- Shafie, S., Kamis, A., Ramli, M. F., Abu Bedor, S., & Ahmad Puad, F. N. (2021). Fashion Sustainability: Benefits of Using Sustainable Practices in Producing Sustainable Fashion Designs. International Business Education Journal, 14(1), 103-111. https://doi.org/10.37134/ibej.vol22.214.171.1241
- Kim, E.D. (2010) The influence of sustainability and social responsibility on fashion trends. International Journal of Costume and Fashion, 10(2), pp.61-71.
- Jacobs, K., Petersen, L., Hörisch, J. and Battenfeld, D. (2018) Green thinking but thoughtless buying? An empirical extension of the value-attitude-behavior hierarchy in sustainable clothing. Journal of Cleaner Production, 203, pp.1155-1169.