Sustainable Fashion – The Complete Guide
Imagine you could make a simple change in your shopping patterns to instantly adopt a more sustainable lifestyle and be a sustainable fashion customer.
Or even better.
You don’t need to wait until you go shopping next.
Sustainable fashion is not only about what you buy, but also what you do with the clothes that you already have.
This article is going to be your guide into the world of sustainable fashion. It includes steps you can take TODAY so you can live a sustainable lifestyle.
Table of Contents
What is Sustainable Fashion?
Sustainable fashion aims to make fashion have a more positive social and environmental impact.
For fashion brands, it means producing garments in an ethical manner. They achieve it by using eco-friendly materials (such as cork or organic cotton) and working with factories that meet the highest employee and environmental standards.
For customers, sustainable fashion is about being mindful: buying less but better, consciously choosing ethical brands, deciding to repair instead of throw away clothes, and more.
Even the smallest gestures count.
What’s the Origin of Sustainable Fashion?
The history of ethical fashion reaches the late 1980s when brands, such as ESPRIT and Patagonia, introduced the idea of a more educated capitalism. Profit wouldn’t be the only way to measure success. Other ways of making a positive impact on the world had to be taken into account.
As a result, most companies try to appear ethical nowadays.
But not all of them respect the same standards.
Therefore, it is important for you, as a customer, to understand what a sustainable fashion is. This way you will be able to see which brands really mean their ethical efforts, and which ones treat it as another marketing tool to earn money.
Why Do We Need Sustainable Fashion?
Despite its panache and chic, fashion is one of the most unethical industries in the world. Its negative impact can be divided into two sections, social and environmental one.
1. Negative effects of fast fashion on workers
In the continuous battle for the customers, brands deploy many tools.
The main one is to lower the price of products. It follows that to remain profitable, the costs of production need to be cut. However, it is really hard to achieve with transportation, materials, and other remaining costs. Consequently, it means that the cuts occur on the bottom of the production line.
In the factories.
It has been exposed that leading fashion brands often work with factories in Asia that lower their prices, sacrificing the well-being of their workers. Many of which are children. International Labour Organisation estimated that 170 million out of 250 million working children work in the garment industry. Also, the workers are severely underpaid. Most of the time they can’t afford the £3 T-shirt they are making for the Western customers.
It’s highly possible your recently bought clothes were made by children.
Often the people who work in the factories have their documents confiscated to prevent them from escaping. If they disobey, they can be beaten, or at least verbally harassed by those in charge. They are made to work long shifts in overheated buildings that lack basic safety measures. There have been factories found with unaccessible fire escapes, faulty fire extinguishers, and cracked walls.
As a result, the accidents in the factories can occur putting the lives of the workers in danger. The deadliest one happened in 2013 in Bangladesh. Rama Plaza building collapsed killing 1134 people who were making clothes for Primark, Mango, and more.
Often factory workers are not provided with the necessary safety equipment.
On top of that all, in leather tanneries workers have been found with discoloured skin and lung diseases due to the lack of safety precautions provided by the owners.
An eye-opening documentary about the leather industry.
2. Negative effects of fast fashion on the environment
Fast fashion also has a negative impact on the environment. This means it has an impact on you as well.
Water pollution is one of the impacts of the fashion industry on the environment
It is especially visible in the leather industry. Tanneries all over the world often produce hazardous materials. For example, the tanneries in Kanpur, the leading exporter of leather goods in India, release every day 50 million of highly toxic water. Of which, only 20% undergoes any treatment.
The water saturated with chemicals such as arsenic and lead ends up on the local farmlands and in the Ganges. There, after floating through India and being the main source of water for millions, it enters the ocean where the fish you eat live.
The factories are so toxic that babies living around them have been born blind, with missing body parts, and suffering from serious mental problems. Actually, the usage of hazardous substances is so big that scientists found traces of chemicals even in the clothes that they analysed.
Leather tanneries often use toxic materials putting their workers, and you, in danger.
As it comes to leather, it has to be remembered that it requires a dead animal. Often, it is a death in inhumane conditions. Take for example calfskin leather which is widely popular in haute-couture. Sometimes to make sure the skin is spotless the calves are aborted on purpose to be skinned.
In other cases, electrification of ostriches and skinning alive of alligators have been exposed by international organisations.
Hearing about all of this, you might then want to ask, what is an alternative available to you. That’s where sustainable fashion comes in.
Measuring the Sustainability of Fashion Brands
The problem with this task is that most of the companies claim to be somehow involved in the sustainability movement.
Yet, it is hard to judge if it’s because of their good will, or just because of the industry pressure and fear of losing the customers.
That’s why I present you a list of actions companies can take to be part of the sustainable fashion trend.
If you would like to know how sustainable is your favourite brand, you can check their website and see if any of them are mentioned there.
Organic cotton is free from pesticides, which means it’s also better for your skin.
1. Using Eco-friendly and Organic materials
Some of the materials are more sustainable than others. Let’s look at cotton – the most popular textile in the industry. Cotton plants require 20,000 – 30,000 litres of water for 1 kg of cotton to grow and are very vulnerable to diseases and pests. That’s why the farmers spread them with pesticides for the protection purposes, damaging the ecosystem and poisoning the environment.
Organic cotton, although still water intensive, saves thousands of litres of water and does not pollute the environment with the toxic chemicals.
2. Cutting down on waste
Society of the future will have to face the problem of rubbish that our generation is producing and disposing of in an unsustainable manner. For example, there are five massive garbage patches in our oceans made from floating plastic. That’s why it is important to decrease the amount of rubbish to the minimum. It can be achieved by using the leftover materials in the production of new products, introducing minimalist packaging, and more.
Shipping contributes significantly to our environmental problems.
3. Producing locally
Shipping contributes 2% of greenhouse gas emission worldwide. Therefore, the shorter the distance your garment has to travel, the better for the environment. Sustainable fashion is not only about how your clothes were made but also about where.
4. Using recycled paper and cardboard
Deforestation is a well-known process happening in our Rain Forests.
It is impacting the lives of animals, plants, and you. Instead of cutting more trees to produce paper, it is possible to just recycle and reuse already existing paper. Also, minimising its usage is critical.
It was important for us in Blackwood. That’s why we are only using electronic invoices which is one of the improvements brands can implement.
It is possible to run an ethical clothing workshop with high working standards.
5. Working with the ethical factories
To make sure their clothes are made in an ethical and ecological manner, fashion brands should choose to work only with the factories which meet the highest ethical standards. Companies should be constantly monitoring their factories and allow for third-party organisations to do this as well.
It has been proven that some companies informed beforehand their factory about the inspection, which gave enough time to hide any misconducts. There is no place in sustainable fashion for brands practicing actions like this.
Replacing animal leather can be achieved with sustainable alternatives, such as cork leather.
6. Using eco-friendly leather alternatives
Although animal leather can be a very toxic material, the alternatives are often no better than the original. Many leading brands, such as Stella McCartney, use leather alternatives which are made from plastic. However, there are alternatives, such as used by us cork leather, that are much more sustainable and natural.
Adidas & Parley Collaboration using plastic from the ocean (©Adidas)
7. Using recycled and recyclable materials
A new method of creating textile fibres has been developed allowing for clothes to be made from plastic captured from the ocean. Not only is it a great example of ecology, but also of innovation and high-end engineering.
Fashion has a power to change a refugee camp into a workshop. (©SEP Jordan)
8. Employing homeless and underprivileged
One way companies can distinguish themselves is by empowering those who were less lucky than most of us. For example, SEP Jordan is producing artisan accessories in refugee camps giving a second chance to those in need.
9. Making durable accessories
One way to reduce waste and decrease the need for more shopping is to make sure the clothes the customers buy will last them for years to come. This is the philosophy employed by Tom Cridland – a brand behind The 30 Year Sweatshirt.
10. Encouraging repairs
Similar to the previous point, brands should support their customers with repairing their faulty clothes, rather than buying the new ones.
Considering the size of the fashion industry, introducing renewable energy sources to the garment factories would be of a significant help.
11. Using renewable energy
To minimise the carbon footprint of their clothes companies should use in their factories, stores, and offices energy coming from renewable sources.
12. Producing with certified materials
As already mentioned above, two materials of the same origin can have a completely different impact on the environment and the people working with them. One way of making sure that the material is the right one, the brands should always opt for materials with Fair Trade badge and other certification available.
According to the research conducted by Wrap UK
13. Creating recycling centres
H&M is one of the leaders in the fast-fashion movement. Yet, they are doing their best to improve their sustainability efforts and promote sustainable fashion.
One of the most interesting initiatives is encouraging their customers to bring their old clothes to their stores for the recycling purposes. Well done H&M.
How To Adopt a More Sustainable Lifestyle?
Now that you know what sustainability means for the fashion brands, it’s time for you to take a plunge and learn what YOU can, even TODAY, to live a more sustainable life.
1. Use eco washing powders
Washing detergents are far from ideal as it comes to ecology. They contain dangerous chemicals that not only poison the environment but could also cause cancers and birth defects.
It’s important to do your laundry less often.
2. Do less laundry
Sticking around the subject of laundry, scientists all over the world keep discovering on our shorelines thousands of fibres coming from our clothes. How did they end up there?
The research by Plymouth University found that 6kg of laundry could release an estimated 137,951 fibres from polyester-cotton blend fabric, 496,030 fibres from polyester and 728,789 from acrylic.
3. Go through your wardrobe
Often we don’t realise how many clothes we have. Clothes that some people might need while we don’t wear them. Therefore, check your wardrobe to identify clothes you haven’t worn for a year. Then swap them with your friends or online, sell, or give to charity.
4. Repair broken clothes
Although our society promotes buying new instead of repairing what’s faulty, resist the temptation and try to repair your broken garment.
A famous add campaign by Patagonia encouraging customers to think before purchasing
5. Think twice before making a purchase
How often do you make an impulsive choice when in a store or browsing e-commerce websites? Hence, next time when you face the decision of buying something, ask yourself if you really need it.
Look for third-party certification.
6. Choose the right brand to buy from
You have to remember that by purchasing from a particular brand, you are making a statement. Therefore, before making the purchase, research the fashion brand you are considering buying from. Make sure its values align with yours. One way to find ethical brands is by looking for The Butterfly Mark.
7. Choose the right material
When you face a decision of going for synthetic or organic materials, always go for the latter. Remember that it’s not only better for the environment, but also for your own skin and health. Try to make sure the materials have some sort of certification or a Fair Trade label.
8. Natural vegan alternatives
As we have explained in our article about vegan leather, the alternatives are often very dangerous since they contain plastic. Therefore, if you are looking for animal leather alternatives, try to choose natural materials, such as pineapple or cork leather.
There might be plenty of local talented artist in your area you haven’t discovered yet.
9. Choose local brands
By buying the locally made products, not only do you save the environment from the pollution caused by the shipping industry, but you also support your local economy and the growth of your region.
10. Choose the cause your money supports
Many fashion brands appeal to the sustainable customers by donating part of their profits towards a certain cause. It can be planting trees, building schools in developing countries, or fighting human trafficking. There are endless causes that various brands support. I’m positive you will find a fashion brand helping the cause that is close to your heart.
Remember, nobody is asking you to take all the steps at the same time. Even if you choose one thing from the list above to start with, you will do something good for the society. Then, if you find yourself enjoying being a sustainable person, you might want to move on and do more.
The most important thing though is to make the first step!
Top 5 Sustainable Fashion Brands
It is important for us in Blackwood to produce our items, including our ultra slim card holder, only with the highest quality sustainable materials. We believe that we can be an example for other brands to see that it is possible to design beautiful products without harming the environment.
Luckily, we are not alone on this journey.
There are some extraordinary sustainable fashion designers up there working day and night to make the fashion industry more ethical.
Here are the ones that have inspired us the most:
Patagonia was one of the pioneers of the ethical fashion movement. The outdoor clothing company works with Fair Trade Certified and recycled materials, promotes repairs, and commits to improving the work ethics in the factories. They went viral few years ago with its ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ advertising campaign preceding Black Friday.
Transparency is the key value of Everlane. They show the real costs of their products, from the materials used up to the shipping cost. Everlane is also very open about the factories they work with. On their website, customers can see the pictures from the workshops uncovering the working conditions of the people who made their items.
3. People Tree
They are one of the leaders in the ethical fashion industry. Since 1991, People Tree has worked with Fair Trade farmers and craftsman in the developing countries. They produce beautiful clothes made with respect to the people who make them and the environment.
The brand is famous for its silhouettes that aim to celebrate the feminine beauty. Reformation uses only sustainable materials, such as rescued deadstock fabrics, and repurposed vintage clothing. On top of that, every item comes with a detailed description of its environmental impact.
The only French brand on the list, Veja, can be easily recognised by its signature sneakers. The priority for the company is transparency. They use organic Fair Trade materials to produce premium sneakers in collaboration with small producers and social associations in Brazil and France.
4 of the Best Sustainable Fashion Blogs to Follow
There are thousands of fashion blogs in existence. A few bloggers have decided to differentiate themselves by focusing only on ethical fashion and sustainable lifestyle.
They are doing a great job of spreading the message of sustainability and motivating others to make some positive changes in their lives.
Have a look yourself.
1. Sustainably Chic
Natalie started her blog in 2014 after spending years in the fashion industry and being dissatisfied with the unethical practices. After a year of writing, she became a full-time blogger. Her articles include Go Vintage & Give Your Closet Character While Reducing its Carbon Footprint
2. Eco Warrior Princess
It is one of the most comprehensive blogs about everything that is sustainable. While keeping the focus on ethical fashion, the articles (few a day!) often diverge, like for example It’s Time to Stop The Glorification of Busy
When Instagram’s Best Dressed List by Rafinery29 features a blogger, you know her website is worth having a look. Especially if it is all about being a conscious shopper. StyleBee is run by Lee Vosburgh from Canada and features articles like Activewear For Everyday
The blog with the largest Instagram following (122k) on our list. Caroline, the author, started it when she decided to cut down on the number of clothes she has and to survive on only 37 pieces of garment for a year. To discover her great taste, check out, for example, her article Vintage Jeans: 5 Ways to Wear Them
Will You Join Us?
Remember, as a customer, you have the power to change the world. Choosing the company to buy from is a statement.
Therefore, the next time you go shopping, don’t be afraid to do your research. Ask uncomfortable questions and say ‘no’ when your favourite brand fails to meet your ethical standards.
However, most of all, speak out. Sadly, people don’t know much about the issues of the fashion industry. But YOU can change it
Let’s remember about the environment and the people who make our clothes. In the end, they are the ones we owe for the amazing outfits that give us confidence, are with us in the most intimate moments, or help us reach new heights of performance.
It is fair to do something for them now.