If you're in a fashion rut and are seeking a way to make your life a little more eco-friendly, you may want to consider learning about sustainable fashion. Sustainable fashion brands are clothing brands that prioritize creating products in ways that minimize environmental harm, while also providing workers with safe working conditions and fair wages. Here are some ways to identify sustainable fabrics, practices and brands.
What is sustainable fashion?
Sustainable fashion is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of practices the promote more eco-friendly and ethical clothing production. When you break down the different aspects of clothing manufacturing, there's a lot to consider. For instance, just your choice of fabric affects the sourcing of materials, processing, production and end-of-life prospects. Fabrics that are considered more sustainable are generally grown without pesticides, manufactured without plastics and focus on ethical and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes.
Sustainability in the fashion industry also includes the manufacturing processes used. Some of these include:
- Organic, biodegradable fabrics
- Recycled clothing or repurposed materials
- Non-toxic dyes
- Zero-waste pattern cutting methods
- Plastic-free packaging
- Timeless pieces, limited collections
- Rental or closed-loop recycling programs
Additionally, you may also want to look into a company's ethical practices before purchasing. While sustainable fashion may seem to include ethical practices, ethical fashion and sustainable fashion are not synonymous. Ethical fashion is the commitment to reduce the negative effects of clothing production on people, animals and the planet.
While it may seem like natural materials would be best choice for sustainability in fashion, that's not always the case. An example is cotton. Despite being a popular fabric and a staple in most people's wardrobes, cotton tends to be one of the more harmful crops to grow. It requires a large amount of pesticides to grow successfully, thereby harming both the ground and the people growing it. If you're going to choose cotton, ensure that it's organic cotton or recycled cotton for a more sustainable fabric option. Organic hemp, organic linen and lyocell are other good choices if you're seeking a natural fabric.
For an animal-based fabric, recycled wool is likely your best choice. If you can't find recycled wool, regular wool is still a good choice. Recycled wool eliminates the resource-intensive process of attaining new material. Of course, even with recycled wool you may want to research the sourcing of the wool originally to ensure the ethical treatment of the sheep. Still, all wool is biodegradable and can have a long life if well taken care of.
There are also a number of newer synthetic fabrics being produced that have sustainable qualities. Econyl is a yarn created from recycled synthetic waste, such as industrial plastic and fishing nets, to help reduce the amount of microplastics introduced to the environment. This fabric is best for items that aren't frequently washed, such as shoes or outerwear. Bananatex is another new fabric that's made directly from banana plants and encourages the reforestation of banana plants in their native habitats. The fabric is biodegradable.
Benefits of sustainable fashion
So why is sustainable fashion important? There are many benefits to practicing sustainability in fashion, ranging from personal benefits to larger global benefits.
Personal benefits include:
- Always in style. A sustainable wardrobe focuses on quality material and timeless pieces. This means your closet will likely be full of wellmade articles of clothing that are always on trend. That can help makes it easier to get dressed in the morning!
- May save money and time. Having higher quality pieces may mean you spend less money and time replacing articles of clothing when they quickly become worn out. While you may pay more upfront for sustainable pieces, you'll likely save money over time.
- Mindful purchases. If you're making bigger investments into your clothing, you may take more time to evaluate your purchases. This means there may be less of a chance of impulse buying a cheap shirt that you never end up wearing, as your commitment to sustainability could force you to think about how much you like a piece and how much wear you'll actually get out of it.
- Gratification. In addition to a nice wardrobe and more money in your pocket, you might also feel good about yourself for making sustainable choices that benefit both yourself and the planet. That must count for something!
Your choice to shop sustainably will also have positive impacts on the planet. These include:
- Cleaner water. Shopping sustainably can mean less used, wasted and contaminated water.
- Less waste. Sustainable brands often use recycled fibers, reuse scraps from production and produce smaller batches to reduce waste. Additionally, they often use plastic-free packaging to eliminate adding more plastic to landfills.
- Environmental protections. Supporting sustainability in fashion may also mean supporting an increase of environmental protections, especially in the communities the sustainable fashion brands invest in for production.
- Supports people. While not a guarantee, many sustainable brands do often prioritize the ethical treatment of their workers. This may mean fair wages, reasonable hours, better safety conditions and the elimination of child labor.
How to shop sustainably
If you're hoping to make the switch and support sustainability in fashion, there are a few ways to achieve that.
Look for a brand's certifications
There are a number of certifications you can look out for when trying to determine if a brand is sustainable. These include:
- B Corporation
- Sustainable Apparel Coalition
- Fair Trade Certified
- SA 8000 Standard
- Global Organic Textile Standard
- Bluesign Standard
- Cradle to Cradle Standard
- Global Recycled Standard
In addition to checking for certain certifications, investing in higher quality pieces, choosing your materials wisely and only purchasing from sustainable brands, there are plenty of other ways to support sustainability in fashion.
If purchasing from sustainable brands isn't in your current budget, consider thrifting. You'll often get lower prices at thrift stores while still finding timeless, high-quality pieces. This also extends the lifespan of thrift pieces, keeping them out of landfills for that much longer.
Additionally, consider renting clothing. If you have a special event coming up, you can rent a suit or a dress for the night and then return it. Not only is this often less expensive than purchasing something new, it also prevents another rarely worn article of clothing from gathering dust in your wardrobe before ending up in a landfill. Monthly rental services are also available; however, this may not be as environmentally friendly due to the emissions from shipping more often.
Using your voice is another powerful way to support clothing sustainability. Educate your friends and family on sustainability in the fashion industry and reach out to your local representatives to explain why sustainable fashion is important and to advocate for legislation that enacts positive change.
Making the switch to sustainable fashion can seem intimidating at first. However, once you're armed with the right knowledge, you'll likely find it much easier to identify and support sustainable fashion brands. And once you're in the habit, saving the planet will feel second nature.