What is Sustainable Fashion?

Wondering what sustainable fashion actually is?

Well, then this post is for you! I’ve answered all the common questions I get so you can better understand as you explore the world of sustainable fashion and start your journey to building a more sustainable wardrobe! 

What is sustainable fashion exactly?

According to Wikipedia: 

“Sustainable fashion is a movement and process of fostering change to fashion products and the fashion system towards greater ecological integrity and social justice. Sustainable fashion concerns more than addressing fashion textiles or products. It comprises addressing the whole system of fashion. This means dealing with interdependent social, cultural, ecological and financial systems.”

Basically it comes down to manufacturing clothing in a way that the people who make it are paid and treated fairly, and so that it’s less harmful on the environment i.e organic cotton vs regularly grown cotton.

What does it mean to be sustainable in fashion?

Call it what you want- slow fashion, ethical fashion, conscious fashion, responsible fashion; it’s all way of consuming clothing in a thoughtful and mindful way. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: you don’t have to buy anything to start your sustainable fashion journey!

Start with what you already have and mend it if needed or take it to the tailor to get it altered for a better fit. The best way to join the sustainable fashion movement is to simply start by buying less. The best part is that you will be saving yourself time and money in the process!

I am also a huge fan of shopping secondhand! We consume clothing at an astonishing rate so secondhand stores are filled with great finds. Be sure to check your local secondhand shops or online stores like eBay, Etsy, Thredup, Poshmark, and Depop before you head to the store to buy something new!

mending and repairing your clothing
Processed with VSCO with al5 preset

What does sustainability look like in the fashion industry? What exactly should I look for?

When judging the sustainability of the brand you need to take in a few important factors:

How do they treat their workers?

  • Brand transparency is the easiest way to tell if a company is actually sustainable. No brand gets it 100% right but most will tell you their practices in the “about” section of their website. Look out for greenwashing (false claims about being environmentally conscious) and fluffy, empty phrases like “we care about people and the world.” This doesn’t mean anything if they aren’t telling you where exactly their factories are, and how they manage them. Have they bothered to visit the factories and make sure the workers are being treated fairly? Most clothing manufacturing is done overseas and not all of it is bad. There are good factories- they just cost more (for the right reasons) to work with. Fair labor costs more money which means the consumer will pay a higher price, so keep that in mind as well!

How do they treat the environment?

  • How are they disposing of water after dying fabrics? How is the brand packaging their shipped goods? Is it covered in plastic or with compostable/paper materials instead?
  • How are they handling the fabric waste from pattern cutting? Are they using natural materials or synthetics? Again check the “about” page on a brand’s website and see if they disclose this. 

As you can see there are so many ways for a brand to lower their environmental impact and some brands do more than others but you as a consumer have to decide what is important to you and to vote with your dollar by supporting the brands you see working towards doing better.

How are animals handled if they use wool or leather?

Purchasing leather or and animal by-product may be an absolute no for you and that’s okay! Knowing what you value and shopping with your values is a big part of the sustainable fashion movement.

If you still choose to purchase wool and leather, there are more sustainable options out there. There are brands that use recycled leather (like Baggu) from the meat industry so it doesn’t go to waste. Or brands that recycle wool into new sweaters or recycle down feathers into new coats

everlane ethical brand recashmere Brooklyn NYC

How does the sustainable clothing market work?

It’s all about supply and demand.

The market for sustainable clothing depends on the demand from consumers. Look at H&M’s Conscious line for instance- a large fast fashion brand read and leaned into the trend of sustainable fashion. While most would argue that this is a step in the right direction, some may say it’s still not good enough. The more consumers are interested in buying from sustainable brands, the more this movement will pick up steam. Consumers showing interest leads to the growth of sustainable brands, and (hopefully) the movement of larger brands working towards more sustainable practices.

The best way to find sustainable brands and know where they rank on the sustainability scale is to check out the Good On You APP! It has a search option that allows you to search for a brand and see where they rank.

What does “fair trade” mean? What is fair fashion?

Fair trade, in a nutshell, is the promise that a product was manufactured under fair working conditions and pay. Some brands will even work with a third party fair trade certification. This is similar to the way produce (like avocados and apples) can be certified organic so they can show that their product was in fact produced fairly.

An amazing resource for finding fair trade goods is Fairtrade America. Their main focus is bananas, coffee, and chocolate since these goods can only be grown in specific parts of the world that are more likely to have unfair working conditions and pay. Fairtrade America works to ensure farmers and workers are getting paid for the work they do and we as consumers know that we’re supporting a good company.

shows two fair trade certified logos

What is ethical clothing?

Ethical fashion focuses more on how both the consumer and workers are treated. We talked a lot about the worker treatment in the fair fashion section of this so let’s focus on the consumer. 

When seeing if a brand is ethical, ask: does a brand offer a large range of sizes? Are they size-inclusive? How does their marketing look? Are they sharing/photographing a wide range of models coming from different ethnicities, ages, and sizes? This is one of those areas in the sustainable fashion movement (and mass-market) that is lacking the most and where we have the most room to grow as a community.

So how can I be sustainable in fashion?

This all comes down to your own values and what you find important. We all come from different incomes, cultures, and levels of accessibility, and that needs to be considered when it comes to doing this whole sustainable fashion thing. You might not find what you need from a sustainable brand and if that means you have to shop from a non-sustainable brand that’s okay! The biggest way you can have an impact is to avoid compulsive shopping and instead, start shopping slowly and with intention.

Disclaimer: It is impossible to be 100% sustainable. One may choose to wear leather, or to only shop secondhand, or only wear clothing made out of natural materials and avoid synthetics.

Did I leave anything out that you want to know about sustainable fashion? Feel free to leave a question in the comments!


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