What Is Sustainable Fashion? A Beginner’s Guide


Once upon a time, a certain fast fashion brand listed a £ 1 bikini on their website and I rolled my eyes so hard it hurt.

We’re aware that profit has been (and still is) prioritized over sustainability for many, many years.

But don’t you think we should naturally be skeptical of products like this one? Or of discounts like the 99% off some fast fashion brands blessed us with last Black Friday? During this specific sale, you could find steals like an £ 0.08 ($ 0.11) dress and a £ 0.25 ($ 0.35) pair of shoes.

And I think that at this point most of us know that someone somewhere is paying the price of our hauls with undignified labor and unfair wages. This means that those helping fast fashion thrive are just turning a blind eye to the problem or pretending that this situation is normal.

Like, imagine being against human rights.

Read more: Fast Fashion Facts You Need to Know

That’s where people like you, ✨ a responsible consumer who is going to do all in their power to get us out of this mess ✨, come into play with sustainable fashion as your co-protagonist and systemic change as your sidekick to defeat the bad guys and create a fair and clean fashion industry.

If you need to revise your script before we raise the curtain, here you have a handy-dandy guide to sustainable fashion:


First things first, what is sustainability?

Sustainability means ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs‘ (definition given by the United Nations Brundtland Commission in 1987).

This means that both the environment and the rights and integrity of all people working in the fashion industry have to be respected. We need to think about stuff like how garments are designed, which materials are used and how they are sourced,  how efficiently energy and water are consumed in factories, who are the manufacturers, or how much waste the production of each garment creates.

We even have to be conscious about how products are presented to the consumer through honest and transparent marketing – only like this we can consume responsibly and avoid greenwashing.

Read more: Major Greenwashing Red Flags and How to Spot Them

So maybe this is a wild thought, but the fact that we are not willing to endanger our future for the sake of keeping up with trends…hmmm…kinda makes sense to me.

Sustainable fashion is ethical, eco-friendly and slow

We use the term sustainable fashion as an umbrella term that includes more specific concepts of conscious fashion like these:

  • eco-fashion has little to no impact on the environment and is mindful of the resources it uses
  • ethical fashion focuses more on social aspects, including animal protection and the welbeing of garment workers and local communities – no matter if “local” means California or Cambodia
  • slow fashion is a whole movement and mindset that focuses on timeless fashion. Its motto: quality over quantity
  • circular fashion is a system where nothing goes to waste
  • minimalism, which is all about rejecting overconsumption

Okay, so having this many options is cool because it lets us address different worries we have about the fast fashion industry (which are a lot *yikes*) and gives us space to decide if we want to prioritize certain aspects of sustainability over others.

For example, I prefer using natural materials over synthetic ones but maybe you think that vegan fashion is the way to go.

Read more: How Sustainable Are the Most Used Fabrics and Fibers?

These are all valid ways to greenify your wardrobe and choosing one over the other is completely fine as long as you’re making informed decisions and focusing on major goals like reducing waste, advocating for a fair industry, or promoting positive innovation.

Now, let’s go into detail.

second hand sweater and vintage shorts outfit

Why is sustainable fashion great for our environment?

1. Minimal environmental impact sustainable fashion environment

One of the main goals of sustainable fashion brands is to use as few resources as possible – especially when it comes to non-renewable ones.

As well, they try to reduce their carbon footprint or even become carbon neutral by using renewable sources of energy and offsetting the emissions they can’t avoid.

And they don’t forget to act locally. They make sure that they’re not harming the environment that surrounds their factories or causing any indirect environmental damage to the communities around them – for example by not leaking dirty water or chemicals into freshwater streams.

2. The materials they use – and how, where and by whom they have been produced

This is so important. Most modern fast fashion brands will use whichever material is cheaper to cut corners and get a greater profit.

Thankfully, sustainable fashion brands come to the rescue by making sure to use the most eco-friendly materials and techniques possible, like crops that don’t need too much water, recycled fibers, or super techy innovative textiles.

And don’t forget that a lot of brands are making clothes out of recycled plastics to produce their clothing. This is kinda controversial because clothes made of recycled plastic are, well, still made of plastic. And that comes with all the problems of synthetic clothes, such as the release of microplastics.

3. Minimizing waste

Industrial waste is a huge problem for any business and in the fashion sector, a huge part of its waste is made up of fabric scraps, left-over materials, and products or rolls of fabric with minor flaws that usually end up thrown into landfills or incinerated.

Sometimes, even the clothes that aren’t sold after a season are thrown away or incinerated, isn’t that crazy? We talked about it in this Instagram post.

Well, so sustainable fashion brands try their best to minimize their waste by

  • using zero-waste cutting techniques
  • using deadstock materials
  • repairing flawed clothes instead of throwing them away (or selling them with a discount)
  • reusing leftover materials or selling them as scraps to other companies that can take advantage of them
  • when there’s no way to save the material, recycling it correctly

The human side of sustainable fashion

When it comes to the social implications of fashion, sustainable brands will always stand for empowerment instead of abuse. 

This involves everything that has to do with how workers are treated: wages, health insurance, safety in the workplace, work stability,…

Usually, when we’re talking about this topic we think about ethical fashion. But we can’t forget about animal protection — this is where vegan and cruelty-free fashion come into play.

Read more: Luxury Vegan Bags: Kinds of Grace

Ethical companies follow their values and guidelines to the T. They respect all of their workers and their rights regardless of gender, race, social background, etc. They know who’s working for them – which is actually pretty rare, as most fast fashion corporations sometimes can’t even point at the countries where their factories are located – and they make sure they have great working and living conditions.

This is a way to empower individuals and communities and to promote their autonomy by reducing inequalities instead of making them depend on abusive companies by taking advantage of their vulnerability.

If you haven’t watched the documentary The true cost yet, leave whatever you’re doing (after you’re done with this post, pls) and go watch it.

It’s a serious eye-opener.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our own lives that we forget that there is someone behind our clothes – who cultivated our cotton, who sewed our shirts,… that whole other side of the supply chain we don’t get to see when we look at our wardrobe.

As a consumer, you make the decisions that matter

You set the rules, you decide who you empower and what kind of business you want to perpetuate.

Look, Economics101: companies bring to the market what consumers ask for. This change is happening right before our eyes with governments banning single-use plastics, or fast food chains ditching plastic straws.

So, by supporting sustainable brands, you will be contributing to all the goodness these fashion angels are doing for the world. With them, you’re not just buying clothes, you’re also taking a stand.

A great place to start would be to try and focus on the quality of your clothes and the value they bring into your life instead of just consuming for the sake of it.

And you can also check this post on how to quit fast fashion or this one on how to tell if a brand is really sustainable, they’re pretty nice too.



2 thoughts on “What Is Sustainable Fashion? A Beginner’s Guide”

  1. Pingback: The New Fashion Resolutions – The Underlined Blog

  2. Hi Lily, glad to know you and your thought of ethical fashion. Right now I am trying to open my ethical small fashion business in from my house concern in fashion muslim which is right now it is a huhe market yet I think it’s time to change this fashion more sustain. Thus maybe you can help me to collaborate with my brand, it will help so much. Looking forward to hear your response. Thank you and keep inspiring.

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