What Is Sustainable Fashion? A Beginner’s Guide

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Last summer, I saw this ad about a 1$ bikini going around.

I rolled my eyes so hard it hurt.

Like, seriously, who thinks producing such a thing is possible.

Spoiler alert, it’s not possible – possible meaning sustainable and profitable for all parties involved

See, this is out of control, and we, responsible consumers of the world, have the most important role to play.

We know the importance of protecting the environment and keeping everyone’s human rights safe while looking f a b u l o u s. So it’s our time to shine and support a better, fairer, cleaner fashion industry.

Are you with me?

And I’m here to have a chat with you about this alternative that will help you look superbe + guilt-free: sustainable fashion.

Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty of 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 in 1987 by the United Nations’ Brundtland Commission #themoreyouknow).

And call me crazy, but the fact that we are not willing to endanger our future for the sake of being trendy…hmmm…kinda makes sense to me.

This means that both the environment AND the rights and integrity of all people involved in the manufacturing process must be taken into consideration during all stages of clothing production.

And hey, this process is longer than you might think.

How garments are designed, which materials are used and how they are sourced,  how efficiently energy and water are used in factories, and the workers’ conditions are all factors in the equation.

Even the way in which final products are presented to the consumer, through honest and transparent marketing has a key role – only like this we can consume responsibly and avoid greenwashing.

Read more about greenwashing and how to avoid it here!

second hand sweater and vintage shorts outfit

Sustainable fashion is ethical, eco-friendly and slow

We use the term sustainable fashion as an umbrella term, so there are many ways to see it.

And actually this makes everything more complicated for producers – who have to follow more rules and regulations in order to offer sustainable and fair products –, and for conscious consumers who want to make informed decisions to invest sustainable goodies.

These are some of the different faces of sustainable fashion:

  • 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 like animal protection and the ethical treatment of workers and communities where garments are produced – no matter if it’s in California or Cambodia.
  • slow fashion is a whole movement that focuses on timeless fashion. Its motto: quality over quantity.

Why is sustainable fashion great for our environment?

1. Very little environmental impact sustainable fashion environment

One of the main goals of sustainable fashion producers is to use as little resources as possible.

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

Not only that, but they also try to make sure that they’re not harming the environment that surrounds their factories or causing any indirect environmental damage to it – for example by not leaking dirty water or chemicals into fresh water streams.

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

This point is crucial. 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 either non-water intensive natural materials or recycled fibers (either natural or synthetic).

Tons of natural fibers with very little environmental impact come from plants, not animals – which makes them eco-friendly + vegan. Such are the cases of bamboo, hemp,…and wood in the case of Tencel.

And don’t forget that a lot of brands are using recycled plastics to produce their clothing. There is controversy around this topic 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 creation of microplastics.

If you want to learn more about clothes made of recycled plastic, check this post!

3. Minimizing waste

Industrial waste is a huge problem for any business selling material goods. In the fashion sector, industrial waste means that fabric scraps, left-over materials, and faulty products are just thrown away and end up being wasted either in landfills, or being burnt.

Sustainable fashion brands try their best to minimize their waste by

  • repairing flawed clothing that is not suitable to be sold
  • reusing left-over materials or selling them as scraps to other companies that can take advantage of them
  • and, when there is no way to save the material, recycling it correctly

There’s also an ethical side to sustainable fashion

The cornerstone of sustainable fashion companies is empowerment instead of abuse. 

This involves everything that has to do with how workers are treated: wages, health insurance, safety in the workplace, stability guarantees,… It has a lot to do with ethical fashion.
And we can’t forget about the fair treatment to animals — this is where vegan and cruelty free fashion comes into play. If you want to learn more about these animal-free materials and practices, head over to this post.

sustainable fashion revolution

These companies follow their ethical guidelines to the T. They respect all of their workers and their rights regardless of gender, race, social background, etc. And they ensure that their factory workers, even overseas, have the living standards they deserve.

This is a way to empower individuals and communities to grow and prosper, promote their autonomy and reduce inequalities, instead of making them dependent on abusive companies.

If you haven’t watched the documentary The true cost yet, leave whatever you’re doing (after reading this post of course) 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 assembled the pieces of fabric,… that whole other side of the supply chain.

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 help perpetuate.

Look, Economics 101: companies bring to the market what consumers ask for. This change is happening right before our eyes: governments banning single-use plastics, food chains ditching plastic straws, …

So by supporting sustainable brands, you will be contributing to all the good these fashion angels are doing for the world. You will be supporting social development, environmental conservation, and future.

Try to learn how to focus on the quality of your clothes and the role they have in your life, instead of just consuming for the sake of it.

And in the meantime, you can check this post on how to quit fast fashion, or this one on how to tell if a brand is really sustainable. 


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