One of the popular phrases that have made its way into the news and pop culture has been “sustainable fashion.” It’s one of those things that passionate environmentalists like to talk about when discussing how to help our planet. They put it up there with recycling and also things like ocean clean-up.
While that is all well and good, it’s not going to help if people don’t have a clear idea of what it is and see some examples of it. Once they learn the answer to the question, “What is sustainable fashion?” they can decide whether they want to participate in it. They do need to be careful, though, since there are some traps and myths that they may fall for – more on that later.
Why is there a need for sustainable fashion in the first place? The main reason is that the fashion industry itself has a really bad impact on the environment and people. That is because of things such as factories having a lot of carbon emissions and putting their workers in dangerous situations for very low pay.
Let’s dig deeper into what this is, how it works, and what areas could stand to be improved so they can participate in an ethical and sustainable fashion.
Table of Contents
What is Sustainability in Fashion?
First, let’s define what it is. The sustainable fashion industry has several goals in mind, all of which are to help the environment, the local ecosystems, and the people who make the products. Their aim is to use materials to make fabrics that produce fewer emissions that can harm the planet.
They also want to produce clothing that doesn’t involve killing animals to make it or using methods to get certain materials from these animals that won’t harm them or make them stressed.
Also, they want to be much less exploitative of their workers than the traditional fashion industry is, which means they have them work in better conditions. Overall, it means that they are aiming to create things that they can sell with pride. Sustainable fashion brands may even pledge to donate a certain percentage of their sales toward environmental causes.
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Examples of Sustainable Fashion
Now that you know what sustainable fashion means, now it’s time to get some concrete examples so that you can answer questions like, “What is sustainable clothing?”
Natural & Organic Materials
This is one of the main aspects of sustainable fashion – the materials that are used. A lot of clothes are created with synthetic materials. Those clothes may feel good when you wear them, but they can damage the environment since they need a lot of resources to make them.
On the other hand, sustainable fashion brands use materials like hemp, organic cotton, and linen. Workers grow this without resorting to harsh chemicals, which is great for the environment.
Recycling is a big part of environmentalism, so it makes sense that it is integrated with the sustainable fashion industry. The clothes that you buy can be made from recycled cotton, recycled plastic, or recycled wood. It’s a great way to conserve resources and prevent waste.
Workers in this sector break down clothing and textiles into their raw elements and then make new clothes out of those raw materials.
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The chemicals that traditional fashion sectors use can be extremely devastating to the environment and harmful to the workers who apply them to the material. You, the consumer, can also possibly be affected in the form of having allergic skin reactions when you wear them.
Sustainable fashion uses natural dyes that are made from plants. As a result, it’s safer for the workers and the environment, since there is a much smaller chance of any water pollution.
Basically, this means that the companies that pledge to be part of Fair Trade will pay their garment workers a fair wage and provide them with a safe place to do their job. When you buy a sustainable fashion piece, you can do so knowing that it was likely produced by a brand that adhered to Fair Trade. Be sure to make sure that the company is fair trade certified.
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Pros and Cons of Sustainable Fashion
Like everything else in life, there are good and bad things to consider when it comes to sustainable fashion. Here are some of the pros and cons worth thinking about:
It Lowers Your Carbon Footprint and Saves Natural Resources
Pesticides are a big problem when it comes to the environment. A lot of it is used when it comes to fabric production. It also puts a lot of carbon into the atmosphere, which can have long-term effects on the climate.
One big draw for sustainable fashion is that they use organic cotton, which creates almost half the amount of carbon emissions than the other cotton that is used. Also, sustainable fashion uses fewer trees, which means that there is significantly less deforestation going on.
It Helps Animals
Everyone loves animals, right? Well, a lot of them have been killed to make things like leather. Sustainable fashion has things like vegan leather, which spares many of these animals from premature, often cruel, death.
People involved in this also reject making any fur clothing. They ethically source things like wool, which means that animals like sheep are well-cared for and that the sheering process is a gentle one for them.
Sustainable Companies Are Better For Workers
While some unethical companies that claim to be sustainable may make this one fall into the next category, generally, sustainable fashion companies tend to treat their workers better in terms of safety.
You Can Save Money In the Long Run
You may have to pay more upfront for these clothes, but they tend to be much more durable than the ones that you get from traditional fashion or fast fashion and that can wind up making it worth it. Also, extending your outfit’s life by nine months can greatly reduce its carbon footprint, so taking part in ethical and sustainable fashion can help the environment a lot.
You Can Create More Innovation
Ethical fashion brands are being extremely creative things with the resources they have. Their entire supply chain can be from by-products of industries like the pineapple juice one or taking plastic that has been brought in from sea clean-up and making swimwear from it. That can greatly improve their environmental impact.
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Sustainable Fashion Brands Don’t Have a Large Market Share
The fashion industry, as a whole, has not embraced it. They prefer fast fashion and that part of the industry hasn’t made strides toward improving sustainable production measures. These sectors need to buy into it in order for this to work.
People Usually Have to Pay More For Sustainable Clothing
People aren’t going to care about the reasoning behind this: It costs more to make the clothes and the material is more expensive. The customers are thinking about their wallets and that can make them short-sighted in the long run.
Beware The Danger of Greenwashing
This means that any unscrupulous companies may say that they are sustainable and not provide any evidence such as their policies and processes to prove those claims. You also have to be careful that they don’t have any dubious certifications from unknown companies. Investigate and make sure that the brand is committed to ethical and sustainable fashion.
You May Have Fewer Choices of Clothes
This one is part of the first con. Since sustainable fashion has not become industry-wide, that means that you will have a limited number of brands to choose from. That can impact how you fill your wardrobe.
But there can be a silver lining here – sustainable practices can help people become less likely to participate in rampant consumerism and buy fewer things, thus creating a lot less clutter in their homes. That can have a positive environmental impact since that will mean fewer things will end up in landfills.
Myths of Sustainable Fashion
There are some myths that people believe about sustainable fashion. It’s important not to fall into those traps. Otherwise, you may be getting items that are not truly sustainable.
- Just because a piece of clothing is expensive, that doesn’t mean that it was produced in an ethical way and it might not meet the criteria for being sustainable. A higher price tag can mean just that … it costs more. Do some research and make sure that a higher-end brand is made in a specific factory and that it does not share one with fast fashion. Be wary if the brand is not 100% transparent about what materials they use to create these pieces.
- Don’t trust everything that these brands say about their products. Sadly, many of them may just be interested in capitalizing on a trend and may engage in deceptive practices. There are companies out there that truly have the environment in mind and have the best intentions, but they risk being crowded out by others that use the same buzzwords and don’t back up their claims at all.
- Just because a brand may say that it is certified as being sustainable, that may not necessarily be the case. Those organizations that issue those certifications are not given a lot of oversight, so it’s almost like they could be produced by someone in a basement. Also, they tend to favor the industry itself and not actually the environment. Look into the organizations and see which ones are trustworthy and which ones are not.
- Some people may say that getting items secondhand is a way of participating in sustainable fashion. The items are only made once, right? It is a step in the right direction, but it’s not completely sustainable. That is because most of the clothes are sent to places that put them in landfills, which creates more pollution and does nothing for the environment. It’s not a balanced market at all and many places also raise the prices of the clothes they get so only the rich can get them.
- Just because these clothes are made in an industrialized country like the United States, the UK, and France, to name a few, doesn’t mean that they follow any strict ethical guidelines that guarantee that their products are sustainable. Many companies in these countries love to exploit every possible loophole where they can say they produce things in a sustainable way but they don’t have to actually prove that they do things like use organic cotton or recycled materials. They may also not use raw materials, On top of that, they may even pay less than a living wage for their workers. Ethical brands don’t rely on such trickery to get what they want.
- While all kinds of fashion may be made by workers toiling in conditions that are far less than ideal, it can be even more prevalent in the sustainable fashion field. You will find that these companies are far from living out the values that they talk about on their websites. They are not following ethical fashion practices and fashion production. These brands also make becoming a more sustainable fashion industry even more difficult than it already is, since the public won’t know that they aren’t participating in ethical fashion. This will considerably slow down the sustainable fashion movement.
- One way companies may try to wash their hands of the whole wage issue is that they don’t actually own those factories – suppliers do. That way, they leave the pay to those who are in charge there and they can pit several suppliers against each other and just pay the lowest price.
- A brand may say that they want the workers to be paid a good living wage, but they balk at seeing to it themselves that it happens. They leave that in the hands of the factories … where, as you see from the above bullet point, the suppliers and factories work together to try to cut costs as much as possible and that money comes right out of the pockets of the workers who are just trying to do what they can to survive.
- This leads to the next myth – that if sustainable clothing brands wound up paying the workers more, that would then cause the prices of their items to go up even more than they already are. That is a tactic that fast fashion brands like to use to lower their own wages. Actually, labor is only a very tiny part of the overall reason for the pricing of the clothes once they have begun to be mass-produced. But people still buy into that labor argument and it has made it hard for truly sustainable fashion to get a hold.
There are still a lot of things to be done to ensure that the fashion industry, including fast fashion and slow fashion, follows these standards. Fashion companies, as a whole, have a lot of work to do to have truly sustainable fashion.
Like many other fields, though, it is the old guard that is holding up progress and, since they still have the public’s attention, the above myths may cause people to not entirely trust that they are getting exactly what they paid their money for.
Ultimately, it’s going to take a concerted effort by companies in this industry, and it will also take governments around the world getting involved, since they can help regulate what clothing is made from, including demanding that they use organic cotton and recycled materials.
If that doesn’t happen, then sustainable fashion may continue to be relegated to being more of a niche thing that is prone to scammers and unethical companies trying to fool unwitting people into buying their wares and constantly creating a negative environmental impact. Fast fashion would still rule the market.
While the above paragraph may sound bleak, there is quite a bit of reason to be optimistic about the future of the sustainable fashion movement. As time goes by, and the younger generation, namely Generation Z, which is led by people like Greta Thunberg and others takes control of society, a more sustainable fashion industry may become more regulated and more trustworthy.
Then it will cease to be a “good idea” and become a way of life for them. The future may be bright for both fashion and the world.
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Kyle Kroeger, esteemed Purdue University alum and accomplished finance professional, brings a decade of invaluable experience from diverse finance roles in both small and large firms. An astute investor himself, Kyle adeptly navigates the spheres of corporate and client-side finance, always guiding with a principal investor’s sharp acumen.
Hailing from a lineage of industrious Midwestern entrepreneurs and creatives, his business instincts are deeply ingrained. This background fuels his entrepreneurial spirit and underpins his commitment to responsible investment. As the Founder and Owner of The Impact Investor, Kyle fervently advocates for increased awareness of ethically invested funds, empowering individuals to make judicious investment decisions.
Striving to marry financial prudence with positive societal impact, Kyle imparts practical strategies for saving and investing, underlined by a robust ethos of conscientious capitalism. His ambition transcends personal gain, aiming instead to spark transformative global change through the power of responsible investment.
When not immersed in the world of finance, he’s continually captivated by the cultural richness of new cities, relishing the opportunity to learn from diverse societies. This passion for travel is eloquently documented on his site, ViaTravelers.com, where you can delve into his unique experiences via his author profile.