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What you need to know about sustainable fashion

Since sustainable fashion has been making its way into the mainstream, we’ve reached a tipping point where both those inside and outside the fashion industry can no longer ignore its presence.
Media coverage of sustainability in fashion industry throughout 2019 has resulted in an overwhelming amount of messaging, particularly following Fashion Week events that focused on sustainable issues. There’s a lot to digest, and in some cases, consumers are having a conversation about fashion that they’ve never had before.


What is sustainable fashion?


How do you define “sustainable fashion”? Sustainable fashion has the opposite effect of fast fashion. In place of the wasteful ‘take-make-buy-dispose’ cycle of clothing from retailers and brands that prioritize profits over people and the planet, a sustainable alternative is aimed at minimizing impact on the environment and perhaps even regenerating it.
There are harmful ecological effects at every stage of fast fashion’s supply chain, so it is not an environmentally sustainable business model. Growing cotton with pesticides and water and creating polyester fibre from crude oil (polyester is plastic, just like bottles and straws), dying and treating fabrics with toxic chemicals that
pollute water and constructing garments with shocking amounts of non-recyclable textile waste.


The sustainable fashion checklist


A sustainable fashion brand or designer creates clothing with these
Features:

  • Fabrics that are organic, natural, and biodegradable
  • Clothing or materials that have been repurposed
  • Dyeing without toxins
  • Cutting patterns with zero waste
  • Packaging made from renewable resources
  • Craftsmanship practices are traditional to a community
  • Models of slow fashion include seasonless, timeless pieces and limited collections
  • Rental and closed-loop recycling models are circular economy models
  • Thrifting and secondhand shopping

There is a difference between sustainable fashion and ethical fashion. As well as incorporating the above points, ethical fashion also considers the social aspect of fashion.

A brief history of sustainable fashion

The sustainable fashion movement’s origins are difficult to pinpoint, as it has developed hand-in-hand with environmental activism over the last 30-40 years.

Fast fashion is a thoroughly modern issue – in the first half of the 20th century, clothes were valued in a dramatically different way, with comparatively higher prices, a make-do-and-mend mentality, slower trend cycles, and mostly a local custom shopping model.


Why is sustainable fashion important?

There is almost unanimous agreement among scientists that our planet faces a climate emergency. We have less than 11 years to stop irreversible environmental damage caused by a 1.5°C increase in global temperatures at our current rate of carbon emissions.

Which of these applies to fashion? Since the clothing and textiles industry is widely cited as being one of the most polluting industries in the world, second only to oil. Especially if we’re going to fight climate change, fashion needs to clean up its act, and fast.

Sustainable fashion myths


There are many misconceptions about sustainable fashion that may deter people from making the switch to a more ethical and earth-friendly shopping lifestyle. However, we can prove most of them are false:

There’s a whole new world of fashion that is as design-led as it is sustainable. Gone are the days of hemp ponchos on hippies. With high-end designers like Stella McCartney, Christopher Raeburn and Margaret Howell competing with traditional luxury fashion on a more eco-friendly scale, to young fashion graduates experimenting with innovative new fabrics and techniques – sustainable fashion meets consumers where they feel comfortable.

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