Sustainably Fashionable?

Maybe don’t shop till you drop…

By Veronica Streibel-May

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Above: See Cate Blanchett rock the same dress on two different occasions. From the Film Festival in 2018 to the Golden Globes Awards in 2014.  There is no such thing as “last season” when it’s simply recycling a stunning, timeless look. Reduce, reuse and recycle!

What does it mean?

I take a long glance at my closet and never do I stop and consider what it took for me to end up with these clothes in my possession. How spending 20 dollars resulted in way more than just losing money.

When we think of sustainability and the environment normally we don’t immediately connect this to our wardrobe choices. You may be questioning the relevance and as to how the clothes on your back could possibly be related to the insane wildfires in California. We live in a society where we can’t separate these things into separate categories anymore. With the environment being such a big topic of discussion in today’s modern world, we become more aware of every little factor. Fashion and design, production as well as its distribution plays a key role in this climate crisis.

Luckily, there is a way to take an ethical route when it comes to staying stylish and being environmentally conscious. Shopping from sustainable brands that use recycled materials and undertake ethical labour practices is a step in the right direction. A step into the future where we are eco-conscious and take into consideration the socio-economic aspects of the fashion industry. This is an enormous  industry and will continue to grow. We can do our part and make sure it’s at least sustainable.

Beginning to the End

We start with the production phase. So designing, the production of raw materials and of course the manufacturing. Splitting it up into two parts we look at the environmental aspect that refers to the way in which natural resources are being used throughout the whole process and choosing renewable energy sources throughout the clothing’s entire journey. Keeping in mind the air pollution while manufacturing and delivering these products as well.

The use of water and the devastating reality that a simple shirt on average requires 3,000 liters of water to produce. To compare, the average american uses roughly 60 liters for one shower. On a larger scale, in 2015 the whole fashion industry used 79 billion cubic meters of water- this translates to 32 Olympic-sized pools.These figures are predicted to increase by 50% over the next ten years while we keep in mind the earth’s water resources are already running low.  ⅔ of the world’s water use goes into clothes (mainly due to textile production), which is an insane amount.

The other half we need to look at is the economic lens and its major role in society and therefore also the idea of sustainable fashion. This considers the workers’ perspective and the ethics. Are they being paid reasonably? In what sort of conditions are they working?

After companies have done their part by being sustainable, now we look at the consumer. That’s us. What do we do? The way we use or reuse clothes. That part is our responsibility.

The 5 Ways to Sustainability

  1. Green and clean during the entirety of the clothes’ lives.
  2. High quality that is intended and made made to last
  3. Fair and ethical. This refers to the human working conditions and that animal rights were valued.
  4. Repair and upcycle. Changing it and making it something else once you’re “done” with the clothes. Or sewing up a rip before disposing of the clothing.
  5. Vintage / second hand. Being reused and getting more use out of these products before they’re truly destroyed.

The Problem: Fast Fashion

It’s easy to fall into this rabbit hole that these ‘fast fashion’ brands create for us consumers. They offer trendy pieces at low prices. What more could we want? These clothes are not made to last. The fabrics and materials which these companies are using, more than 60 % of these fabrics are synthetics (which we get from fossil fuels). Meaning that once you throw away that T-shirt from H&M that only lasted a few months it will end up in the landfill or possibly the ocean where it will outlive the oldest vampire. These microfibres do not decay so these articles of clothing are literally immortal. Imagine what people would think when they looked at the hideous trends from 2020 and laugh because they were never able to decompose.

There’s more: textile dyes are highly toxic (for both humans as well as animals) causing disease or perhaps carcinogenic. So it contributes to environmental degradation alongside unfair labour which is inhuman for workers due to the potential dangers. In China, certain rivers have been classified as “too polluted for human contact” because of these chemical toxins. Believe it or not textile dyeing is the second largest contributor to water pollution, after agriculture. Especially in developing countries, this is a huge issue.

The Trick

BEWARE. Marketing is half the battle when it comes to fashion companies selling themselves to the younger generation. They claim to produce a line of clothing that uses only “organic” cotton and recycled polyester. In essence they falsely advertise themselves as green and sustainable. H&M being an example of this with their clothing line named “Conscious”, claiming to be environmentally friendly. However this is not the case as they too will use 20,000 liters of water to produce one men’s “green” long sleeved shirt. They get away with this label as the definition of green is so broad. Having one line that is rumoured to be sustainable is a trap for consumers as they get lost on the website and end up back in the “normal” section. These brands lure customers in with these terms yet still do nothing of value for the environment. Make sure to do your research beforehand.

Here are some options:

The Reality

Quantity matters. They say quality over quantity and this applies to the fashion industry with no exceptions. How much you buy with each trip to the mall has a real impact. Short answer: buy less. This may sound brutal to our shopaholics and especially now during these trying times where online shopping has become a best friend. Sacrifice is crucial if we want to make a real change. Question the true necessity of having an overflowing closet. With this fragile planet facing so many other issues, let this be your contribution.


What Is Sustainable Fashion?

Fashion companies use greenwashing to lie to consumers