What Is Sustainable Fashion, and Where Is It Headed?
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Manufacturing one cotton shirt requires 2,700 liters of water, which is enough drinking water for one person for two and a half years. Switching to synthetic materials isn’t necessarily any better. Although a polyester shirt requires fewer resources, it creates twice as much carbon emissions as a cotton shirt.
The culture of fast fashion exacerbates these impacts. Over the years, the number of fashion cycles in a year has increased from two to more than 50, which results in people buying and discarding more clothing. Today, the fashion industry produces about 20 pieces of clothing per person every year, and the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing each year.
As more people became aware of the environmental issues surrounding apparel, the sustainable fashion movement emerged. Today, the cause continues to gain ground in the fashion world.
What Is Sustainable Fashion?
The sustainable fashion movement aims to reduce the environmental impact of the clothing industry. Ultimate success for the campaign would be creating an industry that has a net-zero or even net-positive effect on the planet.
Brands involved in sustainable fashion focus on the material used to make their clothes, as well as the environmental impact of production and distribution processes.
They often provide ways for shoppers to recycle their old clothing, too. H&M, for example, will give you a store voucher if you donate used clothing to their recycling programs, which either sells clothes secondhand or turns them into products such as cleaning cloths and insulation.
Many sustainability-focused brands also focus on socioeconomic issues, such as fair pay and good conditions for workers across their supply chains.
Where Are We Now?
The sustainable fashion trend may have begun as a niche trend with hippie connotations, but today it’s becoming an integral part of the industry.
As awareness of the social and environmental issues associated with industry and consumerism grew, so did the world of sustainable fashion. At first, a few niche eco-friendly companies popped up. The trend eventually expanded to many major brands across the cost spectrum.
Brands began to put more of a focus on sustainability in large part because of demand from consumers and the opportunities doing so could bring.
News of harmful practices could bring about a lot of bad press for a company, resulting in a drop in sales. Making sustainability part of your brand, however, could be a substantial boon to business. Patagonia’s commitment to the environment, for example, has helped propel the company to its current position.
In 2017, 42 out of 100 brands disclosed their supplier information, allowing customers to verify their claims of sustainability. The environment has also become a prominent theme at fashion events, with eco-fashion weeks starting up around the world.
Where Are We Going?
Industry experts predict sustainability will be a significant area of focus for the fashion industry in the coming years. Companies are realizing they need to be greener to be able to sustain their business models and survive in the market.
In 2018 and beyond, we will likely see a continuation of the eco trends of the last few years. Green initiatives are currently somewhat fractured, but companies will begin to organize them better. Sustainability will likely transition from a side project to an integral part of brand identity for many companies.
We will also see many more innovations in business models, materials and technologies. The cradle-to-cradle T-shirt and recycled polyester, for instance, recently emerged as a mass-market possibility. More ideas will move from the prototype to the commercialization stage in 2018. The fashion sector will put more effort into creating a circular economy.
What Can You Do?
So, what can you do to make your wardrobe more sustainable? First of all, keep the clothes you already have and take care of them so they last longer. Washing clothes also uses a lot of energy and water. Try to cut down on how often you wash your clothes, only run full loads, use cold water and air dry whenever possible.
If some of your old clothes do become unwearable, or you realize you just need to get rid of some, repurpose, recycle or donate them instead of throwing them away. Donate clothes to thrift stores or other charities. For clothes in poor condition, turn them into rags or find a nearby location where you can recycle them.
When it comes to buying new clothes, a little research goes a long way. Before going to a store, check their website for information about sustainability. If you can’t find any, consider that a red flag. There are also some helpful resources online that will give you information about which brands are the most eco-conscious.
When doing research, watch out for greenwashing — basically, claiming to be eco-friendly but not living up to the commitment. Make sure companies saying they’re green can back up their claims.
Keep in mind, though, you likely won’t find a brand that’s doing everything perfectly — and you don’t have to be perfect, either. Just make the most sustainable choices you can with the resources you have and keep spreading the word about sustainable fashion. In doing so, you’ll become part of the push toward a more sustainable fashion future.
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About the author
Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.