Sustainable Fashion, its definition and importance for our future. At WTVOX, we constantly seek to improve our understanding of emerging concepts in fashion and shed light on the latest trends. One of such emerging concepts is ‘Sustainable Fashion’, a term that nowadays appears everywhere. Brands use it as their philosophy, experts as a production method, and academics as a theoretical concept.
So, this time, we have decided to provide a basic explanation of what sustainable fashion means in various contexts. Here, we also detail on its critical importance for the future of fashion and global welfare.
What do we mean by ‘Sustainability’
The term ‘sustainability’ refers to any system designed to exist in a balanced state. In an ecological context, sustainability would be achieved when all that is taken from the environment can be renewed.
The invention of tools and technological advancements made human able to consume natural resources to the point that the ecological balance has been disturbed. As humans are part of the natural environment, and still dependent on natural resources to a great extent, our wellbeing and survival depend on our ability to achieve environmental sustainability.
However, the path towards sustainability, known as sustainable development, is not only limited to environmental concerns but social and economic as well.
Sustainability is achievable only through a system that embraces all its three pillars, environmental, social and economic, since they are intertwined into, and dependent on each other.
In simple terms, an economic system can remain balanced in the long term only when the pace of consuming the resources remains at the same level as their renewal, and at the same time, a sustainable economy requires a stable social construct.
Sustainable Fashion Appears In Various Terms
By applying the concept of sustainability to fashion, ‘Sustainable Fashion’ can be defined as a system in which supply, production, and consumption of fashion products have been designed in a way that ensures environmental, social and economic sustainability.
As the definition implies, sustainable fashion is not limited to a mere product, but it is a philosophy that also embraces design processes, supply chain strategies, and consumption practices.
There are several terms that are being used by brands, practitioners, and academics to explain the different notions lying beneath the concept of sustainable fashion, such as eco-fashion, ethical-fashion, organic-fashion, green-fashion, vegan-fashion and so on.
This variety of terms and in some cases inconsistency of definitions stem from the novelty of the topic of sustainable fashion which leaves this concept open to interpretation.
Complications Of The Path Towards Sustainable Fashion
The immaturity of sustainable fashion as an emerging concept has made our path to the development of a more sustainable industry a challenging topic of debate.
To date, in the context of sustainable fashion, the fact that there is no general standard or guideline in regard to the responsibility of corporations or consumers, adds to the confusion in defining sustainable fashion and prioritising its initiatives.
In this light, though, there have been some efforts in providing primary tools for standardising apparel manufacturing processes around sustainable production and consumption, such as The Higg Index by The Sustainable Apparel Coalition, leading alliance for sustainable production in the apparel, footwear, and textile industry.
Moreover, the definition of ‘fashion’ – meaning ‘trend’ in general and the change of style and the replacement of old with new in particular – denotes some discrepancy with the concept of sustainability.
Fashion at some level poses the idea of excessive consumption, whereas sustainability implies minimising consumption to the level of necessity. This perspective sees sustainable fashion as a self-contradictory term, urging a fundamental change in the development of sustainable fashion.
Sustainable Fashion As A Movement
Since the UN’s “Our Common Future” report in 1987, the catastrophic impact of human activities on the environment has been the centre of many debates.
Today, more studies and reports are warning us from the reduction of natural resources and the spread of pollution as the consequence of our production and consumption patterns.
As such, consumers have become more conscious of their health, social well-being, the vulnerability of our planet, and the consequence of their actions on the wellness of the next generations.
Along with these changes, all industries have been affected by the initiatives of sustainable development and compelled to take action in this direction.
In particular, in the apparel industry where the production and consumption of fashion products involve toxic wastes and harmful environmental effects in all stages, making the development of sustainable fashion not only an opportunity but also a necessity.
The Fast Fashion Effect
Moreover, a big part of today’s excessive production and consumption of fashion products stems from the appearance of ‘Fast Fashion’ – defined as a strategy in which the profitability of fashion retailers is being maximised by the implication of agile supply chain systems which allow them to capitalise on fashion that has not reached to their competitors.
Over time, the implications of this strategy have heightened impulsive fashion purchases and shortened the lifecycle of fashion products to the level that fashion products are now considered as disposable commodities.
Because of this trend, many of today’s inexpensive fashion items are being discarded only after being worn just a handful of times. In fact, thanks to such practices, fashion has been introduced as one of the most polluter sectors.
The Importance OF Sustainable Fashion
As a response to these problems that are threatening the future of fashion, sustainable fashion has emerged as a new concept and has become a growing subject of interest for scholars, practitioners, and consumers. Many believe that the future of fashion depends on its ability to adopt sustainability and embed this concept at its core.
Although achieving sustainability by its definition is not possible as the dynamic characteristic of nature defies the concept, a more sustainable institution embraces human nature at a very high level. This is because it has the ability to satisfy both our egoistic and altruistic needs.
Therefore, sustainable fashion has the potential to empower consumers’ feeling of fulfilment through making more conscious choices and their consumption of sustainable fashion products.
What About Consumers?
Although due to the immaturity and complexity of the concept of sustainable fashion, some practices taken by corporations could be misleading and in some cases have turned to ‘greenwashing’, the awareness of the environmental and social issues associated to the production and consumption of fashion products has been raised.
The sustainable fashion movement – which to certain extent stems from the higher levels of awareness – is now generated demand from consumers and stakeholders who indirectly pressurise corporations and urge them to take genuine actions towards environmental, social and economic welfare.
In this light, sustainable fashion has created a great opportunity for fashion brands and designers to contribute to sustainable fashion movement and position themselves as the leaders of this emerging landscape.
Sustainable Fashion In Macro And Micro Level
However, there is a need for more conversations, assessments, and reassessments as we are merely at the development stage. To achieve sustainable fashion it is important to have both macro and micro perspective.
The macro perspective sees sustainable fashion from a systematic point of view where all the players in this landscape including suppliers, manufacturers, regulators, and consumers, work together in synergy and interdependently towards a higher level of welfare. Whereas, the micro view investigates what actions from these players would lead us towards sustainable fashion.
In the following series of ‘Sustainable Fashion’ articles, we aim to empower fashion consumers by giving them a better understanding of the overall landscape and the latest development and initiatives.