Want to know what exactly is sustainable fashion? Look no further.
In this ultimate guide in sustainable fashion, we define and detail on several terms and concepts that constitute sustainable fashion as a whole.
You’ll learn what ethical fashion, slow fashion, vegan and cruelty-free fashion means.
You’ll discover the meanings of fair trade fashion, locally produced, recycled and upcycled.
The pros and cons of second-hand fashion, second-hand and clothing swaps, best sustainable fashion labels out there, and how to become a sustainable consumer as well!
This Sustainable Fashion Guide tackles the following questions:
- What is the definition of sustainable fashion?
- Is thrifting considered as sustainable fashion?
- What does slow fashion mean?
- What is ethical & fair trade fashion?
- What are the sustainable fashion certifications?
- Is vegan fashion sustainable?
- What is upcycled fashion?
- What does make a fashion brand sustainable?
- What are the best sustainable fashion brands?
We adore fashion. We truly do. But, as much as we love fashion, we also love our mother nature, people, animals, and everything that this planet has to offer.
That is why it has never been more important to understand and practice sustainable fashion than now.
In times of misleading marketing and greenwashing, when fashion labels hide behind certifications and fake labels, sustainable fashion has become critical.
Without further ado, let’s jump to the first question:
What Is Sustainable Fashion?
Sustainable Fashion can be defined as clothing and accessories that are supplied, manufactured, transported, marketed and consumed in a manner that takes into consideration sustainability and wellbeing of the environment, the society and the economy.
However, truth be told, the fashion industry cannot be entirely sustainable. Why?
Because any act of production and consumption of apparel consumes the planet little by little. Just like any other types of fashion, sustainable fashion also uses electricity, water, and so on.
Moreover, simply washing clothes cannot be 100% sustainable. Most of us use detergent which pollutes the environment, no matter how eco-friendly it is. It consumes water and electricity.
As a fashion consumer, sustainable fashion means thinking twice about what you buy. It also means to be aware of the impact of your consumption. To understand what you are supporting through your choices and purchases.
It requires asking yourself some simple questions before buying another piece of fashion, such as:
- Am I going to wear this new garment or shoes to the extent of justifying its manufacturing?
- To the extent of justifying the killing of another animal?
- To the extent of justifying the pollution of another river and the cutting of another tree?
If you don’t know where and how to start your quest in becoming a sustainable fashion consumer, it’s alright. We are here to help you practising sustainable fashion.
How do you practice sustainable fashion?
In practice, sustainable fashion means continuous work from brands and consumers to improve the product’s lifecycle in all stages.
These stages comprise design, the supply of raw material, manufacturing, transportation and logistics, storage, marketing and sale, consumption, and post-consumption.
The aim is:
- To minimise the negative of fashion on the environment its natural resources such as water, energy, soil, animals, plants, and other ecosystems.
- To improve the working conditions of people involved in the production of clothing and accessories
- To ensure an economic balance within the whole system by engaging in fair trade practices.
As a consumer of fashion, you can practice sustainable fashion by doing the following things:
- First and foremost, think twice before you buy a new garment. Ask yourself if you really need a new piece of clothing or accessories.
- Ask yourself, is the product you want to buy sustainably produced? Is the brand ethical and sustainable?
- Increase the lifespan of your clothing and accessories by reusing, repairing, remaking or upcycling, and recycling.
Here, we have answered some of the most asked questions about sustainable fashion.
Also, we have listed the pros and cons of the main approaches you can take when embarking on your sustainable fashion course.
Is Thrifting Sustainable Fashion?
Second-hand apparel or thrifting fashion is often seen as an effective approach to sustainable fashion. Because the apparel already exists, there will be no manufacturing process involved.
This way, you always find new brands and new clothes. At the same time, you avoid the negative impact of fashion manufacturing.
However, there is a downside to buying second-hand fashion. It is often difficult to trust the quality and the condition of the garments you purchased this way.
So, if you are going down this route, make sure you check out our selection of best second-hand clothing online stores.
Another way of thrifting in fashion can be seen as swapping clothes. Swapping clothes is one of the quickest and best solution to sustainable fashion.
It allows you all to give unwanted apparel a new life. Therefore, the garments you save by swapping over will avoid the landfill.
Below we have briefly explained three simple ways of swapping clothes.
Swapping clothes in three simple ways:
- Friends – The simplest way is to swap clothes with your friends – you can always swap clothes with your friends. Share your garments with each other. This way you’ll always have new clothes to wear without buying anything new!
- Apps and Social Media – If you don’t have any friend who is willing to swap clothes with you, there are other ways. Thankfully, we live in the digital era, and there are hundreds of online apps and Facebook groups embracing the idea of swapping clothes. Just go to Facebook, open the groups’ section and search for ‘clothes swap’ in your location, and you will be surprised to see how many people are doing it online!
- Swapping Events – This option is for the braver ones. You can begin to organise private swapping events at your home. To start, contact at least 10 potential participants to ensure that you have a wide range of sizes. It is a critical step as you don’t want to have three participants with sizes at the opposite poles. then ask them to invite their friends to the event, and take it from there.
What Does Slow Fashion Mean?
The slow fashion concept is straightforward. It is the opposite of fast fashion.
Slow fashion refers to producing and consuming fewer fashion apparels, by choosing quality over quantity. For example, fashion brands working on the basis of made-to-order often follow this concept.
You can practice slow fashion by simply buying quality items, less often, and wear what you buy for a longer time.
Buying quality items compels you to repair them when they break, rather than throwing them away.
That’s because often you spent a considerable amount of money quality items. Also, these items usually play an important role in your wardrobe.
However, there is a problem with slow fashion. That is your fashion taste might change over time.
So, it is important to choose the type of fashion you see yourself wearing for a long time.
What is the minimalist lifestyle?
A minimalist lifestyle means having as little possession as possible.
Having a minimalist lifestyle might be hard. So, don’t be too hard on yourself initially.
If you are someone who likes to change styles very often, you might get bored by not being able to experiment around with new things.
How can I be minimalist with clothes?
Minimalist fashion refers to having as fewer fashion garments as possible.
The minimalist approach to fashion is in line with the slow fashion philosophy.
It also helps sustainable fashion since buying and using only what’s required means less manufacturing, less pollution, less consumption, and less waste.
- Do it step by step. Any change happens gradually and being dramatic about it doesn’t help.
- Stop buying whatever you don’t consider essential.
- Do not buy what you no longer need, or it does not contribute to your idea of a more sustainable fashion closet.
What Is Ethical & Fair Trade Fashion?
Ethical fashion and fair trade fashion refer to the socio-economic aspect of sustainable fashion.
This aspect looks at ways to improve the working conditions of people involved in the fashion supply chain and ensures fair trade practices within the product lifecycle.
How can you practice ethical fashion?
- Always make sure that the label you choose guarantees fair wages to its workers – This improves their quality of life. You can either Google it or follow sustainable fashion reports. Ensuring the minimum living wage would see lesser conflicts, more love, peace, and happiness in the world.
- Local production is critical to minimise the global carbon footprint – We recommend you to always buy sustainable fashion made by local artisans. Merely having a t-shirt transported to you from thousands of miles away, releases out a considerable amount of C02 in the atmosphere.
Is ‘Made in Italy’ really made in Italy?
A note of caution here. It is not always true that if the label says ‘Made in Italy‘, that the product was made in that country.
In fact, in most cases, making only a part of the apparel is sufficient to allow the brand to use that labelling.
So before you buy, do your research. Most sustainable fashion brands that manufacture locally are always very expressive about their production practices.
If you can easily find such info, then that’s a very good sign. If not, think twice about the brand you want to buy your garments from.
Sustainable Fashion Certifications – Common mistakes
Although the purpose of certification is to build trust between the buyers and sellers, the deal with certifications has always been a tricky one.
There’s a growing number of organisations creating certifications after certifications, tricking new fashion labels into thinking that they must have them to appeal to conscious consumers.
The problem is that some of those certificates are given to whoever pays for them. Unfortunately, there are many fashion brands trying to exploit the sustainable fashion movement.
Moreover, if a small family brand cannot afford or willing to pay for those certifications, it doesn’t mean they are not sustainable.
Same applies to brands that have certifications. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are sustainable fashion brands.
It might just mean they’re trying to construct an image of a sustainable fashion label to hide something more sinister.
So always make sure you are not relying on certifications. Check the brand’s website. Check their claims. Always cross-reference between different sources of information.
See where the materials are coming from. Is their philosophy resonate with you. What is their view about the future of fashion? You can also check their social media channels.
Finally, contact them with questions about their products, the materials they use, and so on. If you don’t get an answer, there’s no doubt they have something to hide, and that’s a bad sign, no matter how many certificates they have.
The issue with ‘Organic Cotton Certified’
While organic cotton certified sounds like next-level sustainable material for a conscious buyer, there are positives and negatives with this material.
- Organic cotton saves the planet from pesticides and other unnecessary toxic chemicals.
- Organic cotton is far better for the land and the health of the local farmers.
- Choosing organic cotton certified garments means that the wildlife is protected as well.
- It is essential to understand that the use of organic cotton requires enormous amounts of water.
- The label of organic cotton is often misleading by making buyers think it is healthy for their skin. Just like other types of cotton, certified organic cotton is dyed with chemicals to the desired colour.
That is why we recommend avoiding organic cotton when you have a better alternative to choose from.
Alternative fabrics include fabrics from hemp, bamboo, Tencel, Lensing, and Pinatex. to name a few.
They are more sustainable given their comparable (if not better) quality and use of far lesser water.
What Is Vegan Fashion?
There has been not animal-based products -such as leather – used to produce vegan fashion products
Therefore, vegan fashion is cruelty-free by nature.
Also, vegan fashion stops the killing of animals and their suffering for clothing and accessories.
Is vegan clothing environmentally friendly?
There’s a caveat here. In order to be considered as a vegan fashion label, some brands use plastic or other non-biodegradable fibres as a replacement to animal-based products.
Unfortunately, while this strategy is saving some animal lives, on the one hand, the plastic-based materials damage the environment at scale.
These plastic-based materials end up in landfills and oceans, directly contributing to eco-pollution. Also, such plastic pollution is indirectly killing millions of fish and animals by entering their food chain.
Nevertheless, although vegan fashion is not always environmentally friendly, it is a more sustainable option compared to animal-based fashion products.
vegan fashion is seen as more eco-friendly due to reducing the negative environmental impact caused by animal agriculture.
Also, thanks to the recent advancements in the fashion industry, the number of sustainable, biodegradable, and plant-based vegan alternatives is on the rise.
Moreover, now more than ever, vegan fashion labels have embraced such sustainable approaches in their production.
These labels create sustainable fashion products by the use of innovative materials such as Lenzing, Pinatex, Tencel, cork, seacell, leather from mushrooms, hemp, and other recycled materials.
What Is Upcycled Fashion?
The upcycling movement initially began with recycled fashion. With one big difference. Upcycling adds an extra layer of uniqueness and beauty to fashion.
Upcycled fashion is a great way to revive old fabrics and turning them into new fashion pieces. Old fabrics that are carrying the story of their time.
Upcycled fashion or upcycled clothing is also often considered as repurposed clothing, reused clothing, and recycled clothing.
Upcycled fashion makes the final products as unique and rare, almost like a new form of luxury fashion.
How does upcycling clothes help the environment?
The benefits of using upcycled materials for a more sustainable fashion are tremendous.
- Upcycled fashion is critical to waste reduction.
- Upcycled fashion is reusing materials that otherwise would have no purpose.
- Upcycled fashion reduces carbon and gas emissions, from manufacturing to transport and so on.
But, like with all sustainable fashion solution described above, upcycled fashion also has environmental issues we cannot ignore.
- Both recycled and upcycled materials can release microfibres in the environment. These microfibres can’t be filtered out of the water. Also, they end up in oceans, causing pollution, killing fish and causing a lot of damage in the long term.
- To upcycle some materials, companies end up using more energy and chemicals than they would require in the case of using novel materials to create new garments.
Although Adidas Parley revives fishnets wastes from the ocean, this upcycling process requires large quantities of chemicals and electricity.
That means that the creation of these sneakers might not be eco-friendly after all.
But, it also might be more sustainable if the product can last more than a season, assuming that the product is not featuring a time-bound design.
A More Rigorous Approach To Sustainable Fashion
In our modern society, there is an acute need to produce in more sustainable ways, in all industries, not just fashion. Sustainability in fashion must include how we produce and consume apparel and accessories.
It is a trend that’s catching like fire as a growing number of clothing companies all over the world have embarked on their journeys of sustainability. Journeys that comprise the production phase, but also the encouragement to reuse and recycle.
Clothing companies are employing CSR managers and sustainability experts to realign their business models, production processes and bring new concepts that can push the businesses towards sustainability. However, despite the growing interest in sustainability in the fashion industry, to date, there is no universal definition of what sustainable fashion means.
Mostly, the issue is caused by the lack of introducing all the participants in the sustainable fashion process, from consumers to brands and policymakers. Thus, WTVOX and our experts have put together the most accepted definition of sustainable fashion to date:
“Sustainable fashion is defined as the manufacturing, marketing, and usage of fashion apparel and accessories in the most sustainable manner possible, with care for the environment, animals, and people. It is a process that involves continuous development at all stages of the product’s life cycle. It requires sustainable design, sustainable materials, sustainable manufacturing, sustainable transport, storage, marketing and finally, sustainable consumer reuse, repair, and recycling of the products.”
Exploring further the definition of sustainable fashion, we look at the environmental aspect. Here, the aim is to minimise any undesirable ecological impact of the product’s life cycle by:
a) Use the biodiversity, ecosystem, and all-natural resources of the planet, such as water, energy, land, soil, animals, plants, in the most efficient ways.
b) Always use renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, ocean, at every stage of the manufacturing and recycling processes.
c) Repair, reuse, and recycle the product and all constituent parts in sustainable conditions, with sustainable resources. From an ethical and human resources perspective, sustainable fashion practices must ensure that existing working conditions (be that on the field, in the factories), any part of the transportation chain, and in the retail stores, comply with good ethics and are done according to the most recent international codes of conduct (K Fletcher, 2013).
We really hope that this ultimate guide in sustainable fashion has helped you.
Now you know what sustainable fashion means from various lenses such as manufacturing, branding, and even from your (consumer) perspective.
You’re now familiar with concepts such as second-hand fashion, the emergence of vegan and cruelty- free fashion, eco-friendly and eco-conscious fashion, slow and fair fashion, and the latest sustainable fashion trend, upcycled fashion.
Why sustainable fashion is critical for the environment, animals and people.