Today’s professional women are savvier about sustainability than ever. They are more aware of a garment’s entire life cycle, including the impact it has on climate change.
Ethical brands are prioritizing sustainable materials, reducing carbon emissions in manufacturing and paying their workers fair wages. They also promote recycling and repurposing clothing for extended use.
Sustainable fashion involves a holistic approach to the life cycle of a garment. In addition to using organic fabrics and less harmful dyes, designers such as Iris Van Herpen use 3D printing technology to work out designs digitally before production, which minimizes trial and error and reduces waste. Upcycling and recycling are also key sustainability practices; repurposing existing materials to make new clothing reduces fabric consumption and landfill waste.
Transparency is an essential element of sustainable fashion. Look for brands that reveal the full chain of production and provide information about where and how their clothes are made. A good rule of thumb is to look for a company’s social responsibility index and certifications such as Fairtrade, organic, and recycled.
For the consumer, a good way to practice sustainability is to shop your closet and secondhand stores before buying anything new. It’s also a great idea to learn to sew or mend your own clothes; this helps lower your carbon footprint and is fun!
Often, brands that prioritize sustainability and ethical production adhere to standards like Fair Trade. This means that they ensure that the factories where they make their clothing have a decent working environment and pay their employees not just a minimum wage but also a living wage that allows them to afford basic necessities. As a result, their production is less damaging to the planet and their workers are happier. This also encourages slow fashion, reducing overconsumption by creating durable, timeless pieces that can be worn again and again.
Some brands are even incorporating circular fashion practices, such as upcycling and recycling, into their designs. These involve transforming pre-existing materials and clothing into new products, thereby reducing waste and promoting environmental responsibility. In addition to shopping with brands that prioritize transparency, sustainable fashion can be supported by choosing a minimal wardrobe and investing in high-quality, versatile pieces that can be mixed and matched. You can also support sustainable brands by avoiding those that refresh their collections frequently and instead shopping at smaller, independent clothing stores that carry fewer clothing lines.
As a global industry that both reflects and influences culture, fashion has a unique opportunity to align with community standards. The growing presence of ethical, sustainable and animal welfare in our lives has caused the industry to shift towards brands that prioritize these issues.
While certifications are helpful tools for determining sustainability, it’s important to take these claims with a grain of salt. A certified organic cotton t-shirt, for example, may still be grown with toxic chemicals or dyed with chemical-laden dyes.
For these reasons, it’s best to choose raw materials from companies that prioritize environmental and human health. A good way to do this is to support brands that produce their clothing closer to where they’ll be sold, using renewable energy for production and reducing shipping emissions. Also, consider repurposing or buying secondhand to reduce waste and encourage a circular economy. This keeps clothing out of landfills longer and makes space for new styles!
A truckload of clothing is dumped or incinerated every second. This equates to a lot of carbon, water and waste, but the fashion industry also has a unique opportunity to make changes by setting an example and leading its customers.
The panel discussed how promoting sustainable choices can be made easier through the use of transparency, accountability and collaboration between the fashion industry and consumers. Consumers can pressure fashion brands and designers by urging them to share their sustainability practices, supporting companies that promote responsible production and sharing personal stories of how they have reduced their clothing consumption and impact.
Consumers can also take responsibility for their clothing purchases by buying fewer garments, shopping at second-hand stores and reusing clothes. A tee shirt that is worn a few times can be transformed into a pillow, a tote bag, or even a heating pad with some careful stitching. Brands like Patagonia have shown how to be a sustainable fashion leader by using recycled materials, being transparent about their supply chain and encouraging their customers to repair and reuse their garments.