When Is Fashion Sustainable Fashion And When Not?

When Is Fashion Sustainable Fashion And When Not?
sustainable fashion

Photo: Antonia Böhlke

Sustainable fashion is on the rise! Customers pay more and more detailed attention to purchases and companies are listening. Simone Schroeter just wrote an article on Why Sustainable Fashion is the Future. This is great news for the fashion industry, the environment, the workers, animals and of course, the consumer. But what exactly is sustainable fashion and what definitely not? 

1. Animal Welfare

Welfare is one topic to take into consideration but so is the process involved with transforming hides and fur into wearable pieces. When hide is turned into leather it goes through several different stages including pickling, soaking, liming, fleshing, splitting, deliming, bating, degreasing, bleaching, depickling, tanning, and finishing which often times uses dyes. That is a lot of water and chemicals. Using animal products for fashion is an enormous drain on natural resources while also allowing polluted by-product back into nature. On the other hand, general animal welfare while not considered in the strictest of terms under sustainable fashion must be included. Throughout history, we have hunted to extinction or near extinction several animals for their pelts. By upsetting the eco-system in such a manner we open up the possibility for other species to populate unchecked. We disrupt a delicate balance every time a certain animal fur comes into trend. And in order to be sustainable, we must not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

2. Environmental Responsibility

Sustainable fashion is centered on environmental responsibility. In the last several years’ companies such as Levi’s, Reformation and BeGood, to name a few, have been making leaps within the industry, cutting down their environmental footprint. The fashion industry is one of the most disastrous contributors to environmental degradation. From toxic dyes, pesticides ruining soil composition, non-biodegradable fabrics piling up in landfills and filling the oceans, to the pollution from shipping all these goods: the fashion world is a dirty one. To truly be considered sustainable fashion the clothing produced should come from recycled materials or from crops requiring less water. Attention should also be paid to the finishing process from the dyes used to how much water is needed.

3. Worker’s Rights and Wellbeing

The social impact of the fashion industry became glaringly obvious with the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh. It was no mystery that most clothing was produced overseas in factories but, the preventable death of 1,129 factory workers made obvious the unfathomable working conditions they were forced to endure. From unsafe building structures to long hours, minimal pay, child labor, no job security, no accesses to education or medical care, the 2013 collapse shined a spotlight on factories around the world and the secrets behind their walls. While several companies have vowed to do better, little evidence is presented to trace the origin of an individual garment. Aside from factory conditions the increased buying of cotton from countries such as Uzbekistan directly supports state sponsored child workers who spend weeks picking cotton instead of being in school. Campaigns like #fashionrevolution, #whomademyclothes, and initiatives such a Fair Trade have helped to make the supply chain a bit more visible. A truly sustainable fashion garment would be made by individuals who are of age, receive fair wages, work under safe conditions, and have access to the necessary educational and medical services needed. For a closer look on this topic read Ellen´s article on What Does Fair Fashion Mean.

4. Impact on the Consumer

Sustainable fashion companies have made enormous pushes to reinvent recycled clothing while others have pushed for the use of synthetic fabrics to help alleviate the water demands of hungry crops, such as cotton. Tecnon Orbichem estimates that more than 98% of future fiber production will be synthetics, and 95% of that synthetic fiber will be polyester. This may sound great for natural resources but ultimately synthetic fibers are made from petrochemicals and treated with a variety of chemicals to make the fibers more suitable for weaving or help prevent wrinkling or as stain-resistant treatments. Some of these chemicals have been known to cause cancer, skin irritation, headaches, respiratory diseases, and liver damage (we will release a closer article about this topic soon). While some governments regulate the level of chemicals such as formaldehyde in clothing, others do not, leaving the consumer at a greater risk for possible long-term health complications.

5. Corporate Responsibility

The final marker of sustainable fashion is the initiative of the individual company to assess their global economic and social wellbeing impact. On one hand, CEOs are responsible to their shareholders, on another, they are responsible to their consumers. If done successfully these two factors are never at odds and as consumers are demanding more transparency in the fashion industry, companies are shifting to consider their environmental and social impact. Part of being considered sustainable fashion is the transparency, ownership, and oversight by the parent company to ensure their products comply with international environmental, labor and animal rights accreditations and recommendations.

What is the most important aspect in sustainable fashion for you? Tell us in the comments below.

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Cait Bagby
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After Cait completed her MA in War Studies she decided to bridge her academic training with her passion for fashion and set out to help those in the textile industry by educating consumers on the dangers of fast fashion. By providing stylish eco alternatives, Cait is leading the way in ethical consumerism; saving her clients money, providing safer working conditions for textile producers, and cleaning up the environment one garment at a time.

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