What Is Sustainable Fashion?

Previously we’ve discussed fast fashion and why it’s bad. In this article we look at the flip side: what is sustainable fashion? Here we dive into what makes a fashion brand sustainable and how to support sustainable fashion so that it becomes the norm, not the exception. Our choices regarding fashion are powerful, and it’s a clear and tangible way that we, as an individual consumer, can make a difference.

What is sustainable fashion?

To understand sustainable fashion, we need to understand more about the basic concept of sustainability. For something that we consume to be sustainable, it needs to use resources in such a way that they are able to regenerate at the speed at which they are used. Where this isn’t possible, there must be an element of compensation. For example, if something uses wood from a forest then new trees need to be planted to replace those used at an equivalent rate.

As humans we ‘consume’ clothing, shoes and accessories. Sustainable fashion is therefore those items of clothing, shoes and accessories which are made and manufactured, as well as marketed, in ways which don’t take more than they replace. This applies in terms of environmental and socio-economic aspects.

What does sustainable fashion look like in practice?

A good way to understand sustainable fashion is to look at what we can expect to see when considering how a fashion item, e.g. a piece of clothing, is produced. In many ways it is the antithesis of fast fashion.

Firstly, let’s consider the impact of a fashion item on the environment. In its production, the effects on the environment should be minimised. Natural resources, such as those used in growing crops for fabric production, need to be carefully managed, so as not to damage local ecosystems. Consideration needs to be given to production too, so that damaging effects on the environment are combatted. For example, the release of chemical dyes into waterways. In short, the impact on the land, water, animals, flora and all ecosystems should be minimised.

Sustainable fashion will typically use reusable resources, choose fabrics which are less harmful to the environment to produce (e.g. bamboo fabrics and organic cotton), and contain elements of reusing or recycling existing fabrics or resources. Additionally, by making items closer to the point of sale, the individual pieces have a smaller carbon footprint.

Secondly, sustainable fashion needs to consider the socio-economic impact of its production and sale. This means looking at worker conditions (in field and production), supply chains and ethics.

Sustainable fashion tends to be made on a smaller scale where there is greater control over supply chains and their visibility. Items are usually produced within the country of sale, or with very close partnerships with those ‘in the field’.

How sustainable an item is also applies once the piece is in the hands of the consumer. How long will that piece last? Will it remain usable and in fashion or is it designed to only survive a few washes? What is the washing process needed?

What makes a fashion brand sustainable?

As you can see, it is actually quite complex to determine if an individual fashion item is or isn’t produced and sold in a sustainable way. There are so many different factors involved that it actually becomes very difficult for the individual to make decisions relating to every single item they buy and wear.

It’s much easier to consider whether an entire fashion brand meets your standards of sustainability and then make a decision whether or not to make purchases from that brand. By looking at the brand as a whole you can determine more easily if it is in line with your sustainable values.

Look at the materials they use

Look for recycled materials, and known renewable materials like organic linen and cotton, hemp and bamboo. Consider what dyes are used for colouring fabrics. Check any wood used is from sustainable sources. Find out if any man-made microfibers are used as these easily end up in our waterways and should be avoided. Unless upcycled, avoid leather. Choosing vegan fashion often means making a sustainable choice. For metals used in jewellery, consider whether they come from a sustainable source.

Look at where they are based and their supply chain

Look to see if the goods have been made within the UK, or have a short supply chain. Transporting goods thousands of miles not only increases their carbon footprint, it also makes it harder to gain visibility over the socio-economic and environmental impact of the production. If the brand used produces goods outside the UK, ensure they have excellent relationships with their suppliers and are able to be honest about things such as the impact on local ecosystems and the wages paid to local workers.

Look at their website and messaging

Visit the brand’s website and see how authentic they seem by viewing how much information they give about their ethics and their supply chains. Do they take their responsibility seriously? Does it even matter to them? There are an increasing number of ranking systems which are being developed. However, as yet these aren’t useful if you truly want sustainable fashion rather than big brands trying to improve their sustainability. Nonetheless, they are useful for seeing which high street brands are doing better than others. Be savvy with your research. For example, if a brand states that they donate a proportion of their profits to charity, are they honest about the percentage?

If you think this sounds like an awful lot of hard work on your behalf before you pop that t-shirt in your basket then there is a short-cut. Choose a retailer, like Wearth, that has done the research for you and only stocks sustainable fashion brands. You can then choose from them reliably in the knowledge that any item you buy will align with your values.

How to support sustainable fashion

Sustainable fashion brands need the support of individuals who want to make ethical choices. Consumers need to ‘vote with their feet’ and buy items from sustainable brands so that they thrive and are able to develop further. This also puts pressure on the bigger brands to make more sustainable choices.

The single biggest thing you can do to support sustainable fashion is to buy from trusted sustainable fashion brands. At Wearth we make that easy for you by only stocking fashion goods from sustainable brands. We’ve done the homework so that you don’t have to. Browse our complete range of sustainable fashion.