What is Sustainable Fashion?

Want to learn more about sustainable fashion, make decisions that have a positive impact on the planet, and still wear clothes that look great?

You’re in the right place!

We’re going to walk you through what sustainable fashion is all about, and detail the ways you can start approaching fashion from a more sustainable, eco-friendly, and ethical approach.

We’ve outlined what we’ll talk about in the contents section below which you can use to jump to specific questions.

    According to Wikipedia, “Sustainable fashion is a part of the growing design philosophy and movement towards environmental and social sustainability, the goal of which is to create a system which can be supported indefinitely in terms of human impact on the environment and social responsibility“.

    You’ll often see people using sustainable fashion interchangeably with other terms like eco-friendly fashion, ethical fashion, and slow fashion.

    If you don’t know where to start with sustainable fashion, the first thing you can do is buy fewer new clothes, and extend the life of your existing clothes.

    After that, you should start researching and finding brands that are making their clothes in a more sustainable way. This could mean they use recycled materials, organic and locally sourced materials, eco-friendly materials like Tencel or hemp, or pay their workers living wages and have an ethical supply chain.

    It’s also worth reading into brands you’re shopping from to make sure they are truly operating in a sustainable way, and not just greenwashing their marketing messaging.

    There are a ton of reasons why you should think about shopping for clothes in a more sustainable manner.

    Let’s go through them.

    It’s well known that the fashion industry is one of the main industries driving waste.

    Over 8% of yearly greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the fashion industry, and that’s not set to slow down anytime soon. That’s more than air travel and maritime travel emissions combined.

    Impacts from the fashion industry as a whole include over 92 million tonnes of waste produced per year, most of which is sent to landfills, and 1.5 trillion litres of water consumed.

    Each year it’s estimated that the fashion industry uses 79 billion cubic meters of water. What makes this more concerning is that most places where manufacturing takes place are already water scarce. Traditional manufacturing processes lead to huge waste, and the average amount of water used producing a single pair of jeans is up to 7,000 liters.

    There is a huge issue of waste at both the consumer and manufacturing level.

    The average American throws away around 70 pounds of clothes each year, and we keep our clothes for almost 40% less time than we did 15 years ago.

    The rise of fast fashion and consumerism has fueled that, however as consumers realizing the impact that’s having and making a conscious effort to use clothes more can be a great first step.

    Clothing utilisation stats
    Growth of clothing sales and the decline in clothing utilization between 2000 – 2015 (Ella MacCarthur Foundation)

    Only 15% of people recycle their old and used clothing, and most of that is still in perfectly good condition. As consumers there’s a clear need for reduction. However, it’s unfair to place all of the blame on people who are being marketed to and targeted by fast fashion companies whose clothing isn’t made to last anyway.

    71 leading clothing retailers in the UK were surveyed, and 77% believed there was a likelihood of modern slavery occurring at some stage in their supply chains. Let that sink in.

    It’s no secret that fashion retailers all over the world such as Nike have been involved in fueling modern slavery through the use of sweatshops paying unfair wages to local laborers (usually in economically troubled areas).

    By continuing to purchase from fast-fashion retailers, we are implicit in continuing this dangerous cycle that directly causes harm to people involved in the manufacturing process.

    There are now many sustainable brands who are being transparent about their labor practices. Two well known sustainable brands actively doing this are Everlane and Reformation.

    While the data on the fashion industry looks bad (it is), there are still ways you can continue to look good, buy clothes, AND be sustainable.

    Green Strategy identified there being 7 key types of ethical fashion.

    Types of sustainable fashion

    Let’s look at 7 ways you can shop more sustainably.

    Purchasing bespoke and custom made items is a great option to shop in a more sustainable way. Unfortunately, it’s traditionally associated with higher prices that are out of most peoples budget.

    However, a range of sustainable brands are now using an approach that reduces waste by making clothes to order, without breaking the bank.

    Companies like Hackwith Design House have a completely made-to-order and Made in the USA production process for their clothes. Freerangers make a range of vegan shoes and accessories, all made by hand when you order. Todd Shelton is another menswear clothing company that makes everything to order and you can completely customize everything you buy to make sure it fits you perfectly, but at a fraction of the price you’d traditionally pay for bespoke clothing.

    A clear first step is to stop supporting fashion companies contributing to massive waste in their manufacturing process.

    A general rule of thumb is that if a company isn’t transparent about their process, they’re probably not making their clothes in an eco-friendly way.

    Brands like Tonlé, For Days, and RAEBURN are all examples of fashion retailers with zero-waste and responsible manufacturing processes that include using recycled materials, natural dyes, and having consumer recycling programs.

    There are a ton of other sustainable brands doing similar things. In the fast you might have been limited in terms of style, but as you’ll see from the examples above you can now shop for any type of style you like from responsible brands.

    A key issue with the fashion industry is that it’s extremely seasonable. Something you buy this year might look completely out of fashion next year.

    Fast fashion companies make their money from fulfilling demand for the latest trends, yet everything is made to a relatively low quality standard and it won’t last long, and isn’t going to be on trend next year.

    A way around this issue is to buy clothes that are still going to look good in 5 years, and can withstand changes in trends. It may not sound like the most exciting approach, however there are a range of cool brands making clothes with this very purpose in mind.

    Vetta create capsule collections of wardrobe essentials. They design everything to be timeless, and you won’t look out of place in any environment. Another company taking a similar approach is the London-based brand P.i.C Style.

    You shouldn’t be supporting companies exploiting their workers through poor working conditions, unfair wages, and overall poor practices.

    An easy step here is to do some background research into the clothing companies you buy from to make sure they are paying fair wages and their workers are fairly compensated.

    Companies like Krochet Kids International and Reformation are two examples of clothing companies paying anti-poverty and living wages to their workers, and who offer a huge amount of transparency to consumers into their manufacturing processes.

    While it may take slightly more effort to find brands you want to buy from, sites listing the best sustainable brands like sustainable-fashion.co can help you here.

    A huge amount of waste is created on the production side, but as we’ve seen consumer waste still contributes to much of the waste in the fashion industry.

    If your jeans get a rip or tear, or a seam comes loss, there’s no need to throw them out. You can either repair them yourself or find a local repair shop to fix them for you.

    There are multiple sustainable fashion brands that incorporate upcycling and recycling into their clothing.

    Brands like Peggy Sue upcycle cotton from old denim to use in new clothes, and Stevie Crowne turns vintage and thrifted clothes into one-off, unique custom items.

    Finally, you can rent, lease, and swap your old clothing to make a positive impact.

    You might be thinking where can I rent, lease, or swap my clothes for new ones. A few years ago you might have only been able to swap clothes with people on forums and at events dedicated to clothes swaps.

    Now, there are innovative sustainable brands like For Days who let you essentially rent clothes and swap them whenever you need new ones. With For Days, you purchase an item, and when you’re done with it you pay a smaller fee to swap it for a brand new one. The brand then recycles and turns your old item into

    Not all of the best clothes are brand new.

    Visiting secondhand and vintage clothing shops in your city can be a brilliant way to discover hidden, unique gems.

    You can purchase the clothes knowing you’re extending their life, and reducing the waste that putting them in landfill wold have created. The clothes you can usually find in good vintage stores are generally high quality too, since they’ve already lasted and are good enough quality to sell again.

    Sustainable fashion is a growing movement and here to stay.

    We hope this article has given you some inspiration to start approaching fashion in a more sustainable way, and some insight into how brands are becoming more eco-friendly.


    1. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear.
      Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
      Anyways, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

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