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What is sustainability in fashion?

What is sustainability in fashion?

Sustainability is a term that is thrown around a lot these days to describe changes being made in a variety of industries, including the fashion industry. But what does sustainability really mean, especially as it relates to fashion?

What is sustainability?

Sustainability is a broad term; however, the core concept can be boiled down to this 1987 definition from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development, now known as the Brundtland Commission:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sustainability encompasses all the different factors that affect the ability of future generations to meet their needs – environment, human health and wellbeing, and economic stability, among others.

The key is to focus on a wholistic approach to conserving and replenishing limited resources for future generations.

What is sustainable fashion?

Sustainable fashion is sourcing and producing clothing and accessories in an ethical and environmentally responsible way.

For brands, there are ways to improve sustainability at all stages of garment production – from the design, to the fabric, to the manufacturing of each piece.

Using eco-friendly fabrics and dyes helps to lower the impact of the fashion industry on the environment. Finding ways to reduce waste in the production process limits the amount of waste fashion brands are adding to landfills. Fair pay and safe working conditions for workers in all aspects of garment production, including factory workers, helps to create a more socially responsible industry.

Why is sustainable fashion important?

With the rise of fast fashion – a focus on chasing trends and producing cheap clothing only meant to last one season – fashion has become an unsustainable and environmentally harmful industry.

The fashion industry produces a significant amount of carbon emissions, contributing to global warming. Many synthetic fabrics are produced using harmful chemicals that are unsafe for workers and can pollute the water supply near factories. The quick turnover of trends within the fashion industry encourages waste; a trendy garment will only be good for a season or two before it is tossed for the next big thing. Garment factory workers in third world countries are exploited through receiving non-livable wages and are subjected to unsafe and unhealthy working conditions.

Moving towards a more sustainable future in the fashion industry will help to alleviate these issues, and more, creating a system that will stop degrading the environment and continue to support future generations.

Sustainable fashion through the years

Sustainability has been a long time coming for the fashion industry. There have been outspoken individuals and organizations calling for a more environmentally conscious and ethical fashion industry for years.

1950s: consumerism and mass production

In the 1950s, the rise of marketing helped to create a society focused on consumption. Demand for garments and other items increased, resulting in higher production of goods.

1960s and 1970s: hippies reject mainstream fashion

The first calls for sustainability were brought by the hippies in the 1960s and 1970s. They rejected many aspects of mainstream society, including consumerism and popular fashion. The hippies embraced a simpler life, wearing handmade and secondhand clothing rather than supporting the mass production culture dominating the garment industry.

1990s: the rise of fast fashion and the start of eco-fashion

In the 1990s, globalization helped to increase the demand for fashion worldwide, as well as made inexpensive, overseas manufacturing possible. The fast fashion industry was born. Production of garments massively increased – garments were being produced faster, cheaper, and at a much higher volume than ever before.

During this time, some were beginning to notice the negative impact that this consumption-focused garment industry was having on the environment. Eco-fashion, environmentally friendly clothing, started to emerge.

2000s: slow increase in awareness about sustainability issues in fashion

Throughout the 2000s, sustainability slowly started to gain a foothold in a small portion of the fashion industry. Garment production was still largely dominated by fast fashion, but movement had started to become apparent.

Slow fashion was first described by Kate Fletcher, a professor in sustainable fashion. Slowly, many within the industry were starting to realize that the way garment production was going would not be sustainable long-term.

April 24, 2013: the Rana Plaza collapse

On April 24, 2013, a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1000 workers. This tragic event served as a wake-up call and was a catalyst for much of the progress towards ethical and sustainable fashion that we see today. It was hard to deny the inhumane and unsafe working environments that garments workers were being put into after the catastrophic collapse. 

The future of fashion

Today, sustainability in fashion is only gaining steam as consumers become more educated and aware of the issues within the fashion industry, especially when it comes to fast fashion. Consumers will lead the way towards a more sustainable future, and brands can help to meet this new demand while improving the world we live in by creating more sustainable fashion.

5 different types of sustainable fashion that you should know

While sustainability is really a wholistic term, encompassing many different environmental, social, and economic factors, different brands are taking different approaches towards a more sustainable future.

Here are 5 different kinds of sustainable fashion. If you’re working to build a sustainable fashion brand, it can help to focus down on one or two different types of sustainability and really get those right before bringing in even more sustainable practices.

  1. Environmentally friendly materials and production

First, perhaps the most popular approach is to focus on using eco-friendly materials and production practices to minimize impact on the environment.

This could mean choosing natural fibers over synthetics, sourcing organic fabrics, using dyes and chemicals that are less harmful to the environment, and taking a hard look at all aspects of your garment production to find ways to make it less harmful to the environment.

Even better, take it a step further and find ways to help regenerate the environment through your brand’s practices. For example, use fibers produced through regenerative farming practices that improve the soil and ecosystem they are farmed in.

Looking for eco-friendly fabrics? Check out our huge selection of beautiful sustainable fabrics to help bring your environmentally conscious fashion line to life.

  1. Ethical fashion

Ethical fashion refers to a focus on the human aspect of garment production, rather than the environmental one. Many garment factory workers are exploited, paid extremely low wages, and are forced to work in unsafe environments.

Ethical fashion works to combat the inhumane labor practices of the fashion industry by ensuring workers are paid fair, livable wages and work reasonable hours in a safe environment. As an ethical fashion brand, you can make sure to carefully vet your manufacturers to make sure their workers are treated fairly. Alternatively, you can work directly with artisans, such as fabric weavers and seamstresses, paying them an appropriate wage for their work.

  1. Made-to-order

The fashion industry creates a lot of waste, most of which ends up filling the world’s landfills. Brands typically make extra garments in each size to ensure that there is enough of each piece in stock to fulfill orders. However, there are often leftover garments that don’t get sold, so must be disposed of.

This waste can have a negative impact on the environment, not only by being thrown into landfills, but also because many resources were put into something that ultimately ended up tossed away unused.

As a brand, you can help to reduce waste and limit expending excess resources by making each piece to order. This way, you will know that each garment your brand produces is destined to go directly to the end consumer, eliminating the possibility that it will not be sold and need to be thrown away.

Looking for fabrics suitable to be re-orderable at any time without Minimum Order Quantity?  Click here to see our Stock Service collection!

  1. Making fashion to last: quality and timeless design

Another way to reduce waste as a fashion brand is to spend time focusing on design and quality, taking a more slow-fashion approach. Many brands try to follow the seasonal fashion trends, meaning they produce garments that often aren’t worn by the customer for more than a season or two. This cycle of trendy, fast fashion results in huge amounts of waste.

Making sure each design in your fashion line is classic, timeless, and will never go out of fashion, means that your customers will be wearing your pieces for years to come. In addition, using high quality fabrics and construction techniques will ensure that your garments will hold up to many years of use. Help to break the cycle of disposable fashion through quality and timeless design.

All our fabrics are made in Europe with the highest quality to last: source among our whole catalogue.

  1. Recycled fashion

Finally, recycling and upcycling materials is another great way to reduce waste. Often, if a fabric or garment is flawed or has gone out of fashion, it is simply thrown away, making its way to a landfill. But these materials can be recycled or upcycled into new pieces, extending the life of the material, keeping it out of the waste system and making better use of the resources that were used to produce it.

This can mean using recycled fabrics in your fashion line – some recycled fabrics are made from waste plastics, like our recycled polyester, while some are remade from old fabrics, like our recycled wools. Also our Cupro is certified GRS (Global Recycled standard) giving a plus to this magnificent quality and sustainable fabric.

Incorporating recycled fashion into your brand could also mean having a take-back program for your customers. Whenever they feel they don’t need the garment any more, your brand will take that old garment back and recycle it into something new, either by recycling the fibers or by recutting and stitching it into something different.

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