Sustainable fashion is a topic that has been preoccupying me more and more in recent years. Granted- the way we impact our planet in general is a subject I’m passionate about, thanks to my parents.
But since fashion is also my passion, I wanted to make more of an effort towards bridging the gap between the two. Because I truly believe we can all make a positive impact when it comes to making our fashion consumption habits more sustainable.
My first actions?
- Doubling down on habits for slowing down fast fashion consumption.
- Commiting to shopping less, and knowing more about the companies I’m buying from.
- And researching the true environmental impact of fashion.
I figured you can’t really support a cause before correctly understanding it, right? And with all the tricky lingo and more-or-less accurate statistics that surround the concept of sustainability, it’s easy to get confused.
After all, what really are “green”, “conscious”, “organic”, “ethical clothing brands”, “fast & slow fashion”? And can you really trust a label? Or better said- can you interpret it correctly?
So I was very happy when about a month ago, I saw a Meetup event from the Amsterdam Fashion Academy pop up in my Inbox. The theme: “How can designers and stakeholders contribute to a more sustainable fashion.”
Absolutely perfect! Held by Dr. Radha Jethu-Ramsoedh, Program Manager MBA in Fashion Management, the lecture was as informative as I’d hoped. We went through the definition of sustainable fashion, reputable sources for further study of sustainable clothing brands, and the future of sustainable fashion.
One of the main parts that stuck with me?
The fact that a vast majority of people don’t believe it’s their responsibility to ensure the items they buy are sustainable. Also, the general public isn’t willing to spend more than 5-10% extra on apparel just because it’s sustainable.
Which is what motivated me to write today’s post- I wanted to help share some tips, tricks and sustainable fashion principles anyone can apply! And the best part is you really don’t need to sacrifice your comfort, style OR break the bank in order to do so.
Looking into sustainable fashion brands
This is probably an obvious solution- but think about it:
Which shops do you see on every major city’s high-street? Which jeans does your trendy colleague usually buy? Zara or Free People? H&M or SiiZu?
You catch my drift- sustainable fashion labels are not really well known yet. And also not really sought after, since they’re often labelled as “expensive”, “boring”, or “hippy”.
But the truth is, there are many ethical fashion brands and designers who produce absolutely amazing items. And for less than you might think!
One of my recent favorites is Everlane, where I bought THE best jeans so far in my wardrobe (full review to follow). They have a full selection of tops, dresses, footwear and accessories. All with a classic cut, and resilient fabrics, from ethical factories.
Now, to be considered 100% sustainable, a fashion brand needs to concern itself with the environmental impact of the fabrics, materials and processes it uses. It needs to cover the ethical treatment and payment of the people involved in the garment production process. Standard, right?
But here’s something you probably didn’t know:
These brands also need an element of corporate social responsibility- such as offering sponsorships, or funding charities. I was pleasantly surprised by this- and while I don’t know if my new favorite also donates, it’s something I would be happy to learn.
So try and research all of these elements when choosing which company you support. Because, coming back to my point above, that’s the truth: we, as fashion consumers do have a responsibility!
People can keep businesses afloat, or drown them. Because we carry the power to support brands with our money. And in the wise words of Peter Parker’s uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Considering local manufacturers
Another great principle to try out is looking to buy from local manufacturers. It can be a little old lady knitting scarves, or a startup producing shopping totes made of locally grown, organic cotton. The point is, they’re worth looking into and supporting!
Because buying locally shifts some of the burden from countries that practice intensive agriculture for fashion. It also reduces the carbon footprint associated with transporting merchandise internationally, and it creates local jobs, helping the economy.
We all want to see our local communities and our country’s economy thrive, right? But few people actually take action and buy locally made products- instead going to the major chains again and again.
Of course, you can’t, and shouldn’t, always avoid them- but you can adjust the ratios a bit.
Because if you think about it, every country and every region has its manufacturing strong points. For example, in Romania we have a great tradition for leather goods. Which can be seen in the amazing quality & design, and affordable prices of our bags, shoes, jackets etc.
Traditional Romanian top (la blouse Roumaine) made by hand in Romania
Now, as a side note- you may say leather is not exactly sustainable, so it doesn’t qualify. But a good point we also discussed at our Meetup was just how eco-friendly vegan leather is.
You probably know it’s produced from oil- which isn’t sourced in the most eco-friendly or ethical ways. It also never fully breaks down, and can release some pretty nasty chemicals. Not really great for you or the environment…
So bottom line:
It’s basically impossible to find garments that have zero negative environmental impact. We all leave a footprint one way or another, it’s a matter of educating ourselves and making judgment calls. And also, controlling the AMOUNT we consume.
Which brings me to my next point:
Fixing and recycling wardrobe pieces
I think nowadays we are far too used to an in-and-out mentality, fashion wise. We throw things out the moment they slightly malfunction. A worn down heel tip, a tear in our favorite pants, a stubborn stain are enough for us to throw these items straight in the trash.
Because it’s easy and relatively cheap to replace them! Fast fashion brands constantly rotate their offering, so we’re in turn constantly tempted to buy. Which in turn increases the amount that we consume, and we desire more and more fashion, faster and faster!
I read something interesting on the issue of fast vs. slow fashion- which was that actually this classification doesn’t exist! The idea is that a plant will grow in its own rhythm regardless of how it’s being used- so the cycle of producing a garment is relatively the same length.
What does vary is our demand for more clothing! So by curbing our fashion consumption, we can actually reduce the number of fast, cheap, often low quality items that are being produced.
Now a really great way to do that as far as I’m concerned, is shifting the way we see our wardrobes. Instead of viewing them as something to be constantly updated and renewed, we can aim to maintain them for as long as possible.
This means picking up a needle and thread, and stitching a garment instead of throwing it out. It can mean taking our shoes to the cobbler, instead of buying new ones. Or using the right settings and cleaning products to wash our clothing without damaging it.
Even pilled sweaters are not a tragedy! You can gently run a conventional shaving razor across the fabric, to release the pills. Good as new! This way, we get to keep beloved items for longer, and get the most out of them.
And when you can’t fix your wardrobe pieces anymore- or when you”re just bored of them- try to think of creative solutions to still use them. If the items are still in good condition, donate or try to sell them for a small price.
If they have a stain you can’t get out, or a visible tear, an ingenious tailor might be able to cleverly fix it. Or they could even transform your piece into something new! And if your items are beyond repair, look for ways to recycle or repurpose them.
When we do our best to #makefashioncircular, we diminish the amount of disposable garbage, and increase the sustainability of our fashion consumption.
Thinking about item value, not only cost
And speaking of getting the most out of our buys, I think that another great way to do that is buying the best quality clothes we can afford. This ties in with the previous idea of buying less, and at the same time focusing on buying better!
I know that buying more expensive items can seem cost prohibitive at first. But the truth is the cost per wear in time will be a lot better than in the case of cheap, fast-fashion items. Not to mention that the items themselves will look, fit and wear better.
And it’s also true that as fair-priced as some ethical fashion brands are, you can’t expect their prices to rival their fast-fashion competitors. It’s impossible to expect a thoughtfully designed, quality fabric, well-stitched T-shirt that was made in a safe factory to cost as little as your morning coffee.
Another way to help amortise the initial cost of a pricier quality item is by building a cohesive wardrobe. Instead of purchasing individual pieces that may look beautiful, but lead to further shopping, think of what you already own.
If you can create at least 3-4 outfits with the piece you’re looking to buy, it’s worth your attention. If you can’t think of anything you already own to wear it with, leave it on the hanger for someone else. You will actually save money this way- and you can put the money you do spend towards a better quality, longer-lasting purchase!
Buying vintage, second hand or thrifted clothes
And since even by following the above tips, I am aware it’s not always possible to pay the premium price, I have another principle I also often follow: buy from vintage, second hand or thrift shops!
How does this play into sustainability?
Well, first of all: you’re buying an item that has been produced decades ago. You’re not forcing the fiber growth, manufacturing and shipping process that come with producing an selling new items.
Second of all, you’re saving items from ending up in landfills and becoming (sometimes indestructible) garbage. Taking the earlier example of leather goods- if you can buy a thrifted leather skirt for example, you are already saving the fabric necessary for a new one.
Not to mention that if you find really great vintage shops, the quality of their items might surprise you! You could even find those elusive designer pieces you could not dream of buying full price. We are quite spoiled for choice in Amsterdam, and I regularly scour the best shops and fairs.
I think any one of these sustainable fashion practices can be easily incorporated by fashion consumers worldwide. They are quite painless to implement, and make sense from an economic point of view- so win win! They do require a good deal of intent though, and a healthy dose of information and learning.
Have any of these principles struck a note with you? Do you agree with them, or do you have your own suggestions? I would love to know, so let’s open a constructive discussion in the comments below!
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