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Sustainable fashion: what it is and how it helps to take care of the environment

If you’ve heard talk about sustainable fashion but don’t know exactly what it entails, read on to learn why it’s more than just a trend.


Let’s face it: pretty much everything we consume in our daily lives, from the food we eat to the social media feed we scroll through, has some negative impact on the environment. But not all industries (or brands) are created equal.


The idea of sustainable fashion has gained momentum in recent years in response to the bad environmental record of the so-called “fast fashion” industry. The fast fashion model is characterised by the production of garments that aren’t designed to last, either because they are bad quality or because they go out of style quickly.


A sustainable fashion definition


In previous blogs, we’ve written about fashion terms like athleisure, which tend to cause confusion because of their vague definitions. Now we’re back to pin down the meaning of sustainable fashion.


But to understand what sustainable fashion is, first we have to establish what it isn’t. So why, exactly, is our current way of producing clothing unsustainable? First of all, the fashion sector has an outsized carbon footprint, accounting for about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.


Woman does yoga in nature.
Sustainable fashion proves that loving the earth and loving clothes aren’t mutually exclusive.

It also takes a lot of water to produce garments, and the dyes used to colour clothes often contaminate rivers and other waterways. Plus, a staggering amount of the textiles produced worldwide end up in a landfill within a year of being fabricated. And we haven’t even mentioned workers’ rights issues, another notorious problem of the textile industry.


We know… it’s a buzzkill. Who likes to hear that fashion, a means of self-expression that brings people so much joy, can have these negative effects? The good news is that conscious consumers and sustainable fashion brands are driving change in the industry and powering a sustainable fashion transformation. Let’s see how they’re working to fix the problem.


Fashion business sustainability


Clothing companies must look at the entire life cycle of the garments they produce—from the making of the thread to the items’ eventual disposal—in order to see where they can change their practices to be more in sync with nature.


Fabrics


One way that brands can reduce their negative impact on the environment is by switching up the fabrics they use.


Synthetic textiles such as polyester take a lot of energy to produce. Plus, microplastics from these materials often end up in the ocean. Cotton is a natural fibre, but it’s not a great alternative since it requires a lot of water and pesticides to grow.


Organic cotton can be a better, more sustainable solution, as well as other natural fibres such as linen and hemp.


Textiles coloured with eco-friendly traditional dyes.
Many sustainable fashion brands use eco-friendly dyes.

Dyes


Who doesn’t love a pop of colour? It’s a shame that, as we mentioned before, wastewater from textile dyeing is a major polluter of aquatic ecosystems.


That’s why some sustainable fashion brands have gone back to the roots of textile dyeing and adopted the use of natural, non-toxic colourants made from plants.


Zero-waste pattern making


You know those little scraps that fall on the floor when a textile worker cuts out a design from a piece of fabric? Well, they usually end up in the trash, and all that waste really adds up.


That’s where zero-waste design comes in. The challenge of making a pattern that uses the whole piece of fabric, without creating those pesky little scraps, really brings out the creativity of fashion designers. And there’s another perk for clothing makers: they’ll save money on textiles.


Sustainable fashion at home


An obvious step that consumers can take to support sustainable fashion is buying from eco-conscious brands whenever possible. What else can regular people do to be part of this movement?


Sustainable Fashion Week, an event in the UK sponsored by the non-profit organisation A Single Thread CIC, has adapted the classic slogan “reduce, reuse, recycle” to fit into the fashion world: reconnect, rewear, and repurpose are three of the keys to sustainable fashion they identify.


Reconnect


This step involves educating yourself about how your clothes are made, sharing your knowledge about the problems and solutions within the fashion industry with your friends and family, and becoming an advocate for sustainable fashion.


Two young women shop for clothes at a thrift store.
Thrifting is a key element of sustainable fashion. Plus, it can save you a lot of money!

Rewear


Going to the thrift shop isn’t just for Macklemore! You might be surprised at the affordable treasures you find when you open your heart to used clothes. You can also organise a clothing swap with girlfriends to refresh your wardrobe in a fun and social way.


Repurpose


Shoe repair and clothing alteration used to be common crafts. Let’s bring them back and reduce the number of textiles that end up in the landfill.


Last but not least, get creative with the clothes already in your closet. With a little inspiration, an old piece that you’re sick of can be dressed up or modified into something you love wearing again. Sustainable fashion never has to mean forgoing style!


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