A Greener World: The Importance of Sustainable Fashion In The 21st Century
Sustainability is the ethos of both Millennials and Gen-Zers. Living a more socially conscious life has become much more popular in the recent years and has even led to the younger generations getting dubbed ‘Generation Green’.
With young environmentalists like Greta Thunberg pushing the agenda against climate change and challenging global leaders to take action, it’s not surprising that sustainability has become practically synonymous with Generation Green. An important movement under the wing of sustainability is sustainable fashion.
What is sustainable fashion?
When we hear the term ‘sustainable fashion’, it is only natural to assume that this refers to the production of eco-friendly clothes. Actually, sustainable fashion is also about following more viable patterns of use. Sustainability in the fashion industry starts with how manufacturers handle the process and how the end consumer utalizes it.
Fashion is the second biggest global polluter, right after oil. In fact, clothing and accessories make up for 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions. Since clothing production escalated immensely in the recent years, landfills are filled with textiles.
Furthermore, fabrics used to produce clothing are often not eco-friendly. It is estimated that over 500,000 of microfibers are released on an annual basis into the ocean. One of those microfibers is polyester - it can be found in about 60% of garments and does not break down in the ocean.
Consumers are becoming more and more aware of fashion sustainability and are picking options that are more eco-friendly. Turning to options like second-hand clothes or purchasing more timeless pieces with longer shelf-life is an essential staple in the world of sustainable fashion.
What is fast fashion and why is it time to slow down?
In the word of sustainability and eco-friendliness, the phrase ‘fast fashion’ has become a prominent fashion industry keyword. Clothes produced by today’s dominant fast fashion brands are intentionally designed to be sold quickly and to be ‘consumed’ fast. This means that shoppers will wear them only a few times before buying newer, trendier pieces.
Fast fashion is a sustainability assassin. Its lifecycle is threatening Earth as it drains the planet from its natural resources at extreme rates, produces an overwhelming amount of waste, and exploits factory workers around the world. While traditional fashion houses only release several seasonal collections per annum, fast fashion brands will continuously develop new collections to encourage consumers to buy the latest trends.
Interestingly enough, the concept of consuming fashion ‘fast’ is mostly related to buying low-quality, cheap garments. So, when Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman went on an haute couture shopping spree, that was fine, however regular hauls from fast fashion chains are considered to be unethical and problematic to the environment. This sort of thinking, however, is like a double-edged sword. When it comes to dressing more sustainably, numerous factors must be taken into consideration – this starts from when you first research the manufacturer to how long you use the piece you bought.
What steps can you take to make your wardrobe greener?
There many ways of incorporating eco-friendly pieces in your wardrobe. In an attempt to achieve ‘zero waste’ products, fashion houses around the world have started incorporating organic, biodegradable materials. But as consumers, it is our responsibility to shop more sustainably and consider numerous environmental standards before buying. So, what can you do to have a greener wardrobe?
- Consider buying clothes made from natural and organic materials
Natural fibers are biodegradable, meaning they will disintegrate into soil when thrown out, assuming that there are no chemical residues in the fabric. Synthetic and petroleum-driven materials like polyester, nylon and acryl do not disintegrate.
When shopping, look for clothing made from sustainable fabrics like silk, hemp, organic cotton and even leather. Whenever possible, it’s great to pay attention to organic certifications that verify the authenticity of the fabrics. For example, the OEX-TEX certification allows you to quantify whether the product is free from hazardous chemicals. Another important certification is GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) that certifies that a product is at least 70% made of organic fibers.
- Buy secondhand and higher quality clothes
With an overabundance of orphaned, unwanted clothes it would be a shame not to go out hunting for goodies in thrift stores. You can often find higher quality, secondhand pieces that are in good condition. By extending a piece’s life cycle, you directly contribute to waste reduction.
In addition to this, secondhand shops are often charitable, family or locally owned businesses meaning you are contributing to a good cause, a family who depends on this business or to the economy of your local community. A good idea is to opt for thrift stores or secondhand shops that prioritize high-quality, durable clothing that you can wear long term.
- Shop from brands who treat their workers ethically
Poor working conditions and low wages in fashion production are annihilating. Sourcing clothes that are ethically produced is easier than understanding how green the materials they are made from are. The world first started paying attention to factory working conditions after the 2013 Dhaka garment factory collapse, which killed 1,134 people and injured over 2,500. Dhaka manufactured clothing for brands like Mango, Prada, Gucci, Versace, Primark and others.
Following the tragic accident, consumers became cautious of where their garments are produced and under what conditions. While opting for recyclable fabrics is important, it is vital to buy from brands who keep their staff in safe working conditions and pay them a fair wage.
A little goes a long way
Conscientious shopping allows you to participate in minimizing the industry’s carbon footprint, as well as enable better ethical practices in the production of clothing. While it is not possible, or at least not easy to buy a piece of clothing that is 100% in line with all sustainability measures, it’s possible do your best at buying more ethically.
As a consumer, we should aim at improving ourselves and incorporating green practices into our daily lives. As zero-waste chef and advocate, Anne Marie Bonneau, once said, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly,” you are just as much a part of the environmental revolution if you do what you can within your own means. And while at it, make sure you do it in style!