The ultimate guide to sustainable fashion
What does sustainable fashion actually mean? And what are the eco-conscious brands to look out for? Here’s everything you need to know.
Sustainable fashion is a term that’s increasingly used (and overused, often with little to back it up) these days, as we all become ever more aware of the serious environmental impact of our clothes —with the industry responsible for a shocking 4 to 10 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions every year. But what does sustainable fashion actually mean?
In short, it’s an umbrella term for clothes that are created and consumed in a way that can be, quite literally, sustained, while protecting both the environment and those producing garments. That’s why cutting CO2 emissions, addressing overproduction, reducing pollution and waste, supporting biodiversity, and ensuring that garment workers are paid a fair wage and have safe working conditions, are all crucial to the sustainability matrix.
Considering the number of factors involved, there are still too few brands out there currently tackling all of these complex issues, and even those that are will admit that there’s always room for improvement. This means simply shopping for items labelled ‘sustainable’ is not enough; we need to completely rethink our purchasing habits and the way we consume clothes.
So, if you want to ensure your wardrobe is as sustainable as possible moving forward, here’s everything you need to know.
1. Buy less and buy better
It may be a cliche, but the mantra “buy less and buy better” is key when you consider that a staggering 100 billion garments are being produced globally every year. Before making a purchase, sustainability consultancy Eco-Age’s chief brand officer Harriet Vocking advises that you ask yourself three all-important questions: “What are you buying and why? What do you really need? Will you wear it at least 30 times?”
2. Invest in sustainable fashion brands
Buying better can also mean supporting designers who are promoting sustainable practices, including the likes of Collina Strada, Chopova Lowena, Scarlett Poppies, and Bode. some of these brands also use upcycled textiles in their collections and create stunning garments out of dead stock.
Narrowing your search for specific items can also help, whether that’s seeking out brands producing activewear more sustainably (such as Girlfriend Collective and Indigo Luna), swimwear (including Stay Wild Swim and Natasha Tonic), or denim (Outland Denim and Re/Done).
3. Know your materials
Understanding the impact of materials is crucial when it comes to making more sustainable purchases. A good rule of thumb is to avoid virgin synthetics such as polyester—which makes up 55 percent of clothes globally—as these are derived from fossil fuels and take years to break down. Not all-natural materials are made the same: organic cotton, for example, uses significantly less water than conventional cotton and doesn’t use harmful pesticides.
Look for certifications from the Global Organic Textile Standard (for cotton and wool), Leather Working Group (for leather), and Forest Stewardship Council (for viscose) to ensure the materials used to make your clothes have a lower impact on our planet.
4. Ask who made your clothes
With the pandemic highlighting the extreme difficulties faced by garment workers around the world, it’s essential that the people who make our clothes are paid a fair wage and have safe working conditions. Seek out brands who openly disclose information about their factories and their policies around wages and working conditions.
5. Reduce your water footprint
Given that the production of textile uses an astonishing 93 billion cubic meters of water annually — the equivalent of 37m Olympic swimming pools—we should all be more conscious about the water footprint of our clothes. As mentioned previously, organic cotton uses significantly less water than conventional cotton, while the use of low-water dyes also reduces water consumption.
6. Take care of your clothes
Extending the life of your clothes is crucial when it comes to lowering the environmental footprint of your garments and ensuring they don’t end up clogging landfill sites after just one or two wears. Ensure your clothes last as long as possible by not over-washing them (which will also lower your CO2 emissions and water consumption), as well as repairing them instead of throwing them out.
Learn some tips on how to store and repair your garments.
7. Ensure your clothes have a second life
When clearing out your closet, being conscious about how you dispose of your clothes will help stop them from ending up in landfills. Re-selling your clothes or organizing a clothes swap is the best way to ensure they’ll have a second life, as well as donating to charities and organizations that are looking for used clothing. For worn-out pieces that can no longer be repaired or reused, look for recycling schemes specifically for those items, where possible.