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First off let’s start by defining SUSTAINABLE FASHION.
This is an approach to the production and consumption of clothes, shoes, and accessories in a way that is most considerate of humanity and the environment. Considering fashion from the perspective of many stakeholders – users and producers, all living species, contemporary and future dwellers on earth.
It encourages increased reuse and recycling.
Addressing the whole system of how clothing is produced; Who produced it? And how long the life span of a product is before it reaches a landfill.
This means that it deals with interdependent social, cultural, ecological, and financial systems.
In the last decades, companies have developed frameworks to promote sustainable production and consumption. Which is necessary for the earth.
But also for social wellbeing, animal rights, and ethical use of resources.
The goal of sustainable fashion brands is to have a system that works without leaving a negative footprint.
These brands take into consideration both environmental and social-economic aspects.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL PERSPECTIVE
From an environmental perspective, they aim to minimize any undesirable environmental effects of the product’s lifecycle. Such as waste as well as pollution.
SOCIAL ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVE
And, from a social-economic perspective, all their stakeholders work to improve the present working conditions for workers on the field. Ensuring safety and fair wages for all parties concerned.
Sustainable fashion also implies continuous work to improve all aspects of the product’s lifecycle. Both in production and use.
PRODUCTION; This includes design, raw material, manufacturing, transport, storage, marketing, and final sale.
USE; The longevity, re-use, repair, remake, and recycling of the products and their components.
Although it is important to shop sustainably, it is also very important to note that we certainly can not buy our way to sustainability.
The key is to take care and find a way of re-using what we already have in our closets.
It is necessary to have a shift in individual attitudes and behaviors for sustainable fashion to be a possibility. Especially when it comes to consumption patterns.
7 GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF SUSTAINABLE FASHION
This guide is a road map that can help you evaluate whether a brand or a particular item is sustainable. A criterion you can consult and refer to when in doubt. It is basically the lifecycle of a product/garment.
1.MADE TO ORDER OR CUSTOM MADE IS THE BETTER OPTION
This simply means that manufacturing will only begin once the company receives an order; As opposed to mass-producing garments with no clear evidence they will sell.
Although these items tend to be more expensive and might mean that customers will have to wait a little longer for their products; The benefits far outweigh the pain.
It allows customers to customize products to their specifications from colour, style, and fit; While drastically reducing waste and levels of the surplus stock ending up in landfills.
Also, customizable clothing offers great emotional value to clients that fast fashion can not compete with. It connects you to a particular garment/product and the artisan behind it.
Giving you that excitement we all feel while waiting for that special item made just for us.
2. LOOK FOR HIGH QUALITY AND TIMELESS DESIGN
The items produced must be of high quality and in a timeless design. So as to increase wearability as well as longevity.
Good and timeless design is clear in both structure and functionality. Sustainable brands put their effort into manufacturing timeless pieces that will ultimately never go out of style; Remaining relevant and yet true to the times.
The quality of a garment is determined by a number of elements but the two main ones are; a) The material used to make it.
And, b)How it is made or put together
There are different tests you can do to check the durability of any garment or item before you buy it; For example, checking the stitching. And putting the garment against the light to determine its strength and longevity.
If we buy products that last generations other than following trends then we would eventually waste less and therefore contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle.
3.COMPANIES MUST PRODUCE IN AN ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY MANNER
This means brands should manufacture products using sustainable materials, low energy and the supply chain should be transparent as well as clear.
Sustainable companies commit to using sustainable materials that make a difference in energy consumption. As well as human health, and are also cruelty-free.
The fabrics used should be sourced from eco-friendly resources such as sustainably grown fiber crops and recycled materials.
If you are looking to buy more sustainable fabrics, here is a guide that could help.
EFFICIENT USE OF ENERGY WATER AND CHEMICAL SOURCES
This is key since today the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after oil.
It is also a major contributor to the draining of resources due to high amounts of water and energy consumption used in production. Investing in technology, research, and eco-friendly materials is critical for the goal of sustainability.
Companies should also switch to renewable energy which can help in the reduction of energy emissions.
.TRANSPARENCY IN SUPPLY CHAINS.
This is openly sharing information about how, where, and by whom a product was made. The consumers need to know information about every actor in the production process from start to finish.
For sustainable fashion, this is a major factor; And if a company or brand is not very clear about its supply chain then most likely you are better off not buying from them.
That is if sustainability is your goal.
Everything has to be published from the fields to the factories and then to the shelves.
Because the consumer has a right to make an informed choice.
4. SUPPORT SAFE AND FAIR WORKING CONDITIONS
As much as sustainability is about the planet, It is very much so about the people that live in it.
Social equality and justice are crucial for sustainable growth.
And, for one to ignore the abuse and injustice in the fashion industry, is to bury one’s head in the sand, hoping for a miraculous better world.
Child labor, sexual abuse, gender inequality, and poor wages are just some of the great injustices the fashion industry has contributed to humanity.
Millions of people work in unsafe factories with unfair wages as well as no insurance.
To combat this, more and more companies are revising their business model to improve working conditions for their employees.
Because they realize that people are our greatest resource.
And as consumers, we should look to buy from brands that uphold and respect human rights. Because that way we get to support livelihoods and families. Promoting social equality in our communities and the world over.
Remember, your purchases can make a difference.
5.AIM FOR LONG USE AND GOOD CARE
The items we buy should be used long and well through good care and repair. This is the part that is often neglected by consumers
BUT there is no point in having good clothes if you can not look after them well.
Wardrobe care is part of sustainability and simply can not be ignored.
Simple things like reading and following cloth labels for laundering, drying, and ironing your clothes can really make the difference.
This increases the lifespan of a garment. And, keeps it out of the landfills much longer.
If an item tears or stops fitting for some reason, sew it back together or look for a tailor to mend it for you. You should never throw away clothes.
As this contributes to wastage.
6. RECYCLING AND UPCYCLING
Sustainable brands take the concept of recycling at heart. That is from the actual product to the packaging as well.
Companies have looked for new ways to re-purpose waste so as to give it a second life.
And, this has given birth to great innovation in the fashion industry.
For example, sneakers made out of recycled plastic bottles; Whoever imagined?
This not only manages the problem of plastic waste;
But also goes to show that the industry can make recycling work.
This, in turn, will contribute to the elimination of waste, conserve the environment, and reduce pollution
Also, consumers need to consider what will happen to the item after they are done using it. When the product is no longer desired, it should be donated, swapped, or sold off in a second-hand shop.
And, after it is completely worn out, it should be returned to a collection point where the textile can be recycled and used in the manufacturing of new products.
7.PROPER DISPOSAL AND WASTE MANAGEMENT
Waste happens at every stage of a garment’s lifecycle; Making proper disposal of waste a major key factor for sustainable fashion.
Better waste management offers huge cost savings estimated up to 4 Billion Euros per year and great environmental benefits.
According to commonobjective.co, during the supply chain alone an average of 35% of all materials end up as waste before a garment or product even reaches the consumer. This is in leftover waste, spoilage in transport, water waste, and excess stock. Some of this waste is hard to avoid especially for companies involved in big production.
This is topped up by consumer waste that is generated during the process of washing.
And, end of use waste through discarded clothing.
So, it is absolutely paramount that the textile industry explores the latest technologies for the management and treatment of waste both in the industries and from consumers.
Such as the introduction of Biodegradable plastics/composites, washing machine filters, and biodegradable packaging; Among many for sustainability to be a possibility.
We mustn’t look at these principles as the ultimate judge on whether to purchase an item or not; Rather as a guide to a more sustainable wardrobe and future for the fashion industry.
After all is said and done, consumers are the driving force that will shape the future of sustainable fashion
It is also important to note that not all brands that call themselves sustainable truly are; Greenwashing is real and it is a major threat to the fashion industry.