If we’re thinking about the gas used in our cars, the electricity powering our lights, water consumption, and the ways to properly throw out, or shall I say recycle our trash, then thinking about how we make and wear fashion is just as important, right?
In the past ten years, there’s been an uptick in the sustainable fashion. More and more brands are seeking ways to go green, whether they change manufacturing locations, use earth-friendly materials, or pay their workers a fair wage. This all sounds great but it’s important to consider the ways in which sustainable fashion actually impacts our environment, the fashion industry, and society?
The definition of sustainable fashion, according to industry standards is rather unclear. In an article published by Green Strategy, I learned that sustainable fashion should involve three main components to be considered an ethical and environmentally friendly fashion label. One, a company should ensure efficient use of natural resources. Two, renewable energy should be used as much as possible at every stage of production. Three, the ability to repair and recycle the garment must be maximized. The goal of green garments is to ensure that garment production is doing less harm to the environment or even aiding the environment by finding new ways to reuse recycled materials. Sustainable fashion also focuses on the ethics of labor rights to ensure that workers are paid a fair wage, work in safe conditions, work fair business hours, and have access to medical and bathroom facilities as needed. However, the lack no regulations means that brands can label their clothing as eco-friendly even if the only green thing they do is use recycled shipping and packaging material. This would make it seem as though brands are using the green label as a marketing ploy to increase brand visibility and sales while it remains a trending topic.
Is it Just a Trend?
Films such as The T-Shirt Travels and The True Cost, have exposed the consequences of fast fashion and throwing out old garments. Their popularity has spurred more conversations about how to change the fashion industries standards but is society’s obsession for green garments as fleeting as society’s obsession with kale?
That’s hard to say! The problem with fast fashion versus sustainable fashion is the uncertainty in the market that retailers and designers face.
“Many apparel companies worry that investing in sustainable alternatives brings too much cost and risk. They’re looking for assurance that investments in staff and production don’t backfire, and that there will be growing demand for “ethical goods” from buyers.” – Ashoka, Forbes Contributor
The expenses that go into sustainable fashion can be exponentially different than that of fast fashion. While some manufacturers find affordable ways to produce their garments, investing in the tools, time, and fabrics to do so can be costly. That means that the green garments themselves will cost a lot more, ruling out who can and can’t buy these clothes. I think one of the largest issues with sustainable clothing is how easily it rules out the lower class economy. Not everyone can afford to buy a $40 tee-shirt.
Nevertheless, more and more brands are jumping on the bandwagon. H&M launched their sustainable line of clothing, Conscious Exclusive, which puts out a new collection annually. They are one of the few major fast fashion companies that are making changes to their production process and increasing awareness and affordability of the eco-friendly garments. While the prices are higher than their other collections, they are lower and more accessible than their competing brands.
The brand reformation is also committed to sustainable practices. You can read about it more on their website, here. What I found compelling about this brand is their use of a RefScale which is their own system of tracking their carbon footprint. Essentially the brand calculates what they have wasted in terms of water, materials, and their carbon footprint and compares themselves to the average brand to prove that they are more sustainable than others. The problem with this is that the calculations aren’t terribly scientific. They work based on generalizations and averages because actually calculating the specific about of carbon used would be difficult and time-consuming. Online tools such as CO2 emission calculators allow brands to roughly estimate numbers and spew out facts. And no one stops them because there are no regulations. In the end, reformation can market their brand using the data they gather to boast about their green global impact.
I think that sustainable fashion is a step in the right direction if society is developing a more eco-friendly approach but you’re looking to purchase from a sustainable retailer, it might be wise to do some background research on the company. Check to see if there is the page on their website dedicated to a sustainability mission. Look up where their factories are located or who the parent company of the brand is, if the brand is not independent, to learn whether or not they outsource their labor. Lastly, check the actual material of the garment. Is it recycled fabric or made from organic materials?
PS – If you are curious about your own carbon footprint, use this calculator to receive an estimate of how much carbon you use.