What is Sustainable Fashion? And Why is it Important?

What is Sustainable Fashion? And Why is it Important
At the beginning of the year, I made a goal to only buy sustainably made and ethically produced clothing. Usually when I tell people about my goal, they respond with a question. What is sustainable clothing? I'm going to be diving deeper into the topic of sustainable clothing and sharing sustainable fashion posts with you, so I wanted to start off by explaining what sustainable clothing is and why it's important to me. 

Please note: Talking about sustainability is tricky, because there are so many levels to finding sustainable solutions. It can also be very polarizing. My goal here is to just bring some awareness to sustainable fashion. The information I wrote for this post are just things I've learned while earning my bachelor degree in sustainability and my research as a sustainable fashion consumer. I kept this information short to give you a quick overview of these topics, but I will link to resources at the bottom of this post if you want to learn more.

So, what is sustainable clothing?

Sustainable clothing is fashion items that are produced with as little impact on the planet as possible. There are many elements that go into producing clothing: the fabric materials, the type of dyes, the amount of production pollution, the transportation of products, the factory employees, the amount of water used, etc. Sustainably made clothing is produced by finding ways to make all these elements less harmful for the planet. For example, using organic cotton over plastics like polyester can be more sustainable. A clothing manufacture in the United States (for me) is more sustainable than shipping the materials and the final product all around the world. 

Next, what is ethically produced clothing?

This questions can be broken into two parts: people and animals.

Let's start with animals. Cruelty in fashion is something I recently discovered and that helped spark my passion for sustainable fashion. Clothing made from animals is not always done without cruelty. Things like wool, fur, down, and leather are all examples of this. For a long time, I thought wool was harmless, because they shave the wool to turn into clothing. But that's not always done with the way we might think. Often the sheep are held in poor conditions and are treated cruelly. Fur and leather obviously take this a step further. It seems like fur isn't much of an issue anymore as people don't normally wear heavy fur coats, but those cute, fuzzy ball purse accessories that are trendy right now are often made from fur.

Now, for the people. Many factories that produce clothing are known to have harsh conditions for the people working there. Employees work for extremely low wages without benefits. Some factories even employ child labor. There is so much that is wrong with the way many clothing factories treat employees and the conditions they are forced to work in. The buildings themselves are often in poor condition and there have been a number of garment factory explosions in recent years. This is not true for all companies, but a majority of clothing comes from factories with extremely poor working conditions. 

What is Sustainable Fashion? And Why is it Important? (laurelandfern
Now that we know what it is, why is this important?

Fashion fast is the type of market we are currently living in. This includes stores like Forever 21 and H&M that produce low-quality, trendy items at a very quick rate. In my experience, items from these places only lasts for a single wear to a couple washes. They shrink, or get holes, or fade, or the seams rip. They just don't last. Or the trends fade out so quickly and then they are out of style. You could donate these types of items (if they are still in good condition), but often the people that are in need of clothing won't accept trendy items over practical ones. Also, donation centers experience such a huge amount of clothing; it's often more than they will ever be able to use. These issues produce an astronomical amount of waste. 

Do you want to make a change? Here is what you can do to get started.

Creating a sustainable closet is such an easy way to make a HUGE difference for the planet!

Simply stop shopping at fast fashion stores, like Forever 21, H&M, Zara, Nike, Adidas, and Urban Outfitters. Sustainable clothing is one of the best examples of "voting with your dollar." Choose to purchase from better companies that are doing what they can to make this industry better. Supporting sustainable and ethical companies is a great way to improve the fashion industry. 

You can find an ever-growing list of sustainable companies to buy from here.

You've probably heard the slogan, "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." This can be a great guideline to follow when looking for new clothes. 

Reduce: Try only using what you already have. Can you switch up how you use an item? Can you make different combinations that you haven't thought of? Think differently about what you already own and reduce the amount that you are consuming. 

Reuse: Buy pre-owned clothing. Thrift shops and pre-owned clothing stores can be a great way to find unique items. I have great luck with used jeans, because someone else has already broken them in. Plus, these places have incredible deals! You can also find used clothing on websites, like eBay, or apps, like Poshmark or Vinted. Swapping clothes with family and friends can be a fun way to update your wardrobe!

Recycle: Properly disposing of clothing that you no longer want is important. If it's in good condition, you can give it to a friend, sell it, or donate it. If it's in bad condition, try finding a place local that can recycle textiles. Often, they can turn clothing into insulation and shoes into track or playground material.

To recap, you can make a difference in your closet by buying from sustainable and ethical companies, wearing used clothing, and disposing of unwanted items properly. 

What is Sustainable Fashion?
Being educated about the topic is the first step in making a more sustainable closet. You can find resources for more information here:

books:

Overdressed: The Shocking High Cost of Cheap Fashion

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture

To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?

Wear No Evil: How to Change the World with Your Wardrobe

Naked Fashion: The New Sustainable Fashion Revolution

Sustainability with Style

The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade

Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and Second-hand Clothes

videos:

Story of Microfibers

The True Cost

articles:

Fast Fashion is Creating and Environmental Crisis

What Happens When Fashion Becomes Fast, Disposable and Cheap?

'Overdressed' by Elizabeth Cline: The 10 Most Eye-Popping Facts We Learned

The Wool Industry

Wool, Leather, and Down

Thank you!

Thank you for taking the time to read and learn about sustainable fashion. This topic is extremely interesting to me, so I love sharing what I can. I'm working on writing my new Sustainable Style series, so you'll see those posts coming soon!

If you have any favorite sustainable fashion companies that you'd love to see in the posts, just add them in the comments section below.

Please let me know If you have any questions about sustainable fashion! Also, I'm building a resource guide, so if you have any articles that you would like to recommend, please send them my way!

xo. Laura

You can find the clothing companies from this post here.

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