Around the world, the slow pace of actions toward sustainability can be frustrating. Many of us yearn for anything we can do that feels like we are making progress. We can become responsible consumers who drive the fashion process rather than being led by it. This can be difficult because fashion is tightly tied to social status and our emotions about ourselves. It takes a mindset change as well as a behavioral change.
Responsible consumerism begins with education
When purchasing clothing, you should look at the entire supply chain of the garment. Important points to look at are where it was made, using what kind of labor, with what materials and chemicals, and with what effect on the environment. It’s up to you, the consumer, to learn about what products are sustainable. Luckily, there are many people working to help you get that knowledge. The Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion is a great place to start. They have a blog that tackles numerous issues.
B-Corps are a great way to start looking. This new corporate form is for businesses that prioritize environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Toms footwear is a B-Corp as are Sudara sleepwear and United by Blue outdoor wear.
Good on You is another shortcut. Use their app (or website) to check out their brand ratings. These ratings give you a quick shorthand that allows you to explore impacts on the planet, people, and animals.
Check out the websites for the brands you use. If a company has a sustainability program, they are going to want to let their customers know. Hanes, for example, talks about its dedicated brand factories, American cotton, and water savings.
Carbon footprints and buying less
Fashion currently produces 8% of greenhouse gasses around the globe. If current trends like growing global wealth and fast fashion continue, that number will grow to 25% in the next 30 years. One of the best ways to reduce greenhouse gasses is to move from fast fashion to slow fashion.
Slow fashion is the intentional and mindful movement to make fashion choices last. It is about quality, ethics, and making long-term choices. A well-made suit is the height of slow fashion. This is your armor, so get one in a standard cut and a standard color. Take care of it and spot-clean instead of washing if you can. Find a tailor. It’s amazing what a tailor can do with repairs and changes.
Compare this to the fast fashion available today. You pick up a cheap shirt that’s made from a thin (almost sheer) material. The color fades on the first wash and the cloth starts pilling not long after. In a short while, it is not even donatable to a used clothing charity and you simply throw it away.
Options for Sustainable Fashion
Anna Brismar from Green Strategy has developed the Seven Forms of Green Fashion
- On Demand and Custom Made
- Clean and Green
- Quality and Timeless Design
- Fair and Ethical
- Repair, Redesign, and Up-cycle
- Rent, Lease, and Swap
- Secondhand and Vintage
Each of these is available to you at different price points (starting at nothing) and different stages in your life and the life of the garment.
When you buy an item, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions. Is this item made in the best way it can be made? How does it compare to other equivalent items? A good garment may be made of environmentally friendly materials using sustainable processes. It may be timeless and high quality, perhaps even bespoke, and will last longer than other clothes. It may be made in safe factories and pay the workers a living wage. Studies have found that paying garment workers a living wage will have a minimal effect on clothing prices.
You might even avoid the whole new-purchase process. There are consignment and vintage and thrift stores, of course, but that is just the beginning. There are several new businesses that specialize in renting high-end items. Now, you can rent a dress just like a man rents a tux. Or get that exquisite bag you have had your eyes on, without adding to the pile in your closet. Plus, a good tailor can update a solid, older piece of clothing to meld into the latest trends.
When you first buy an item, think about how you are going to use this item throughout its life span. A high-quality garment will have a long life, others less long. Are you going to take care of it and mend rips? Think about the wear and tear of washing and ways to reduce that. Perhaps after your t-shirt ages is can become sleepwear. Another option is doing a clothing swap with a few friends. If you’ve been holding onto those pants hoping you would be a size 8 again, this is where you can let them go and know they will be put to good use.
End of life
At the end of the garment’s usefulness to you, think about what happens next. Several brands will take back their clothing after it has been used. Some will even resell it online – or link to groups that resell to fans of that brand. Keep an eye on the concepts of up-cycling (sending the item to an equal or better use) and down-cycling (lessening the value of the item). Maintaining wearability is always best – perhaps you can donate it to a group that gets professional clothing to women who cannot otherwise afford it. Down-cycling changes the garments to its cloth or fibers. These can still be useful for organizations like groups who turn blue jeans into insulation.
Making a change
The most important thing is knowing that you can make a change. And you can spread that change to others. Fashion is a process. It starts with an idea, created in fiber, sold, used, and ended (hopefully not in a landfill). Sustainability needs to come into play in each of these stages. Designers have a responsibility to create clothing that better serves the earth and its people. Those who can afford these clothes should purchase them. This act alone has ripples. As the markets for sustainable fashion grow, prices will fall and make it more affordable for everyone.
You are Empowered to Make a Change
Remember, education is key. After you learn more about sustainable fashion and responsible consumerism, you need to share that knowledge around. It’s not about one person buying a more sustainable jacket – it is about a growing number of people every year making gradually better choices. The idea of responsible consumerism, is changing markets and thus changing the world. You can help change the world, too.
Comment below and let me know how you plan to change your shopping habits.