Sustainable clothing and the responsible brands that put in the work to make high-quality garments are 2020’s anti-dote to the proliferation of cheap, disposable fashion. But can clothing ever be accurately labeled as eco-friendly? And what makes a clothing brand sustainable to begin with? We answer these questions and more in our guide to sustainable clothing.
What is Sustainable Clothing?
Sustainable clothing takes into account a garment’s complete lifecycle and supply chain: from the workers and communities that make the garment, to the environmental impact of the garment’s design, fabric sourcing, and production processes.
A sustainability assessment will also take into account:
- The consumer who purchases the garment;
- The shipping and packaging of the garment;
- How long the garment can be kept in use, and;
- The garment’s ability to be reused or recycled.
While most responsible brands aren’t perfect in all of these areas, they’re making giant strides in the right direction. Brands who call themselves ‘sustainable’ are generally attempting to address at least one or two of the following issues.
Issues which have made the fashion industry the second highest polluter in the world (second only to the oil industry).
- Carbon Emissions: Astonishingly, the creation of fashion garments make up 10% of global carbon emissions. This is due to the fact that most fabrics used to create fast fashion garments are made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. Synthetic fibers such as polyester, spandex, and nylon are made from fossil fuels—meaning that the creation of synthetic fabrics creates carbon emissions. Furthermore, it takes a lot of energy to ship the millions of garments made each year around the globe, which is why fast fashion is one of the largest emitters of carbon in the world.
- Textile Waste: Garments continue to be made cheaper and faster —meaning they also break down more easily. Add to this the the low price we pay for fast fashion garments and you have clothes that are easily disposable. United States citizens alone send more than 10.5 million tons of clothing to land fills every year—most of which is non-biodegradable (due to the use of synthetic fabrics). These trashed garments may emit gases like N2O, which is 300 times more damaging than CO2.
- Hazardous Chemicals: Chemicals are the primary components used to produce synthetic fabrics and grow non-organic cotton. Chemicals are used for dyeing and processing clothes that are marketed as ‘waterproof’, ‘wrinkle resistant’, and ‘stain resistant’.This extreme use of chemicals and natural resources has a detrimental effect on global waterways and the health of our planet’s soil. Furthermore, many of the chemicals used to make synthetic clothing and fabric coatings have been linked to adverse health effects in humans.
- Synthetic Fabrics: On average, each time a synthetic garment is washed, over a thousand of microplastic fibers are released from the washing machine. After traveling to local treatment plants, up to 40% can end up in our oceans, rivers, and lakes. Once they make their way to the ocean, microplastics can be consumed by the fish and bivalves we eat—the effect of which is still unknown. This is why we urge you not to support unnecessary consumption of synthetics proliferated by brands such as Fabletics.
Why It’s Time To Quit Fast Fashion
Aside from the environmental impact of making cheap, synthetic garments; fast-fashion brands have come under fire as of late for the use of un-fair labor practices in dangerous overseas factories.
According to a study conducted by Oxfam Australia, nine out of ten garment workers surveyed in Bangladesh cannot afford enough food for themselves and their families, and 76% percent of these workers have no running water in their home.
Most of the worker’s interviewed in the Oxfam study supply garments to major brands that we are all familiar with: Pretty Little Thing, H&M, Forever21, Missguided, Target, and Zara.
Meaning, the heads of fast fashion corporations are becoming the world’d next billionaires while the women who work in their factories are suffering from long hours, low wages, and life in poverty.
How To Choose Sustainable Clothing:
- Look For Sustainable Fabrics: Fabrics such as organic silk, linen, organic hemp, and wool are composed of biodegradable fibers and require the least amount of chemicals and resources to produce. Organic cotton is also a better choice than non-organic cotton or synthetic material even though it requires a large amount of resources to produce.
- Transparent Supply Chains: The most sustainable clothing brands are often the most transparent ones. Look for companies that are transparent about their supply chain and have a close relationship with the factories or artisans that they work with. You can also look for brands that produce clothing in countries with fair labor laws and environmental regulations.
- Small-Batch Production: “No More Seasons” is the mantra when it comes to buying clothing in 2020. Instead of producing four large collections a year with hundreds or thousands of SKUS, (many of which go straight to the landfill), sustainable clothing brands are forgoing the traditional seasons in favor of dropping small batches throughout the year. By offering limited quantities or choosing a made-to-order model, sustainable fashion brands are eliminating garment waste and the need to put things on sale, dispose of them, or sell them in an outlet.
- Buy Fewer, Better Quality Things: Being sustainably made necessitates a higher price. This is because it costs more to do things the right way: The brand has to buy more expensive, higher quality fabrics, and they also pay more to work with ethical factories and for quality construction of the garments. Is is worth it? We think so. It may take longer to build the wardrobe of your dreams, but at the end of the day, you end up with quality items that you love. Aside from the personal fulfillment of possessing luxurious pieces that make you smile, high quality garments are kept in use longer, reducing waste and saving environmental resources.
For a curated list of black women-owned brands who are creating coveted pieces & sustainable artisan jobs, click here.
To discover how to create a climate positive closet, click here.
To discover an inspiring perspective on the world of sustainable clothing, click here.
To discover our essentials for an elevated & climate positive fall wardrobe, click here.