What does "sustainable fashion" really mean?
We see a lot of terms being thrown around in the fashion industry these days. I think the term I use the most when describing my own business is “sustainable” because I see it as kind of a catch-all term for fashion that is both ethically and environmentally-conscious. At least I mean it that way. While “vegan fashion” focuses on animal-free fashion, and “ethical fashion” pertains mainly to the people along the line of production being paid a living wage, “sustainable fashion” isn’t a regulated term and doesn’t really mean any one specific thing (the other terms aren't regulated either). So what issues are we talking about when we talk about sustainable fashion?
Wikipedia defines it as such: “ Sustainable fashion, also called eco fashion, is a part of the growing design philosophy and trend of sustainability, the goal of which is to create a system which can be supported indefinitely in terms of human impact on the environment and social responsibility. It can be seen as an alternative trend against fast fashion. Sustainable fashion is part of the larger trend of sustainable design where a product is created and produced with consideration to the environmental and social impact it may have throughout its total life span, including its ‘carbon footprint’.”
So according to this definition, sustainable fashion is fashion that is 1. considerate of the environmental and social impact of the product and 2. can be supported indefinitely in terms of human impact on the environment and other people.
That sounds great, but who gets to determine what “considerate” means? For example, lots of brands that consider themselves sustainable use leather, which, thanks to toxic tanneries, is actually a huge unsustainable burden on the planet. And brands like H&M and Topshop market “sustainable” lines (like the Conscious Collection) while still promoting throwaway fast fashion and sweatshop labor. It gives you a lot to think about...
Here are more terms you might come across:
Ethical Fashion // “Ethical Fashion is an umbrella term to describe ethical fashion design, production, retail, and purchasing. It covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare.” In my experience people don’t usually include animals when referring to ethical fashion, but they should.
Vegan Fashion // “Vegan fashion is clothing and accessories made from cruelty-free sources, i.e. no animal products were used in making the garments and gear, and no animal was harmed.” Generally vegan fashion includes animal-free alternatives to leather, wool, down, silk, fur, cashmere, angora, shearling, and other products made from an animal. The idea is that animals should not be hurt, killed, or exploited for the sake of fashion, when ethical alternatives exist.
Organic Clothing // Organic in the fashion industry usually refers to the fabric or textile and how it was grown and produced. Cotton and other plant materials, for example, may be grown with or without the use of pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals. “Organic clothing is clothing made from materials raised or grown in compliance with organic agricultural standards. Organic clothing may be composed of cotton, jute, silk, ramie, or wool. Retailers charge more for organic clothing because the source of the clothing's fiber are free from herbicides, pesticides, or genetically modified seeds. Textiles do not need to be 100% organic to use the organic label.”
Fast Fashion // “Fast fashion is a contemporary term used by fashion retailers to express that designs move from catwalk quickly in order to capture current fashion trends. Emphasis is on optimizing certain aspects of the supply chain in order for these trends to be designed and manufactured quickly and inexpensively to allow the mainstream consumer to buy current clothing styles at a lower price.” Instead of the traditional Spring and Fall collections of days past, fast fashion now pushes 52 (or more) “micro-seasons” a year, creating a never-ending stream of products. Recently, countless articles, books, and documentaries like The True Cost have exposed fast fashion for the harmful and wasteful industry it is.
Slow Fashion // An antidote for fast fashion, “slow fashion is the movement of designing, creating, and buying garments for quality and longevity. Slow fashion encourages slower production schedules, fair wages, lower carbon footprints, and (ideally) zero waste.”
Zero Waste Fashion // “ Zero-waste fashion refers to items of clothing that generate little or no textile waste in their production...It can be divided into two general approaches. Pre-consumer zero-waste fashion eliminates waste during manufacture. Post-consumer zero-waste fashion generates clothing from post-consumer garments such as second-hand clothing, eliminating waste at what would normally be the end of the product use life of a garment. Zero-waste fashion is not a new concept--early examples of zero-waste or near zero-waste garments include [the] Kimono, Sari, Chiton and many other traditional folk costumes.”
Fair Trade // In the fashion and textiles industry, “fair trade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. Fair trade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their lot and have more control over their lives... The existing associations or federations for fair trade include WFTO (The World Fair Trade Organization), EFTA (European Fair Trade Association), and BAFTS (British Association for Fair Trade Shops).”
I hope that this serves as a helpful guide for you when considering future purchases! The more you know....!
[photo via slow fashion brand Alabama Chanin]