Decoding Sustainable Fashion – What Does it Mean to You?

It can be daunting to know where to start when it comes to making more sustainable fashion choices. And in case you’re about to write this article off as frivolous, let me quickly tell you why this is such an important topic.

Fast fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world, next to oil. Worse, the working conditions for many have been likened to modern slavery, and the lack of regulation when it comes to environmental responsibility is frightening.

After grappling with this issue over the past few months, I’ve come to adopt a mishmash of values I believe to culminate in a holistic way.

I’ll admit, it’s not perfect, and what I was really hoping for when I started this journey, was a quick-step guide.

I wanted a surefire way to know I wasn’t contributing to unjust, unfair and unethical labour practices, and I wanted to know my fashion choices weren’t directly affecting the environment or harming animals too.

Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. The more I learned, the more confused I became.

When I started to reject leather, I quickly learned vegan alternatives can be highly toxic. As I started to become a more conscious consumer, I also started to question whether I should be rejecting my consumption habits entirely? (Answer: Yes)

But where did this leave me? While I wanted to stop buying all together, I couldn’t. Or I wouldn’t. So what I did, was work to understand a range of issues and find my own set of values to guide me.

What have I learned?

1) Buy less. Buy better. Recycle. Reuse. Yes, the real answer to sustainable fashion is glaringly obvious.

Image Credit: Liz Ciokajlo

2) When you buy, choose natural fibres. That’s cotton, linen, wool, silk, hemp, or cashmere. Synthetic fabrics, or “plastic fabric” include polyester, rayon, modal, spandex and nylon. Not only do synthetic fibers require much higher energy use and crude oil, they’re toxic. Natural fibers also just feel better. Not to mention, because they’re plant materials, they decompose quickly while synthetic fibers – essentially plastic – do not.

3) Choose organic cotton – important for you, the environment, and workers. There are endless resources online making this case, but all you need to know is that conventional, cotton farms erode soil, waste water, use tons of energy and are incredibly toxic. If that’s not enough, you can read why non-organic cotton farms are directly linked to the high suicide rate of farmers in India.

4) It’s sometimes OK to use the “30 Wear Rule.” Ever so occasionally, I do buy fast fashion. I know! Terrible! Guilty! But I believe sustainability is also about wearability, and there’s no point buying something “good” that you’ll never wear. So, when I do, I always subscribe to Livia Firth’s “30 Wear Rule.” That means I commit to wearing a product at least 30 times and fight the trend towards “throwaway fashion.”

Samantha Okazaki / TODAY

5) Embrace minimalism. It’s widely accepted that focussing on less, having less, and embracing less, gives you more. I recently watched the documentary “The Minimalists” and this made so much sense to me. In fashion, many are embracing this and promoting the “capsule” wardrobe. The focus here is on longevity, style, and quality – all good things to guide you.

6) Support brands that embrace sustainability at their core. While many major brands are making a move towards adopting more sustainable practices, and should be applauded for doing so, I like to support smaller brands driven by sustainable values. I’ve become familiar with a few such as as People Tree and Patagonia and I support outlets that curate these brands, and others, so I know who to trust. My favourites are Charlie + Mary, and Well Made Clothes.

Sustainable fashion is a term that means different things to different people. Progress is slow. And nobody knows this more than the team at Fashion Revolution, a global movement which campaigns for transparency in the supply chain following the tragic Rana Plaza collapse in 2013.

However, while the issues are widespread, and the solutions complex, I think we can celebrate the fact that the tide is turning, and brands, as well as consumers, are changing their ways.

Knowing where to start can be daunting, but starting is an important step. 

[Image Source: Fashion Revolution]