The fashion industry is dirty. It has been ‘dirty’ for years. It pollutes our water sources, uses toxics, and dumps its waste. 10% of the global carbon footprint is from the fashion industry. Millions of workers, mostly women, suffer in poor work environments.
The ethical and sustainable fashion movement has started to counter just this, and it cries out for change. People feel the whole industry must change, and sustainability must be encouraged.
It is a new social movement, primarily driven by the millennial generation. These consumers want their brands to be authentic and transparent.
But what is ethical and sustainable fashion?
Because the movement is still very new, the exact definitions are always evolving.
(However, there is a need to come to a consensus, as unethical fashion brands can use sustainability for marketing lip-service, without really doing something. Consumers who want to do the right thing would be left in a precarious spot. The ongoing refinement of the concepts is a priority for those in the social movement to that extent.)
Generally, to be sustainable is to ask how materials are made and from what. Is there any standard for fair trade? Are textiles (and packaging used) upcycled? What energy-saving initiatives are used? ‘Wastewater' and ‘pollutants' are essential topics across the board.
The term is subjective, and what might be moral to one person might not be for another.
Generally, though, to be ethical is to consider the developing countries where textiles are made, the workers used, and their working environments. How are they treated overall?
Ethicality can also stretch to animals and fashion brands itself. How are animals treated in the fashion industry? Do fashion brands give to charities and support their local communities? Do they have fair work policies and transparency in their supply chain?
The new social movement
Supporters are starting to address these issues from the ground up.
Awareness of sustainability challenges is on the rise. The result is for the consumer to be able to choose products that meet their values and reward the brands that create them.
Sustainable fashion is about being eco-friendly and socially responsible. On a personal level, it is about thinking about your clothes: what to buy and if to buy. Can you rather repair, wear second-hand clothing or swop with friends?
To live a sustainable life is about thinking holistically and to consider your choices. But why exactly does it matter?
Eco-friendly fashion matters
The fashion industry has been called one of the most environmentally damaging industries in the world. Only the coal industry does more damage.
Let’s consider some of the facts:
- The buying of clothes is proportional to population growth. Our planet is overpopulated with people buying what they need, but also buying what they don’t need. Clothes are not bought to keep. In the US alone, it is estimated that people throw away more than 20 kg per clothes per person per year.
- Fast fashion clothing is mostly made from conventionally grown cotton. To be produced, it uses a considerable amount of the world's pesticides – which run off eventually into rivers and oceans.
- Fossil fuels are burned in factories to produce and manufacture clothes. It is also used to distribute fast fashion the world over. All this constitutes a remarkable carbon footprint.
- The fashion industry gulps water. For example, it takes more than 7500 liters of water to make just one pair of jeans! What's more, fashion dyes pollute water.
It is distressing and sad to read these stats. Luckily, the wheels of the sustainable fashion social movement are turning to try and solve these issues.
Cast your vote
It is in your hands. Every time you swipe your card, you vote for the new world you want to live in. And the tide is rising. There is an increasing focus on being mindful and intentional in all parts of living.
Fashion Revolution Week
An exciting annual event is spurring on fashion activism. The purchaser is starting to take matters into his own hands.
Fashion Revolution week (around 24 April each year) wants to unite all players in the fashion industry to initiate change.
The movement wants us to look at how our clothes are sourced, produced, and bought. In many ways, the Fashion Revolution Week has formalized sustainable fashion as a new social movement. It wants to expose the fast fashion industry for what it is.
The new buzzword is ‘Slow Fashion.’ It encompasses responsible shopping, quality rather than quantity, mindfulness, the celebration of cultural identities, and more information to consumers.
We call the shots
We, the consumer, make the fashion industry possible. What we do today may only be the flutter of a butterfly wing, but it can have a profound effect over the long run. Our simple decisions can shape our future world.
How is it happening?
- As a social movement, people are made aware of their local fashion industry problems, such as cultural sustainability. People must tell their stories and share what they are struggling with for change to happen.
- It is happening through upcycling. There are loads of benefits to reuse materials – people must just be made aware of it. ‘What alternatives are there to fast fashion?' This is the question that must be asked and debated upon.
- There is cooperation across industries for research and development of more sustainable ways of doing things. It is being implemented, and consumers are educated by giving them access to more information.
- Although sustainable clothes are often more expensive, smart branding can make a difference. If sustainability is at the core of brand identity, consumers can show what they believe in through the clothes they wear. As such social influence can transform consumer awareness and initiate behaviour change.
- Shaming does not work to stop consumers from buying unethical clothing. Instead, movements such as the Fashion Revolution can give consumers a voice. It made sustainability cool.
- Businesses are encouraged to become more transparent, especially if they are not sure where their garments are made or where their fabrics come from. Ethical companies are trying to get ahead of the trend and are working behind the scenes so that they won't be a target for criticism.
- Sustainable - and eco-friendly fashion can also be promoted at an individual level. Demand transparency from your favorite brands! Know what is in your closet and wear it proudly. Make each piece of clothing last by repairing it, by upcycling or by giving it to someone who can use it before you consider throwing it out. And when you buy new clothes, buy quality items.
Perhaps, in the future, sustainable fashion will materialize not only as a social movement but as a real trend to be reckoned with.
One writer suggested seeing slow fashion as a trend as part of a spectrum. Some brands are farther along than others. This allows for a changing landscape and encourages businesses and brands to improve.
Sustainable fashion as a trend would respect workers, the environment, and us, the consumers, equally. Bit by bit, we all can make a difference.