In the earlier days, sustainable fashion probably brought to mind images of hippies, rough home-spun fabrics, and out-of-style closet rejects from your older sibling.
Well, it’s come a long distance from that! Nowadays, sustainable fashion has become a bona fide movement, with some serious traction. And, it’s producing items that are not only better for us and the planet, but also beautiful, modern, and resilient.
There are loads of options for making the tenets of sustainability in fashion an everyday, mainstream reality. Keep reading to learn all about sustainability in home and personal fashions — it’s interesting stuff!
What Does Sustainability in Fashion Mean, Exactly?
This is quite the question to unpack! Sustainability and sustainable fashion can mean different things to different people….
But, as you’ll see — there are lots of ways sustainability in fashion can manifest itself!
Sustainable Fashion, Defined
According to one fashion periodical, some popular and generally-accepted “definitions” of this concept include:(1)
Sustainable fashion is…
…an all-inclusive term describing products, processes, activities, and actors (policymakers, brands, consumers) aiming to achieve a carbon-neutral fashion industry, built on equality, social justice, animal welfare, and ecological integrity.
…local sourcing and production, transparency across the supply chain, traceability of work processes and raw materials, environmentally friendly raw materials, safe working conditions, and fair wages.
…a movement and process fostering changes to products and the fashion system, pushing towards greater ecological integrity and social justice. Sustainable fashion concerns more than just addressing fashion textiles or products.
We think these encapsulate the idea of sustainability in fashion rather well (and comprehensively!) — so we’ll go with them.
This Is Sustainability in Fashion, Too
But, we do feel it’s important to recognize another dimension of fashion sustainability not quite addressed or explicitly articulated in the above explanations. The definitions seem to speak mostly of the original procurement, distribution, and use of fashion.
But what about secondary or tertiary use? Like cats, jackets, and throw pillows can have nine lives!
So, in honor of all the hand-me-downs and re-gifts circulating, let’s also lump the following kinds of fashion that deserve to be in the category of sustainable fashion:(1)
Upcycled.Ex. Adding rhinestones and appliqués to old jeans to make them “new” again — and fancy
Repurposed.Ex. Turning your dad’s old button-down work shirt into a painting smock
Recycled.Ex. Making an afghan from the yarn of an old, holey sweater
Reclamated.Ex. Using byproducts of winemaking to make vegan leather
Reused.Ex. Wearing your friend’s no-longer-needed jacket instead of buying a new one
Renewed, repaired, or refurbished.Ex. Fixing or updating an aging rug to extend its useful life
Thrifted or re-sale.Ex. Buying items from second-hand stores, garage and estate sales, and online classified listings
Traded or swapped.Ex. Bartered or exchanged goods that negate the need for getting new versions
Rented or loaned.Ex. Temporarily borrowing for, free or a fee, someone else’s tux or gown
How To Create a More Sustainable Fashionverse
The fashion ecosystem is both broad and deep. This means there are countless opportunities to be more environmentally conscientious.
Frame of Mind
Sustainability starts with mindset and attitude. These lead to thoughts and feelings, which spur behaviors and actions. (And mission, values, and commitment statements from companies.) Where there’s a will, there’s a way — right?
If a business or individual values sustainability in fashion and is motivated to prioritize it, they will do their best to align their activities with their beliefs. Having the mind and heart engaged can really mobilize producers and consumers to do their part!
Once the decision to angle towards sustainability is made, material selection may be the first point to implement greener choices and practices.
After all, the textiles and other supplies used to create the fashions is a huge piece of the puzzle and a sensible jumping-off point. For example, eco-friendly garments and home goods might incorporate sustainability:
Zippers, buttons, and other closures
Embellishments (e.g., beading, lace, etc.)
Sustainable fabrics and materials feature characteristics like:
Originating from recycled inputs
Close to point of manufacture/sale/use
Having a small/gentle impact on the environment
Not being resource intensive
Sustainable Textiles & More
There’s been an explosion of materials with enviable sustainability profiles. And it’s not just scratchy potato sacks! These materials — fabrics and more — are perfectly suited to all kinds of fashions.
Hallmark attributes of these materials? They lean towards being carbon-neutral or -negative, cruelty-free, vegan or plant-based, and/or recycled. Here are some of the heavy hitters of sustainable materials:(2)
Clay or adobe
Fabric made from soy, banana, pineapple, coconut, or other fruit/veg fiber
Hemp — Yes, it's back and thanks to the Farm Bill we can now grow it again in the USA.
Mycelial (mushroom-based) leather and foam
Recycled — glass, rubber, plastic, nylon, etc.
Manufacturing & Merchandising Methods
Next up — how the products are made, marketed, and moved. This involves everything from the facilities and production resources used to the processes employed to the people doing the work.
Sustainability in manufacturing, promotion, and distribution can take the form of:
Fabricating the fashions in a LEED-certified plant
Adhering to fair labor practices
Participating in carbon-offset programs
Making deliveries in biofuel-powered vehicles
Using minimal and recyclable packaging
Basically, sustainable businesses are ones that use fewer resources (e.g., water, energy, time), generate less waste and ecological harm, and create goods with enduring service lives. Even better if their practices remediate damage that’s been done (like cleaning up pollution) and/or helps prevent future harm (like planting a tree for every shirt sold).
With intention and creativity — there are infinite ways fashion producers can adopt at least some principles of sustainability.
You’ve brought home a sustainable fashion item. Now what?
At this stage of your garment’s or décor’s lifecycle — you’re in charge of its degree of sustainability. It’s up to you to enjoy, care for, and dispose of your belongings in a sustainable manner.
While you own the item, consider washing it with all-natural bio-cleansers and storing it away from light/heat/moisture/etc. so it’s usable for longer. When it’s time to let go of that item, maybe donate it to someone who could use it or find a local fabric recycling collection bin.
It’s really all about making the most of the items already in existence. This might mean wearing your clothing more times or passing unneeded linens on to their next loving home.(3)
Sustainable Doesn’t Mean “Low Quality”
In fact, many sustainable products are better or more durable than less-sustainable alternatives. While “quality” is a continuum and a bit subjective, sustainable products often come out on top.
To assess a quality rating or score, it can be helpful to consider different options relative to one another. Take hemp versus cotton — a common match-up — as an example. Compared to cotton, hemp:(4,5)
Has much stronger fibers
Yields at least twice as much fiber per area of land
Fabric is shrink resistant and keeps its shape better
Grows way faster
Uses half as much water to grow
Regenerates the soil
Requires no pesticides
Produces lower greenhouse gas emissions
Not shabby at all! You’ll find that many sustainable fashions stand up and stand out, in a good sense.
Sustainable Also Doesn’t Mean “Ugly” or “Boring”
Sustainable fashions can be every bit as chic or upscale as their non-sustainable counterparts. Plenty of stylish design houses are making themselves known as sustainable fashion brands. Even some well-established household names are in on the sustainable fashion game.
And, it doesn’t stop with your wardrobe. A broader view of sustainable fashion might also include things like ethically-sourced precious metals or lab-grown gems.(6) For instance, synthetic diamonds are considered sustainable because they don’t require mining, which can be terrible for the surrounding land and exploit labor. (7)
Support Sustainable Fashion
You can show that sustainable clothing, accessories, and home goods are important to your worldview spending accordingly. “Vote with your dollars.” as they say.
Thankfully, shopping for sustainable products is getting easier (more sustainable!) every day as others jump on this eco-loving bandwagon. You have loads of options when it comes to finding items you’ll love and cherish.
There are sustainable sellers in every sector and marketplace. Online stores are an obvious choice. But many brick-and-mortar shops specialize in sustainable fashions. And don’t forget to check out your local farmers’ or artisanal markets — they’re always a trove of treasures!
With a little intentional scouting around, you shouldn’t have much trouble sourcing a wide range of sustainable personal and home fashions like:
Clothing.Ex. Garments made from organic hemp or upcycled hand-me-downs
Eyeglasses.Ex. Wooden, composite, or recycled frames
Jewelry.Ex. Earrings made from natural fibers or with cruelty-free/manufactured diamonds
Handbags.Ex. Vegan leather purses and wallets
Shoes.Ex. Sneakers made from mushrooms (mycelium)
Bedding.Ex. Bamboo-fiber sheets and pillows
Table linens.Ex. Organic linen napkins and tablecloths
Upholstery.Ex. Cushion covers, throw pillows, or drapery made from sustainable materials
Floor coverings.Ex. Patchwork vintage area rugs, sisal mats, “green” carpeting, or carbon-capture tiles
And remember, when hunting around for sustainable home and personal fashions — you don’t need to always buy something brand sparkling new. This is why many savvy sustainability enthusiasts favor buying fewer but higher-quality items, ones that will last longer that the average piece of fast fashion.
Minimize the Footprint of Fashion
Sustainability in fashion aims to reduce the negative human and environmental impact of creating and consuming clothing and home goods. The choices made throughout a fashion item’s supply chain and lifecycle can all influence how sustainable that piece is.
Sustainable fashions are made from materials that tend to be renewable, biodegradable, and gentler on the planet — like organic hemp. They often use fewer resources and less harmful production and distribution methods as well.
You can support sustainable fashion by making the most of the clothing that’s already been made and making eco-friendlier purchases.
FAQs Buzzin’ Through the Hive
What is sustainable fashion and why is it important?
Sustainable fashions are ones that make minimal to no negative impact on people or the planet. They do this through environmentally-friendly use and processing of eco-friendly materials. Smart conscientious manufacturing and consumption practices will help us heal/preserve the health of humanity and the Earth.
What are examples of sustainable fashion?
Clothing and home décor made from sustainable fabrics (e.g., organic hemp or bamboo) that are sustainably produced (e.g., manufactured using green technologies and energy sources) could be deemed sustainable fashion. Thrifted, upcycled, repurposed, shared, rented, and traded items may also earn this laudable distinction.
Is sustainable fashion really sustainable?
Not entirely. No matter how hard we try, fashion will never be 100% sustainable. However, it’s leaps and bounds better than perpetuating fast fashion.
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