Fashion is a fickle beast. To some, fashion means looking your best all day every day, keeping up to date with all of the latest trends, all while trying not to spend oodles of money. It requires diligence, patience, and is a complete drain on our global resources.
What is fashion?
Broadly speaking, fashion is any given time’s popular style, more particularly in clothing, footwear, lifestyle, and the like. Fashion is, by character, distinctive, dynamic, and often constant. People typically adapt well to changes in fashion trends while some stick to a personal style that defines how they present themselves in general.
Sustainable fashion is an emerging facet of the clothing industry. It is a growing design philosophy and movement geared toward environmental, ethical, and social sustainability. The goal of sustainable fashion is to create and instill a system which can be indefinitely supported in terms of human and production impact on the environment, all the while maintaining much-needed social responsibility.
Sustainable fashion takes on several forms. Many proponents of sustainable fashion emphasize on the importance of environmentally-friendly clothing production, while others advocate the use of second-hand, vintage or “pre-loved” clothing, underlining the benefits of swapping, renting, and up-cycling clothes. This, as opposed to constantly purchasing newly-manufactured clothes. All these mentioned strategies promote the same goal: environmentally-, socially-, and ethically-conscious production and consumption of fashion.
Fortunately, the vast market has begun to react positively to its consumers’ growing call for sustainability in all aspects of life, including fashion. Fashion has just taken a little longer to get there. NOBAD is here to help you address your clothing concerns along the course to sustainability.
Sustainable Fashion has 7 Best Practices:
- On-Demand and Custom-Made: these include made-to-order, tailor-made, bespoke, and DIY clothing.
- Green and Clean: environmentally-sound processes in all phases of the clothing’s life cycle, from production to end-of-life.
- High Quality and Classic Design: timeless pieces have longer life cycles.
- Fair and Ethical: throughout the process of manufacturing – whether traditional or artisan production – human and animal rights are upheld.
- Upcycled: repairing, redesigning or repurposing existing clothing to maximize its life cycle
- Second-hand and Vintage: promoting temporary ownership (like renting, leasing, or swapping) or use of “pre-loved” clothing optimizes the items’ life cycles
- Recycled: viable raw materials may be gleaned from old fashion
The advocacy is that a combination of most or all elements mentioned above are integrated and capitalized on in the production of new garments. Ideally, each garment should be produced as (1) on-demand or custom-made patterned after a (3) high quality and timeless design in a (2) clean and green process, upholding (4) fair and ethical labor and animal welfare standards all throughout. Upon ownership, (5) clothing upcycling should always be top-of-mind. And when the product is no longer desired, it should be handed to (6) a shop that specializes in pre-owned or vintage fashion, passed on to friends, relatives or even a swap-shop, or donated to charitable institutions in order to extend the product’s active life. Finally, when the garment is completely worn out, it should be deposited to (7) a collection depot for recycling of the textile material, which can then be re-used in the production of new clothing products.
The first question you need to ask yourself is if you can avoid the purchase. Because the answer will almost always be a “yes”. Bear in mind that any new purchase translates to a prescribed bulk of materials, both natural and synthetic, that were used to create that item; fuel that was likely burned in the process; and the quality of life for the human and animal capital expended in its production. Take all these and juxtapose with how often and how long you are likely going to use this piece of clothing. Cutting to the core, consumption IS one of the real roots of global warming. And it is for these reasons (and perhaps more) that the best thing you can do is to avoid the purchase altogether.
Can you rent it? Of course, you can! More and more, opportunities and options for renting or leasing fashion are improving in many ways. WRAP, the UK’s resource efficiency agency, has identified clothes leasing as an innovative business model that significantly prolongs a clothing product’s life cycle while reducing material use and carbon dioxide emissions in its production. A survey conducted by London’s Westfield Shopping Centre suggests that clothing rental is indeed emerging as a key trend in fashion. In the US, Rent the Runway has become a significant fashion player. This site promises wardrobe flexibility and “smart” clothes from their vast options. Renting clothes translate to smaller “clothing footprints”. You may also want to check out Le Tote Clothing Rental, Saris and Things, and Armoire.
Companies like these are founded on change and are bound to face numerous challenges from the traditional sales-driven fashion ecosystem, not to mention consumer hesitation. Yet, the crusade to promote clothing rental continues to gain momentum. It’s true — clothes renting and leasing have great potential to reduce waste and extend the life cycle of garments. But realistically, to achieve a more sustainable fashion industry, we all need to undergo a systemic change in business practices and consumer behavior.
Your next question should be: Can you repair something you already own? You most definitely can. And should. In 2017, a staggering 235 million pieces of unwanted clothing was estimated to have been dumped in a UK landfill. Annually, the average American is estimated to discard about 81 lbs (or 37 kg) of used clothing. Multiply these figures over more years, even decades. Sadly, overconsumption and the inevitable disposal of unwanted clothing have become a worrisome problem of global proportions. Ponder on all this waste because, in many cases, clothing is unnecessarily discarded when they could be still be repaired, upcycled or recycled. Circle back to our first question and realize the amount of resources, whether natural or synthetic; the fuel that was burned; and the human and animal capital expended in order to produce a piece of clothing. All of which will result to a pitiful waste when the same piece of clothing has been discarded as rubbish. Before you throw away a tired pair of trousers, think first if you can repurpose it into stylish summer shorts. Your old worn skirt into a pashmina or parka. Whether for you or for your Mom. Repairing, redesigning or repurposing existing clothing not only maximizes its life cycle, but contributes significantly to conserving numerous resources, not to mention human and mechanical capital in the shipment of traded goods. Bergans of Norway has a lot of excellent upcycling ideas. Shop through countless hand-made, vintage refashioned clothing in the highly imaginative Etsy site.
While recycling helps us achieve circularity by wiping out waste through imagination and design, it is still an environmental challenge. Recycling is energy-intensive and may require the use of further raw materials. While recycling addresses some of fashion’s sustainability issues, it still does not adequately resolve the problem of over consumption. Sadly, the average number of times a garment is worn has declined by 36% since the year 2000. Before going the way of recycling, get creative with how to prolong the life of every clothing piece. Up-cycle.
Can you buy second-hand? Why not?! The world of resale is thankfully spawning extended life cycles for all clothes. More and more, consumers aren’t buying brand new as frequently as they once did. Secondary market behavior is something consumers are moving towards more and more, and rightly so! Second-hand consumption comes in various forms: reselling, upcycling, gifting, swapping and re-using. The second-hand market is emerging as one of the fastest-growing consumer segments. The idea of a revolving wardrobe is becoming more widely-adopted, especially among the current Generation Z, and more of us are becoming “closet entrepreneurs”. Decluttering has never been as lucrative, with this emergence of the “pre-loved” market.
GreenMatch, in a recent study, found that at least 72% of the Generation Z populace spends its money more towards products or services that were sustainably developed. Said sector is observed to possess a strong preference towards brands who take sustainable initiatives. This explains why a lot of the more evolved fashion manufacturers are choosing ethical materials and practices and are certainly highlighting this in their marketing strategies. These are the businesses that win. This kind of buying behavior goes well into predicting that “second-hand fashion is set to become a larger market than luxury by 2022.”
Resale and P2P (peer-to-peer) marketplaces such as Depop, Vestiaire Collective, and The RealReal encourage consumers to shop, sell and swap pre-owned items. You can also visit these other affordable online shops for vintage and secondhand clothing: ThredUp, Swap.com, Poshmark, Beyond Retro, eBay, among others.
Let us all think back to April 24, 2013. A structural collapse of the eight-story commercial building named Rana Plaza in Bangladesh left the world with a death toll of over 1,100 people and wounded over 2,200 more. Those killed and injured in this tragedy consisted majorly of garment workers and shopkeepers. The incident left consumers all around the world to commemorate those who toil to make the clothes we wear every day, questioning, too, the (usually deplorable) working conditions they are subjected to. Documentaries like The True Cost (2015) cast a harsh light on how the rapidly the fashion industry depletes the earth’s resources and often relies on “slave labor” just to remain competitive in the “cheap cost” clothing market.
Now, over five years past the Rana Plaza tragedy, several fashion brands have committed to ethical and sustainable practices. The more significant fashion players have made it an integral part of their mission to approach fashion with more ethically-sound, people- and planet-considerate processes, in full transparency. This sustainable nature of business appeals to most consumers, who have become increasingly conscious about their purchases and are gradually seeking to make a positive difference for the sake of all people involved in the production of clothes and fashion.
If you’re finally making the shift to a completely ethical closet, you may want to go through this list of ethical clothing brands.
So ask yourself this again: are you sure you really have to buy new clothes? Or do you want to make a difference?