This post from Hosho provides comprehensive inputs and insights on sustainable fashion.
What is sustainable fashion?
In basic terms, sustainable fashion means that ever effort is made from the fiber to finished product to ensure the least harmful, most natural and organic materials are used to manufacture the textile products. Clothes could be considered sustainable when
- The least energy possible is used to produce and distribute the clothing
- Starting at the fiber, using natural, organic fibers which helps lessen the amount of land and energy used.
- Using organic cotton instead of regular cotton which prevents chemicals from getting into the surrounding natural and human environments.
- Using fibers found closest to the end retail location also cuts down on energy consumption.
What is the scope of sustainable fashion?
The scope of sustainable fashion is quite vast, as vast as the scope of fashion itself.
No, we are not joking.
Fashion as an industry has both width and length – there are so many verticals within the fashion sector and each vertical in itself is quite vast (take for example, premium fashion footwear alone!).
In most aspects of fashion, and in most parts of its value chain, it is possible to incorporate the sustainability dimension.
What are the main components of sustainable fashion?
Sustainability in fashion can said to have the following broad components:
- Use of sustainable materials – starting with the farm and all the way to the ingredients used
- Use of sustainable processes for the making of end products – both in terms of energy efficiency as well as minimizing environmental harm
- Enabling a circular economy by facilitating optimal end of life options.
What are the key benefits of sustainable fashion?
Sustainable fashion produces less waste and harmful emissions
- The development at the local level promotes sustainable fashion: By shopping locally grown, organic fabrics you are promoting an increase in work quality for farm laborers. Local, organic farms are safer for agricultural workers because they are faced with less chemicals from the synthetic fibers
- Non-synthetic fibers are better for the environment : Synthetic fibers are cheaper for the manufacturer to produce, however, synthetic fibers are both polluting and energy-intensive.
- It lasts longer : Research has shown that buying clothes made from organic, renewable fibers is not only not as toxic, but they are more durable and timeless.
- Producing organic clothing promotes a better environment for animals: Organically produced fabrics are less polluting on the environment, and therefore, they are better for animals.
- Wearing organic fabrics is better for your health: When wearing organic clothing, you’re wearing less chemicals.
Which are the key segments within the fashion market that have adopted sustainable fashion?
While most prominent segments within the fashion industry has gone green (in fact, it is fashionable for the fashion industry to be seen green), sectors that are at the forefront of sustainability are:
- Fashion garments and apparel
- Premium cosmetics
- Fashion textile accessories – bags, footwear…
What are some of the current and emerging trends in sustainable fashion?
Based on a reading of what the thought leaders in the fashion industry think, the following are the current and emerging trends in the intersection of sustainable fashion:
- Reduce. Reuse. Recycle – while this has been an old topic, the fashion industry reinvents and copies itself all the time. Carrying this idea of recycling style one step further, some fashion designers are finding ways to use recycled and discarded materials in their designs.
- Finding New Material – Cotton is natural, but that does not mean that it has no environmental challenges. According to the World Bank, “Cotton accounts for 16 percent of global insecticide releases—more than any other single crop.” So, while more and more clothing manufacturers and designers are using organic cotton, other designers are exploring other, different materials altogether. Textile manufacturers are using bamboo, soy, corn and wood pulp to create environmentally sound alternatives to cotton fabric, and many fashion designers are using traditional, natural dyes as a part of their efforts to create sustainable fashion.
- Staying Cruelty-Free – Animal cruelty and sweatshop labor have been on our radar for years but now, we’re starting to realize it’s not enough to know that our clothing wasn’t produced in sweatshops; we also have to think about the origins of the raw materials. Designers and consumers alike now want to know that their pieces are violence and cruelty-free. Socially-conscious fashion trends require attention to every step of the production process.
- Fast fashion will die: We repair our cars, our iPhones, and our furniture. Why not our clothes? We will all adopt the “30 wears”rule (buy only things which you can commit wearing a minimum of 30 times), so that we get more fashion mileage per dress. “Fast fashion”, or conscious consumerism or whatever you like to call it, will slowly die as we will start realizing they have taken us for a ride for too many years, addicting us to buying too fast and too cheaply, and ending up spending much more money than we would normally do on things that not only do not last in our wardrobes.
- Cradle to cradle – The idea of “cradle to cradle” will begin to acknowledge the roots and soil as a starting and ending point.
- Not just recycling, but also upcycling
- Tackling sweatshops – When an eight-story building housing five clothing factories collapsed in April 2016 in Bangladesh, killing more than 1,100 people, the catastrophe drew a great deal of attention to the hazards faced by millions of garment workers worldwide. Since then, more than 60 global retailers have signed the legally binding Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord. Through this, each agreed to pay as much as $500,000 toward administering the five-year pact and underwriting the repair and renovation of dangerous factories. So far, the agreement pertains to 2,000 of Bangladesh’s 4,000 garment factories. Expect more such initiatives to emerge soon, as the fashion industry begins to take a holistic approach to ensuring workers’ safety and respect for their rights, an approach that places workers at the center of the solution, not at the margins.
- Responsible business models along the supply chain – I predict that more people will demand responsible business models from fashion companies in the near future and that sustainable fashion will begin to transform the industry. The 33 global companies that have signed the commitment to Detox will deliver visible progress in the next year and break the business-as-usual attitude that has dominated the industry far too long. This will also include a push for “radical transparency,” which will demand more accountability for and monitoring of environmental and social impacts using tools
- Sustainable raw materials – Fabrics, Dyestuffs, etc., will start moving from niche to more widely available.
- Green Chemistry – We’ll start addressing toxicity in the textile and apparel sector through green- chemistry initiatives that seek to regulate or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances and processes. Eventually consumers will learn to identify and avoid certain fabrics and chemicals when selecting clothing.
- Traditional Gets a Thumbs Up – In parallel to the industry phasing down on toxic chemicals and harmful processes, we’ll see an increase in traditional textile production methods and ancient designs will be revived and reintroduced to village artisans by contemporary entrepreneurs. While these will of course remain a small niche, more companies such as Uncommon Goods could emerge to expand this market to a relative much larger size.
Which are the key brands worldwide that have adopted sustainable fashion practices for their products?
Here are the top five brands making the attempt to adopt sustainable fashion:
- H&M declares that it has set itself the challenge of “making fashion sustainable and making sustainability fashionable”. That has led to the creation of ‘H&M Conscious’, products that aim for a better ethical and environmental footprint.
- Zara supports the use of organic cotton in some of its clothes, and is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, with a code of conduct that prohibits the use of forced or child labour in its supply chain.
- Monsoon Monsoon supports a programme to help Indian cotton farmers to convert to organic production, and sponsors ethical designers for London Fashion Week. It has a programme of reducing energy use at its stores, and reducing waste and packaging.
- Marks & Spencer The most ethical high street fashion retailer, recognising the wide-ranging nature of its initiatives on sustainable materials, removal of harmful chemicals and fairer trade.
What are the key challenges for sustainable fashion?
- Consumer Awareness: The biggest problem fashion industry faces today is, e have is the consumer doesn’t know what’s going on, they don’t know how to shop, Because it takes extra time and money to source organic clothing.
- Isolated Fashion Movement : If there was a “single largest obstacle,” it would be the continued isolation and separation of the organic, ethical, sustainable, and local fashion movement, which prohibits it from entering into the mainstream chain of retailers both small and large.
- Manufacturing Materials: A limited range of manufacturing materials makes sustainable clothing unsuitable for markets with fast product turnover
- Production Cost: With low profit margins, this can be an uphill task for sustainable practices to compete with their highly competitive budget alternatives.