What Is Sustainability?
To really understand sustainable fashion, you have to understand the concept of sustainability. Most people just think of climate change when you hear the word “sustainable”, but it’s about more than that. Yes, sustainability relates to the world and how we can interact with it and its resources… but it’s also about how our present steps affect the future of our planet. The United Nations defines it as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
In essence, sustainability is not the solution for climate change—climate change is the challenge we face in creating a more sustainable future.
Sustainability in Fashion
According to the Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, sustainable fashion is part of the slow fashion movement which started in the 1960’s when shoppers became aware of the impact that the clothing and textile industry had on the environment, and demanded change.
It, in essence, focuses on how we treat people (both employees and consumers), and our planet. Rather than paying people in developing countries less than a living wage to produce clothes in unsafe working conditions to create low quality clothing that will fall apart or be cast aside in less than a year, consumers are encouraged to go for quality. It focuses on reusing textiles instead of shipping them off to third world countries to create more waste.
It's about good working conditions and the reduction of manufacturing practices that are harmful to the environment. It’s about quality over quantity and the promotion of ethical practices in the fashion industry. It’s about transparency in the manufacturing process. And more importantly it’s about meeting the present needs of the fashion industry without compromising the planet—or the people living on it.
Unfortunately, today’s fashion is not meant to be sustainable. It’s meant to be disposable. With 52 fashion seasons in a year, the fast fashion industry wants you to buy cheap clothes and get rid of it with each season. The more you shop, the more they profit. In other words, choosing sustainability doesn’t just help textile workers and the planet, it also saves you money.
A Call for Change
In 2018, the UN created the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, with the goal of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This falls in line with the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees. Slowly but surely, slow fashion brands are increasing and consumers are becoming more aware of the issues at hand. But awareness is only step one. The real question is, what can we as consumers do to meet sustainability goals?
There are numerous ways, from choosing low impact natural materials like hemp, linen, and organic cotton to name a few to investing in thrifted clothing, or fabrics made from recycled fibers or deadstock. Purchasing locally made items or simply prolonging the life of your own clothes also helps the sustainable fashion movement.
Choosing to be more sustainable doesn’t mean you have to throw out all your clothes and invest in pricey, high-quality pieces you can’t afford. It’s okay to start small. Maybe for you that just means you start separating your clothes instead of throwing all your clothes in one load. Or maybe it just means reading this article. But that’s still a start.