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Common Misconceptions About Sustainable Fashion

Common Misconceptions About Sustainable Fashion
Written by Brooke Vlasich

When I originally told people I was interested in sustainable fashion, I was met with a mix of puzzled and confused looks. “What’s that?” people would ask. I’d do my best to explain with terms like eco-friendly production methods and using materials that cause little or no harm to people and the environment. This usually led to the next clarification of, “Oh, you mean fair trade?” At this point I’d hint that this was a part of sustainable fashion. From here I can only guess a certain amount of assumptions filled people’s heads as I attempted to explain more. Although it’s natural to make assumptions, I’d rather address common misconceptions surrounding sustainable fashion to demystify the stereotypes and show the benefits of this industry.

Misconception #1: Sustainable fashion is ugly or made with only one style in mind.

Let me guess, you’re assuming sustainable fashion is only for hippies? First of all, I don’t think hippie should always be equated with lazy, out of touch, or tasteless. I’ve known people like this who work hard and value their perspectives on respecting the environment. More importantly, sustainable fashion doesn’t mean it will only suit a granola-eating, vegan, and yoga practicing lifestyle. Take a look at brands like Mar Y Sol, Mata Traders, Maiyet, and Tonle. These brands have customers with different styles and tastes that range from casual to retro to luxury.

Maiyet Resort Collection 2016

Maiyet Resort Collection 2016

Misconception #2: Why worry about fashion?  It doesn’t affect the environment.

It may come as a surprise to you, but according to Alternatives Journal’s article “How the Fashion Industry is Picking up the Threads After Rana Plaza,” the fashion industry has the highest use and pollution of freshwater. It takes about 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton t-shirt and 17-20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment. For every ton of textiles made, 200 tons of water are polluted, the equivalent of 5,640,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Plus, the amount of clothing people throw out only adds to landfills and chemicals and dyes that further pollute the groundwater. The Huffington Post also adds that not only does it take 1/3 pound of synthetic fertilizers to grow one raw pound of cotton, but it also requires hazardous materials and chemicals to convert cotton into clothing. These chemicals in turn pollute the air, water, and soil. Since fashion impacts the environment, why not find brands that use natural and organic dyes, recycled or organic fabrics, or re-purposed materials?

Misconception #3: Why do I need to worry about sustainability?  It doesn’t affect me.

Climate change increases occurrences of drought

Climate change increases occurrences of drought

The idea that climate change isn’t an important factor to countries like the United States and Great Britain was recently reported in a study from YouGov’s article, “Global Survey: Chinese most in favor of action on climate change.” Only 44% of Americans and 41% of Great Britains want their country to play a leadership role on climate change versus 60% of Chinese and 59% of Australians. The sad part about these statistics is that China and the United States happen to be the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. Those in the Asia-Pacific region see pollution and the environment as a top priority since they are the most effected by climate change. However, with 2015 predicted as being the hottest year on record, and wildfires across America and temperature highs threatening the Great Barrier Reef, it won’t be long before we all feel the effects of climate change.

Misconception #4: It’s too hard to find sustainable brands.

It might seem that way, but there are plenty of resources like EcoFashionWorld, Ethical Fashion Forum, and Ecouterre who provide news, listing, and latest information on brands. Magazines including Darling Magazine, Conscious, Hearth Magazine, and Bunch Magazine all provide information in print and online about eco-friendly lifestyles and brands, awareness of humanity and environmental concerns, and artisans and craftsman from around the world. Even a simple Google search of “Sustainable Fashion” gave me plenty of results.  rom here I researched to see how companies operate and what methods and materials they use to protect the environment. There’s a variety of companies with products and prices to fit many budgets.

Misconception #5: Sustainable brands are too expensive.

After searching, is there a specific sustainable brand you like? Sign up for their newsletters so you know when their sales are. Keep lists of items you need so you can shop for them at the end of the season when prices are lower. Also consider shopping second-hand, vintage, or consignment, another method sustainable fashion favors to reduce waste and over-consumption of trends.

Misconception #6: Sustainable brands don’t have quality or durable products.

When it comes to fast fashion products that are mass-produced and constantly purchased, there’s little thought about longevity. No product lasts forever, so consider how you can maintain products to keep them for the long run. Learn a few basic sewing tips to do simple repairs, research on the best methods to launder and maintain clothing, and find a local tailor who can help you resize items and complete more complicated repairs. Also consider companies like Patagonia who offer to repair or re-purpose items into other products (check out the video below). These are a few steps think about in order to help your garments last and have a plan for them when they are no longer wearable.

Misconception #7: There’s very little action we can take as consumers to change the fashion industry.

Since globalization and corporations have taken over, it seems as though our impact as consumers is very small. However, seeing each purchase as a vote for how you want the world to work gives a say in the changes you want. But it’s more than purchases that are important. Voting for politicians and policies that support conservation, supporting environmental causes, and staying up-to-date on current environmental issues are all important steps to take. Pressuring brands to be more transparent about their manufacturing processes and supporting companies that use environmentally conscious steps are important to implementing change. Planning ahead to have a more sustainable lifestyle by composting, reducing waste, and finding ways to re-purpose or swap items with friends and acquaintances are steps to a good start on going one step further.

These are just a few steps we can take as consumers, advocates, and supporters of preserving the environment. No one is perfect, but if we can all take steps towards sustainability in the fashion industry, we can foster more positive outcomes. Conservation begins with changes and improvements we can make in our everyday lives and fashion choices, and that’s what sustainable fashion aims to do.  So, instead of feeling apprehensive and questioning this industry, take the opportunity to explore and see how your decisions can make a difference.

To read more of Brooke’s ethical fashion musings, head to her blog http://passportcouture.com/

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About the author

Brooke Vlasich

Brooke Vlasich is currently pursuing work in freelance writing, marketing, and communications for sustainable and ethical fashion companies. Her blog, Passport Couture, is all about discovering culture and art through travel and sustainable and ethical fashion. For more of her musings, head to her blog, http://passportcouture.com, and follow her social media on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest on @PassportCouture.

13 Comments

  • This is great! Often people don’t understand why I put so much emphasis into sustainable fashion, and it can be a lot to explain—but I try! The most common complaint I hear from people is that it’s too expensive. I try to explain that if you are buying better quality items that will last longer, instead of a bunch of poorly-made clothes, it actually saves you money! Plus, there are plenty of sustainable brands out there that are very affordable. It is definitely in our power as consumers to make a difference. We control the industry by what we purchase! Thanks for sharing this article 🙂

    • You are so right, we do control the industry by what we purchase. It is simple economic theory of supply and demand and whilst I know the free market isn’t completely free despite economic rationale (another discussion best explored in another blog post perhaps) we as consumers do control it to some point (government policy and businesses do make up the equation, which is why we as consumers need to speak up to make an impact). However after I read this article http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/the-myth-of-the-ethical-shopper/ it added more complexity and I find myself re-thinking the issue again. Let me know what you think of the concepts the article explores, love hearing your thoughts 🙂

      • Thanks for sharing this article. It brings to light the complications behind businesses and factories and how our involvement extends beyond purchasing from sustainable business. It also involves pressuring companies to look into their supply chains to know what is going on and ensuring they’re not using unethical companies by accident. I definitely think that some of the major changes need to come from the government and policies, which is never easy but possible. There’s also been suggestions that in order for people to make more sustainable purchases, the minimum wage should be higher so people can afford it. This also adds more complications, but having worked multiple minimum wage jobs, I know how little people make and its barely enough to support yourself, let alone a family!

        One of the parts of the article that rang true to me was about workers not feeling like they can divulge unethical treatment towards them. When I worked in theatre, I found many of the backstage technicians felt they couldn’t speak up. In many situations you have to work holidays without holiday pay, you have to give up time with family and friends, and calling in sick is very difficult to do. One of my co-workers would shrug her shoulders and say, “Well, we love this and we signed up for it, so we have to just deal with the situation.” I grew tired of giving up everything for a job I loved that I gave everything to and received very little back. Now that I’m working on writing and working hard at becoming involved in marketing, I see it as a way to give a voice and meaning to artists and artisans all over the world who unfortunately become forgotten or taken advantage of. Advocating for this change may not be easy or have an easy answer, but for me, it’s necessary to give a voice to those who think they don’t have one.

        • The minimum wage thing is a massive issue over in the US isn’t it? I remember a few American friends who travelled here commented on how expensive our cocktail drinks were and then realised that Australia doesn’t have the massive income inequality that you see in many parts of the world. Our middle income bracket stretches our very far which is wonderful however there are pressures everywhere despite our relatively good wages. I often discuss these issues with friends who have families to support and organic food is high on the agenda but not so affordable which is why they often forgo chemical-free for the cheaper stuff.

          Also you’re right about people not voicing their concerns. It actually happens in a range of different industries, can you believe that it also happens in the corporate world? When people are on a working visa, for example, often they will keep quiet and just ‘toe the line’ as they don’t want to jeopardise their ability to get permanent residency in Australia. I also find working in the creative industries, you find people are willing to accept poor pay and conditions because they do it for the ‘love of it’. There is some way to go with creatives asking for what they are worth. Luckily I’m pretty good at this and haven’t had to worry with the work I do for my own digital agency. However I am educating people to speak up. Especially women. Women often don’t want to be seen as ‘difficult’ and don’t want to ‘rock the boat’ even when it’s to their own detriment. I’m hoping to help people, and especially women, overcome this cultural need to please everyone.

          • I love everything you mentioned about getting more people to speak up! I agree that many times women are afraid to speak up and there’s tons of articles telling women how to talk when being confrontational or in a position of leadership. How about instead we encourage people to speak up and ask for what they want and how they’re being treated. I totally agree with you that many creatives don’t want to ask for more and are told to something because they love it, but they shouldn’t have to make those sacrifices in my mind. I hope you keep up your work helping others overcome their needs to please people! I’m right there with you!

            It’s also interesting to hear other thoughts on the income gap. It is very frustrating in America, as it is in other places, I’m sure. It is a concern for me about how America develops over the next few years and I hope more people realize the importance of addressing it rather than ignoring it.

    • You’re definitely correct that spending more to purchase a quality item that will last longer actually saves money. I used to buy cheap clothing but found things fell apart and needed repairs quickly. Someone finally brought up the importance of cost-per-wear and swapping clothing when purchasing something new. This was great to make sure you’re buying quality, long-lasting clothing you don’t have replace as often and ensure you’re not over-consuming. I’m glad you enjoyed this post!

  • I created a sustainable fashion company 6 years ago. We work with artisans as independent contractors. We are expats living in Asia and were so taken by the amazing skills these artisans have in creating textiles we wanted to share them with the world in modern form. There are so many factors involved in what we consider “eco fashion” or “sustainable fashion” We also believe it has to be good for the customer from a price stand point. Eco fashion that is hundreds of dollars because it has a designers name on it?? No thanks. I have friends that have worked in fashion for years that never knew that Ikat was a complicated weaving style. The fashion industry has hijacked so many terms and use them in reference to factory produced prints. This to me is insulting to the culture that create these textile wonders. I think most shoppers are oblivious to what really goes on with fashion. Slowly this is beginning to change so I am optimistic for the future. I hope I see it in my lifetime.

    • I could not agree with you more on the terms that are being hijacked by the fashion industry and about the price point. Great point about Ikat, I didn’t even consider this!

      As for the terms ‘ethical’ and ‘sustainable’ They aren’t perfect of course, the onus is on individuals to drill down further on what makes it so. Greenwashing is so prevalent now more than ever. But I am hopeful too and have seen so many positives in the last 5 years I’ve been writing the blog and can see that these ideas are increasingly being discussed in the mainstream. Thank goodness for technology that allows information to travel so quickly.

      As for cost, people of course need to be paid a decent living wage this is non-negotiable but it is frustrating when it is marked up to a point where only the elite can afford it. Unless a brand is transparent and can justify the cost (i.e. if it is made in a country that protects labour costs like Australia!) it is just greedy and unethical! I feel this same way about organic food, this is often the reason people don’t eat it, it can really dent a family’s food budget.

      • I hadn’t about companies hijacking terms to make money, but it makes total and complete sense that this issue is a huge problem. It’s frustrating when companies do increase the price, and it was definitely a concern when I started in this industry. I felt it was necessary that people SHOULD be paid for the work they do, but as Jennifer mentioned, it’s frustrating when the price is increased so much only the elite can afford it. My hope is that one day terms like “ethical” and “sustainable” won’t be necessary and will be a main part of everyday life. It may be a slow, uphill battle, but I believe there is potential and it’s what keeps me going in this industry.

  • Hi Brooke,

    This is a great article showcasing the many facets of sustainable fashion that people tend to overlook in mainstream conversation. I especially agree with the first point regarding how sustainable clothing is not perceived to be as ‘trendy’ or in line with ‘what’s in’. A lot of these eco-friendly labels are often sold in boutique stores or online but has not gotten enough traction in mainstream fashion aside from exceptions like H&M’s eco-conscious line. It’s sad to see people not being more open to being sustainable with their fashion choices simply because they are not knowledgeable enough or exposed to it to reconsider their everyday consumer choices.

    However, I am interested to know your thoughts about the 5th misconception. How do you think retailers or designers should go about encouraging consumers to ditch fast fashion and opt for eco-friendly clothing in the long run? Even if I manage to convince my friends to buy a sustainable item, it’s usually a one off and they will most likely to resort to fast fashion as it’s cheap, trendy and easily accessible. How can I change their minds and show them that sustainable clothing is a better long term investment?

    Olivia

    seamsofgreen.wordpress.com

  • Great article – thanks for sharing! As for #6, I have been particularly pleased with the level of quality and durability of products since I started trying to make my wardrobe more sustainable. And putting the extra thought into a purchase that I’m going to love and use long-term has meant that I’m also more proactive about making sure it lasts by looking after it properly and repair etc. So I can totally agree with you that a lack of quality and durability among sustainable fashion options is a total misconception! 🙂

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