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.
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.
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/