What is fashion? Is it about clothes and style?
Do we know a thing or two about the clothing we are wearing? A lot of people would say “Sure, we’ve been dealing with clothes all our lives, what not to know about them?”. I would respond, “A lot”.
Not until recently have people started to care about not only products they’re buying, but also about the process how these products were made.
And that’s where sustainability comes in play.
What makes garment sustainable? How is eco fashion different from regular fashion?
There are two main things.
The first one is laying on the surface - it’s the materials used to produce a certain item of clothing. If the production of such materials doesn’t harm the environment and they can be recycled in the future, then such materials are eco-friendly.
The other factor which should be taken into consideration is not that obvious - it’s the conditions under which a certain piece of clothing is made: the way work is organised, length of working hours, amount of wages, etc. Would you like to buy that awesome looking dress if you knew that it was made by a 12-year-old working 18 hours a day just to barely make the both ends meet for her family? The question is highly rhetorical.
So, how do you know if your garment is really sustainable and you can wear it without your conscience constantly nagging you with different “What ifs?”. Read on to find out.
Materials: Important Things to Know
What are the most sustainable materials for your clothes? The first answer that comes to your mind when you think about it is natural, of course. And this would be only partially true, and here’s why.
Our main concern about synthetic materials such as polyester is that it takes them billions of years to decompose and that’s the same concern we have in mind when opting for reusable eco bags instead of their plastic “counterparts”.
Why not go for natural materials only, then? They are recyclable and that’s what matters, right? Right, but there is a number of other factors that we should consider as well, such as the impact the production process is making on the environment.
Cashmere is a beautiful fabric obtained from goats. Massive goat grazing in Mongolia, because of increased cashmere production, leads to vast desertization of the land, as goats, unlike sheep or alpaca, pluck out grass together with roots which means that the soil can’t store the necessary amounts of water to support plants.
Cotton is another great natural material, which can be used to make clothing which not only looks beautiful, but also is pleasant in touch. But the problem is that people use huge amounts of toxic pesticides and fertilizers when growing cotton making a very negative impact on the environment. That’s why it would be much better to use linen or hemp which usually don’t require tons of pesticides to grow.
If we are talking about sportswear, which heavily relies on polyester, it’s much better to go with recycled PET as used plastic can be turned into polyester fibers which is a great news, as we don’t have to rely on gas and other fossils that much anymore to produce synthetic clothing.
The bottom line is, when choosing garments, always think about how the clothing is produced and what you’re going to do after you don’t need it anymore. When you have answers to both questions, you’ll be able to make a wise decision on what kind of clothes you want to get.
Ethics: How to Check It
You know everything there is about materials? Amazing!
Is it enough to confidently tell whether your garments are sustainable? Not really.
Another thing you need to be aware of is who produces the clothes and how they are made.
You’d like to go for environmentally conscious companies which pay fair compensation to their employees, provide decent working conditions and strive to use green renewable energy in their production process.
That requires an extensive investigation to find out all the info, right?
Sure! But the good news is that a lot of clothing manufacturers are already on the radar of environmentally-conscious initiatives and, in fact, they are happy to demonstrate how green they are to attract more buyers.
Nowadays, there are quite a few reports published which provide valuable insights on operations of many famous brands.
Fashion Transparency Index, for example, is an excellent source of information on top brands. It shows which companies have taken significant effort in opening their operations details to the public as well as those which prefer to keep such peculiarities in secret which leads to increased suspicion and distrust.
If you need a to do a fast check on some piece of clothing you’ve just found before taking it to the check-out desk, all you need to do is to take out your smartphone from your pocket or purse, make a few taps and... voila! you have a complete profile of the company you are researching.
Shop Ethical! is probably the most complete app for the environmentally conscious in Australia. It has tons of information on what kind of impact, social and environmental, brands are making on the world.
aVOID is a browser plugin which helps online shoppers to identify if child labour was involved in making of certain products.
In order to check companies for ethics, just do your homework. Internet is an amazing source of all kinds of information, and once you learn to separate the wheat from the chaff, you’ll be able to run effective checks in no time. Look for genuine information and be aware of different PR campaigns brands run to whiten their reputation or to sink their competitors.
Responsible consumerism is one of those simple things that can make huge positive impact on the world if practiced by many. Choose your clothing wisely - you “live” in it all the time and it’s completely up to you what kind of home you’re building.