When talking about sustainability, the majority of us focus on things like renewable energy sources, going vegan, travelling less or by less polluting methods. But how many of us stop to think whether the clothes we wear are sustainable?
It’s no secret that fashion is a multi-billion industry that produces a vast amount of waste. Have a look through your closet. How many of the outfits that are hanging in there have you worn more than twice in the last fortnight? How many outfits have you bought in the last month that you won’t wear more than a handful of times before either relegating it to the back of the closet or to the donation pile, if not outright to the bin? Then look at your shoe rack and do the same thing.
If we consider sustainability to rest on a balance of the 3P’s (People, Planet, Profit), how does the current ‘Fast Fashion’ trend measure up, and what can we do to improve our habits. After all, humans are vain creatures that want to look good too.
Let’s start with the first P, People
We all know that the manufacturing industry relies on people. And we also know that many factories cut corners to be able to meet high targets and cut costs. These cost cutting measures are usually at the workers’ detriment, such as unregulated health, safety and wage standards. We’ve all heard the horror stories, and as consumers, we need to feel compelled to do something about it.
The only way consumers can make a real impact is by voting with our wallets. Make it a point to always check if your product comes from a company with a history of running sweatshops in third-world countries. As much as possible, avoid this brands and opt for companies with a reputation for fair trade. At least that way, you’re sending a message that sustainable practices matter to you.
It’s a sad fact that over 40% of the clothes in our closets don’t get worn on a regular basis. After being confined to the back of the closet for the longest time, most of these get discarded to landfills across the globe, which leads to an increase in toxins being released into the atmosphere.
When considering a fashion sustainability initiative that will have a positive impact on the planet, it is important to discuss two major points. Firstly, the materials used. There are a greater number of designers that are taking the laudable step to turn to eco-friendly materials like hemp, organic cotton and recycled polyester, which we, as consumers, should privilege over more traditional materials.
The second point is disposal. As previously mentioned, the vast majority of us wear an outfit a couple of times before getting rid of it. If we are unwilling to change these habits, then we need to take care to not throw clothes away to be disposed in landfills. Instead, why not donate them, or send them off for recycling. There are plenty of online applications that can help with this, as well as the traditional means like your local consignment/thrift store.
As with all businesses, fashion retailers want to turn a profit. Since sustainable initiatives are seen to cut into their bottom line, many clothes manufacturers and retailers are reluctant to support these initiatives. It is our duty as consumers to convince these manufacturers of the benefits of sustainable fashion.
One of the ways to do this is to support ethical fashion choices. Demand minimal packaging with your purchases. Encourage them to be transparent about their business practices and pricing models. For retailers, opt for social media marketing over the traditional billboard and newspaper media. Use recycled material for packaging. Recycle unused inventory rather than discarding it.
Hopefully this article can help spark a conversation that can lead to a change in fashion habits. Join the conversation in the comments below and let us know your views.