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It used to be that clothes were only really made to order. There was no buying clothes off the peg. Rather clothes were made by dressmakers instead of on mass in factories, and this meant that the dress making process was slow. Slow but sustainable. Clothes were expensive – the fabric, the time it took to make them; it all added up. So people had far fewer clothes and took to mending them and altering them to match the new season’s trends as it was all that they could afford to do.
But fast forward to the present day and we’re having to think about being fashion conscious in a different way. It’s not just about looking good. Now we’re having to look at how many clothes we buy, where the material comes from, how much energy is used in making them. The list goes on. With a larger global population buying more and more clothes we need sustainable fashion. But what exactly is it?
Sustainable fashion aims to target a few different areas of concern. One of these is addressing the environmental impact of throw-away fashion. As more and more clothes are made, lots of raw materials are needed quickly. This means cotton is farmed intensively and lots of pesticides and chemical fertilisers are used to get the biggest yield from limited land. These then get into the local ecosystems and poison them. In addition to this the amount of carbon needed to transport the cotton all over the world mounts up very quickly!
Sustainable fashion champions using locally produced fabrics to keep carbon footprints low. Another ethical alternative that sustainable fashion loves instead of using intensively farmed cotton is to use organic cotton or bamboo fibre. Bamboo in particular is a great option because it grows so quickly, doesn’t need pesticides to do well, and actually absorbs greenhouse gases.
As well as a war on intensive cotton farming and other un-environmentally friendly fabrics (such as PVC), sustainable fashion also looks to pay those who make our clothes a decent wage; no more pennies for lots of people crammed into dangerous sweat shops.
Sustainable fashion isn’t the huge movement it could be yet. There are lots of stores that still get their stock from sweat shops in developing countries, but more and more people in the fashion industry – designers and buyers alike, are starting to look at promoting sustainable fashion. For example, some high street stores now have clothes that are marked specifically as being “ethical fashion”. Hopefully this will become more common as time goes on, as it is getting easier to be ethical. In 2012 the Sustainable Apparel Coalition came up with the Higg Index – a tool which companies can use to work out how sustainable their clothing supply chains are. Also, there are organisations out there, such as The National Association of Sustainable Fashion Designers and Eco Age, who seek to help companies and designers who want to be sustainable by giving support and training in ethical clothing manufacture.
As of yet sustainable fashion is not as much of a consideration as it needs to be, but the movement is getting there – slowly but surely.