The latest fashion trend is not a seasonal color or a must-have style: It’s the concept of sustainable fashion and ethical clothing. The textiles industry is wreaking havoc on the environment between the processes to manufacture garments and the waste when it gets tossed. Ergo, brands, and consumers alike have taken a much-needed interest in improving these issues. There is nothing called “eco-friendly clothing” because all garments negatively impact the environment to some extent. Brands are working diligently to make a difference. Different brands target different apparel industry issues.
Sustainable fashion is also acknowledged as eco-fashion and it concerns more than just addressing fashion products. Sustainable fashion is about producing socio-economically sustainable clothes, shoes and accessories which inspire a change in behaviour and attitudes. Ethical fashion, a similar term, also refers to clothing made in ways that value social and economical health and well being. Thus, ethical and sustainable fashion are tied together.
What is ethical or sustainable fashion? While “fast fashion” refers to affordable products, “sustainable” (or “ethical”), sustainable fashion is termed “slow fashion.” It takes into consideration the complete lifecycle of the merchandise. Five main issues are plaguing the fashion industry:
- Water: There is a terrible demand-supply mismatch for drinking water. Yes, the earth has mostly water, but most of it is either saltwater or is polluted. Some organizations are now exploring options of harnessing the available sources and recycling to the best extent possible.
- Chemicals: Dyes and finishes from the assembly processes are dangerous for the workers, and the local communities as these chemicals can contaminate water bodies.
- Short Lifecycle: Stores are continually launching new designs, and consumers are regularly updating their wardrobes. The most crucial goal in sustainable fashion is to shop for less and use things longer.
- Reduce Wastage: Repair garments rather than discarding them for frivolous reasons
A common term we have across in recent times. More than a word, it is akin to a dark cloud looming over our heads. Many industries adopt sustainability as part of their goal and operations; the fashion industry is not far behind, considering it caters to the mass and is involved in mass production.
You might question how do fashion and the environment go together?
Keep reading, and you would be surprised to know that the fashion industry is on par with the manufacturing industry is affecting the environment.
Manufacturing a piece of clothing takes a considerable amount of environmental resources. Within the fashion industry, the clothing arm alone accounts for being the second-largest consumer of water and producing 8%-10% of global carbon emissions. The harmful chemicals used in dyes, the non-biodegradable packaging of garments, and transportation worldwide add to the excess usage of resources.
The big picture
Haphazard usage of natural resources is not going unnoticed. With the dark cloud of sustainable development, consumers become more and more aware of this need. They focus on where and how to produce this piece of clothing and its price and durability.
Apparel brands have become conscious of this and are adopting a few initiatives to contribute to a sustainable economy. Brands are conscious and utilize recycled fabrics in fashion weeks and make their fashion runaways carbon neutral.
Sustainable fashion – the oxymoron
Though consumers are shifting to brands for better environmental and societal values, sustainable fashion does not appear sustainable. Veterans in the industry consider fashion and sustainability do not go together as style is ever-evolving, and the demand is always high. Although companies claim to manufacture sustainable apparel, they do not seem sustainable in the long-turn, both in order and returns.
In this article, we will look at a few aspects revolving around ‘sustainable fashion.’
Defining “sustainable product” in the fashion industry
‘Sustainable fashion’ is a generic term – the scope of the term remains a question mark. There is no globally declared meaning of sustainability in the fashion industry, so this opens up many purposes and dilemmas for fashion designers. Everyone’s choices and decision are right on their own, but no can agree that it is right. What is sustainable to one person’s eyes may not be sustainable for another. This confusion is the first obstacle in the fashion industry, taking a sustainable stand and maintaining it.
Distinguishing a genuinely sustainable product
While the definition of sustainable fashion is still blurry, consumers cannot single out a truly sustainable product. Brands claim that they have repurposed old clothing and are using old plastic bottles to manufacture fabric. How fair this claim may be valid, the consumers will never know. The apparel line has a long supply chain and follows in only a few places. When we compare this with the resources used in the other parts of the supply chain, the number of resources saved appears pretty meek. In this regard, brands need to transform every aspect of their business model truly.
Yes to ‘want’ sustainable, no to ‘buy’ sustainable mindset of consumers
Consumers are aware of the need for sustainability; however, they are unwilling to purchase those apparels, which goes into excess supply, leading to more space and wastage of resources. Consumers want to support sustainability at the outset, but they are not so inclined towards standing firm in sustainable fashion when it comes to purchasing. Consumer choice, needs, and cost define consumer interest in sustainability. Sustainable fashion products sell at a higher price, which stands between customer purchase decisions and sustainable apparel.
Leather alternatives are not affordable
Leather –has a complex manufacturing process, and it affects the environment in a harmful way all along its manufacturing chain. This process includes tanning, dyeing, feeding the cow, and processing the raw material. The waste material from leather – Chromium IV, a harmful pollutant to the environment and the human body. An alternative to leather tanning is vegetable tanning. However, this isn’t an affordable choice for most since it is costly and time-consuming.
Stakeholders expect year-on-year profits
Although investors and other stakeholders advocate sustainable fashion choices, they are much keener on seeing increased profits. This profit-focus hampers the designer’s efforts and the sales and marketing team’s efforts to sell sustainable products. The stakeholders have to work in tandem with the brand to accomplish a sustainable product launch. The red sign from the stakeholders involved is not encouraging for the brands to pursue this notion more seriously.
While many designers are pursuing transforming the fashion industry, the pace of transformation is not sufficient. The need is dire to be ecologically aware and follow practices to achieve sustainable growth in the fashion industry. While there are enough clothes to wear and overproduction can be stopped, the onus is also on the consumers to adapt to new shopping and new clothing variants and a firm belief in such collections.