An Introduction to Sustainable Fashion

Everyone wears clothes, and most people wear clothes that were made by someone else, somewhere else. Clothes are wonderful: they keep us warm, help us express ourselves and enhance our self-esteem. Unfortunately, current global fashion is highly unsustainable, meaning its dependence on harmful chemicals, cheap labor, and inbuilt obsolescence is a hazard to people and the planet. Fashion is ingrained in human DNA. Every culture embodies a respect for adornment and understands its significance. Everyday we rely on fashion to inform us about our world: who is in authority, who is looking for a partner, who is poor, and who is “unique.” Through our clothing we communicate what is going on inside and outside of us. We make statements with our clothing and show that we belong to the crowd or are an outsider.

Fashion also provides livelihoods, for lots of people. In fact, the clothing, fashion, and footwear sector is the 5th largest in the world, employing up to 40 million people worldwide. The retraction of the Multi Fibre Arrangement and trading quotas has also increased the globalization of manufacturing. The fashion system permeates across all borders and at all market levels: from niche luxury markets to T-shirts sold in “value” stores—fashion is unstoppable.

The spread of fashion increases levels of production and their consequent environmental impacts. Taken all together, the textile and clothing life cycles consume more energy and water than do the products of any other industry. Most use is from the consumer, where washing, drying, and ironing run up costly energy and resource quotients. Now, clothing is not even expected to be worn for the entirety of its lifecycle, causing many designers and manufacturers to opt for cheaper and lesser quality materials to the detriment of environmental and consumer health.

Despite the wave of “fast fashion” that has hit consumer shores, there is a growing emphasis on sustainability throughout the fashion industry. From global players like Nike and Patagonia to local boutiques like Reformation and Kaight, incorporating responsible use of materials and labor has become a modern nomenclature.

Below is a compiled list of active members of the sustainable world. Get inspired, perhaps buy something, and please share someone who should be listed below.