What is Sustainable Fashion?

What is Sustainable Fashion?

Sustainable fashion evokes very strong emotions across a spectrum of consumers. Some are convinced that fast fashion is choking our planet while others believe that the fears are unfounded. Greenwashing activists have been questioning the claims from some of the large brands on their sustainability claims. With all these claims and counterclaims flowing around, we wanted to focus on the basics and see if there is a definition of what would sustainable fashion mean to the consumer.

There is some excellent research work done by institutes like the Ellen McArthur Foundation and the ETSA (European Textile Services Association) that delves into the topic of sustainability and circularity in fashion.

Ellen McArthur Foundation’s definition of circularity is one that we really liked and felt was easy to understand. It breaks down the key principles of fashion circularity into the following:

  • Used More:
  • Made to be made again
  • Made from safe and recycled material
Used More

This brings together the concept of Durability, Reuse and Repair to keep the garment in use at their highest value for the longest time possible. Keeping the garment at their highest value is a key emphasis as recycling causes loss of the effort that went into creating the original garment. The first aspect of durability entails both physical and emotional durability. Quite often fast fashion sees the adoption of relatively lower-quality fabrics and construction, resulting in the product degrading significantly in a short period of time. Ensuring higher quality of fabric and construction ensures a longer life for the garment. Emotional durability refers to the appeal the garment has over time, with classic styles being preferred for a longer time than fast fashion styles that might lose their appeal in a short period of time.

Made to be Made again

This principle entails that garments can be easily disassembled so that they can be reused, remade or recycled. One interesting aspect that has been called out is that landfill, incineration and waste-to-energy approaches are not considered to be part of the circular economy. This is an important exclusion as several brands and cities still use landfill and incineration as valid means of garment disposal.

Made from safe and recycled material

This principle aims to minimize the need for production of virgin material by leveraging recycled inputs. Where virgin materials are needed, it asks that the production and manufacturing processes have the least impact possible on the planet. While a very critical principle, there is lot of ambiguity around what is a “safe” or sustainable raw material. For example, with cotton itself, there is a lot of debate about whether certifications like the “Better Cotton Initiative” or BCI is good or we need to adopt the more stringent GOTS certification standards. This is where clarity around standards and certifications across different bodies will help consumers in making an informed choice.

As seen from the above, there are several aspects that constitute sustainability in fashion. For the consumer, we believe they should look out for the following aspects:

  • Buy a garment that they would use multiple times. For this, the garment should have quality fabric and construction. From a styling perspective, instead of giving in to the latest fad, consumers should select pieces that they know they will love for years.
  • They should understand the different certifications used by the brands like GOTS and GRS and ensure brands are leveraging these third-party certifications to back their claims
  • At the end of life, consumers need to ensure they re-purpose or recycle the garment instead of sending it to a landfill.
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