After 9 years of research and 6 years of blogging, I am still constantly learning and changing my views on sustainable fashion. There are so many different avenues within this industry on what constitutes a sustainable garment, and I can understand how confusing and overwhelming this topic can become. I know you can buy books on this subject, but I also know how busy many of you are, and you just want quick answers. Whenever I am diving into a topic I am not hugely invested in, I just want to know the gist of it all. So this guide is for those who are new to this beautiful world of sustainable fashion, and want a quick review. And at the end, share with me your journey with sustainable fashion!
What is Sustainable Fashion?
The term sustainability is thrown around a lot on social media these days. Many times, Im finding the context to be incorrect or not encompassing the entire concept. To start, sustainability is a term you can apply to almost everything. Its a balanced concept with an ultimate goal of sustaining the world in which we live. Its about future generations being able to enjoy the same things we do, today. It has three categories, all of which are equally as important - environmental, social and economic. There really isnt one answer to this concept, and it will vary depending on where you are in the world, who you are talking to, and our ever changing environment. We all have different values, which also play a part in determining the sustainability of a product. Therefore, its important to keep an open mind, and realize nothing is black and white.
image: Concept Draw
Typically, for a garment to be considered sustainable, it should be eco-friendly, ethically-made, lasting, and accessible. We could make a long list of what a sustainable garment should be, but these are the key characteristics I look for when deciding on my purchase. Ill be creating a simple checklist at the end for you!
Other terms to be aware of
To me, sustainable fashion is the umbrella term for all of these other ones listed below. They all play a part in sustainable fashion, but on their own, dont carry as much weight.
Slow Fashion: We used to have 4 seasons in the fashion industry, we now have 52. Every week, sometimes in the matter of days, fast fashion brands are able to turn over a new collection - a BIG collection. Its rather insane how quickly it can happen. Slow fashion can be seen a lot with capsule brands and other brands practicing sustainability. They focus more on quality over quantity, and timeless pieces that will never go out of style.
Eco Fashion: This type of fashion is focused solely on the environment, and aims to keep their carbon footprint as minimal as possible.
Circular Fashion: I love this concept because it is full circle. From production to end life, these garments retain value for as long as possible before returning safely back to the planet. It involves a lot of upcycling and recycling, as well as mending and repair, to lessen our use of raw materials.
Zero-Waste Fashion: With the gross amount of waste created in the fashion industry, not to mention the piles of unworn thrown away clothes we are sitting on, brands are becoming more aware of their left overs and are using fabrics which already exist. Zero-waste fashion can be practiced a few different ways. 1. Your production can create minimal waste with pattern cutting and its scraps used for different projects. 2. Fabrics and notions are pulled from discarded materials and clothing. Some brands will make sure every part of their business is zero-waste, which is difficult yet amazing!
Ethical Fashion: This term is typically in reference to the way workers are treated. Does the brand pay the manufacturer fairly? Is the farmer growing the cotton treated fairly, as well? Depending on your values, there will be different things you look for when shopping ethically. For example, if you are vegan, you would make sure the product did not contain any animal products.
Regenerative Fashion: Probably the most important term of all of these given our current worldly state. It is said we have about 60 years left of top soil, which is vital in feeding this planet. If we do not work to transform farming into regenerative practices, we wont be able to grow anything later on. There are a few brands who are now working with regenerative farms to create fabric, and hopefully many more will follow suit. Im no expert on regenerative fashion, but my friend, Holly, is!
Ways to Shop
There are so many different ways you can be involved with sustainable fashion. A lot of the time, you probably already are doing something fashion positive without even knowing it!
Sustainable Brands: You came to the right place to find all the sustainable brands to check out. While I definitely dont want you to do any unnecessary spending, if you feel like you really want to add something new to your closet, these brands are a great way to support a better fashion industry. They arent perfect, but they are trying their best to make the industry more fair while taking care of our beautiful planet.
Thrifting: Some of us are lucky to have great thrift and consignment stores in our backyards. If you have the ability to find what you are looking for, I highly recommend doing so! Its wonderful to keep reloving a garment for as long as we can. We do this for almost all of Elliotts clothing.
Pieces You Intend to Love for Years: Sometimes what youre looking for cant be found at a sustainable brand or thrift store, and its perfectly okay to purchase a garment you know will be in your closet for many many years. It may not be made in the fabric you would prefer, or the brand may not be super transparent, but in terms of longevity and value, it holds a lot of weight.
Your Own Closet: Every few months, I do a big try on and play with what I have. I end up falling in love all over again. Before getting rid of something, I suggest to keep it on hand for a bit longer. If its a simple tear or in need of a button, take a day to do some mending.You can even start up a clothing swap with some of your besties.
What Fabrics to Look For
My textile courses in college (like a decade ago, cant believe it!), were my favorite! I just find this topic so interesting, and I love learning the process of creating fabric. There are a ton of different sustainably-made fabrics, so you have options! Im listing the most popular ones you will find amongst sustainable brands. Make sure to look for fabrics which have been dyed with eco-friendly dyes or plants.
Organic Cotton: According to The World Counts, we produce 29 million tons of cotton a year, which is the same as 29 t-shirts for everyone the planet. However, it is one of the dirtiest industries in the world. There are a ton of chemicals used in order to refrain from pests, and child labor is abundant. Thats why it is SO important to purchase organic cotton over conventional cotton. This ensures there are no harmful chemicals (less water, too) used to grow the fiber, and there are stricter rules for farmers to adhere to. GOTS Certified Cotton is one of the best options on the market, today. It ensures, not only a clean fabric, but an honest process from start to finish.
Hemp: This fiber has so much potential, and comes with many amazing properties. You dont need any pesticides, it requires less space, its incredibly durable, its great for blending other fibers, and even the actual hemp plant absorbs more carbon than trees.
Organic Linen: This is one of my favorite fibers. I love the look, and its incredibly easy to care for. However, just like cotton or any other fibre listed here, it depends on how its grown and treated when spun into fabric.
Wool: Nothing can quite keep you as warm in the winter as wool can. There are a lot of ethical farmers who produce this fiber, and it can be a great way to regenerate the land. Check out FiberShed to see how they are nurturing our soil through wool.
Tencel: If you love the feel of silk or bamboo, this fabric is one you should try! Its created from sustainably-harvest eucalyptus trees, and processed through a closed-loop system where solvents and water are continuously reused.
Micro-Modal: This is the only type of modal you should purchase because it comes from sustainably-harvested beech trees. I find Tencel a better option, but its still one to mention on here.
Veggie-Tanned Leather: It is so important to purchase leather which has been veggie-tanned rather the conventional tanning methods. There a ton of chemicals used when processing leather, many of which end up in waterways. Veggie-tanned does not use any chemicals, but still creates a lasting leather good.
A Simple Checklist
the fabric content is made with eco-friendly fibers and dyes
the makers are paid a fair wage in safe working conditions
the quality is made to last you many years
the packaging and shipping method has minimal impact on the planet
the brand is transparent about the entire process
the size range and price is inclusive and accessible (this is an ethical topic on its own we can dive further into, but crucial within the sustainable fashion conversation - this also goes with marketing and creating for many different races and socioeconomic backgrounds)
A sustainable closet is going to look different for everyone. We all have different values, budgets, access and styles. It truly is an ever evolving journey, but one which, hopefully, brings you joy and appreciation for what you have. When looking at a brand you are unsure of, just ask! A simple email to their customer service might make a big difference down the road. Dont see your size? Dont see any transparency on manufacturing? Dont feel there is enough representation of all women? LET THEM KNOW! I cant tell you how many brands Ive asked will you be doing this? or can you do this?. If enough people voice their concerns, it will help aid in more change.
Thank you for reading this, and please share it with your friends so they can begin this journey with you! The more conscious closets we have, the better ;)
Id also love to know in the comments below what words come to your mind when you think sustainable fashion?