WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE FASHION?

Sustainable fashion is becoming more and more of a hot topic in the fashion industry. With thought leaders and influencers passionate about moving the needle, and millennial consumers wanting to support brands with an ethical background, fashion designers are being pressured now more than ever to make ethical and sustainable choices.

As a Toronto fashion designer I have felt an overwhelming pressure from fashion bloggers and influencers, media, grants, and non-profit organizations to be sustainable. EVERYONE seems to want to support “sustainable fashion” but when push comes to shove, the majority of people do not want to support it with their pocket books. Further more, when asked to explain what “sustainable fashion” is, the answers I most often get are very vague and sometimes, even incorrect.

After becoming increasingly frustrated by this, I decided to look more closely into what “sustainable fashion” really means. After researching it further, I came to the realization that sustainable fashion is really a three pillar solution; environmentally, socially, and economically conscious. So what do each of these three things actually mean?

Environmentally Conscious
At first glance, being an “environmentally conscious” fashion brand seems pretty self explanatory. It obviously means that you are treating the environment with care, and not harming the environment by the production of your products. However there is still a massive on-going debate amongst those in the fashion industry about what “environmentally friendly” even means. For some, using natural fibres like cotton, silk or bamboo are great examples for environmentally friendly fabrics because they are biodegradable. However others argue that these fabrics are bad for the environment because they use a lot of water to produce them. Others feel that synthetic fibres are horrible for the environment because they are made from plastic and are not bio-degradable, while others feel these are a better choice because they use less water to produce.

This is where the issue of fur and feathers come in. Many brands use fur and feathers for coats and are chastised for their treatment of animals. However if you are someone who feels that using natural fibres is an eco-friendly practice, there is still a debate as to whether or not your product is considered “sustainable” as it conflicts with the social/humane aspect of what sustainability means.

Socially Conscious
When talking about the fashion industry it is important to consider how clothing is made. Who is making it? Are they being paid fairly? Are they working in safe working conditions?

Economically Conscious
Clothing that is made at a fair price is sold at a higher price-point. Many people (I’m looking at you millennials) claim that they want to support brands who treat their workers fairly and ethically. However when push comes to shove when (smaller) brands try and sell their clothing at a fair price-point, most of the same people who said they want to support local don’t. The fact of the matter is, producing a clothing line in an ethical way is expensive, and therefore the price-point has to match.

Suggestions on how to be more sustainable:
Thrifting
Up-cycling
Buy less
Invest in quality pieces that you love

To learn more on sustainable fashion, check out this podcast episode below: