Truly sustainable fashion is hard to come by. We are bombarded with messages on social media and from friends on what it means to be truly sustainable… and let me tell you, most of them have no idea what they are talking about.
In a world where anyone can be an expert, if they have a website, ideas, trust, and integrity are becoming more and fuzzier. One of the downsides is no longer being able to determine what is good or “right” when anyone can have an opinion. Sustainability is no different.
Even though I have a degree in sustainability, and could work as a high-level executive at some mega-firm to help fix some large-scale problem in the realm of sustainability, I don’t want to. I believe that change happens in areas that you least expect it, which is a way I’m focusing on defining and supporting truly sustainable fashion.
It’s very easy to say what isn’t truly sustainable fashion, but it frankly gets old after a while. So this article is a comprehensive review about the meaning of truly sustainable fashion
1. Truly Sustainable Fashion MUST Be Eco-Friendly
We could get into a whole article about what it means for fashion to be eco-friendly. Many people use eco-friendly and sustainable synonymously. Sustainable fashion must be eco-friendly but eco-friendly fashion is not always sustainable. There needs to be a balance between this factor and other factors, obviously.
Truly Sustainable fashion may not be feasible, on a large scale at this point, but it will get there eventually. Eco-friendliness of a product will be the forefront of the movement. Until then, we should just be careful about the meaning behind eco-friendly.
Trends that follow under this category include:
- Eco-Friendly Fashion
- Organic Fashion
- Healthy Fashion
- BPA Free Fashion
- Green Fashion
- Bamboo Fabric
- Organic Cotton
- Recycled Fabrics
- Business Models that Donate to Planting Trees etc.
However, just because these categories fall under the whole eco-friendly category, they don’t always fall under the sustainable category. There’s a much better comprehensive list of all the eco-friendly companies I can come across here.
2. The Rights of Workers, Customers, and Community NEED to Be Accounted for
Social justice within truly sustainable fashion is a tricky subject, mainly because people sometimes have a negative or political standpoint on social justice and human rights. I’d much rather talk about what social justice for workers, consumers, and community members means for the products we use every day.
There are many different factors and standards when it comes to social justice and creating any kind of fashion line. For the most part, it is generally agreed upon that workers are receiving a fair wage, at least based on their geography. Questions about how workers and customers are treated are important, as well as the greater community where the product is made, produced and sold.
In all honesty, I don’t have all the answers on what exactly constitutes a truly ethical clothing line, because there are so many factors at play. However, for the most part, the following categories fall under “Social Justice”:
- Fair Trade
- Local or “Made in the USA”
- Small Businesses
- Support of Local Economies
- Not Produced by slave labor
- Not Produced by child labor
- Workers have fair living and working conditions
- Customer Safety
- Production is Environmentally Healthy for Community
- Vegan Fashion
- Cruelty-Free Fashion
- No animal abuse
There are clearly a lot of factors here, though remember that just because a business meets at least one of these categories does not automatically make it sustainable. It’d be easier to say that all of these factors must be met in order for the fashion to be considered Ethical and Sustainable. Though this is not the case, it is important to be aware of these factors as the sustainable fashion movement gains some steam.
3. Truly Sustainable Fashion NEEDS to be Affordable to Consumers, and Profitable for Business
Affordability is just as important for truly sustainable fashion as eco-friendliness and ethics. This is where the so-called “Liberal Bubble” comes into play. Unless a product is mainstream… as in affordable, it will only be available to “liberal elites.” These people have good intentions, but struggle in the realm of social justice for their fellow citizens when it comes to consumer spending.
Some people simply cannot afford to spend $500 on an eco-friendly and ethical product. You can combine all the factors from the previous two categories and still won’t produce a sustainable product until you can make it available to a majority of consumers.
However, not all affordable fashion isn’t sustainable when you consider the following independently:
- Fast Fashion
- Cheap Fashion
- Designer Fashion at a Discount
- Thrift Stores
- Used Clothing and Hand-me-downs
- “for a cause” shirts and hats
- buy one, donate one, schemes
- Donating 5-10% of Profits to Charity
See, a bunch of these are great perks of business overall. If they are incorporated at the expense of the environment or the rights of workers and communities, it is not sustainable.
4. The Previous Factors Must be Balanced Effectively
Finally, the last factor that defines truly sustainable fashion, is profitability for the company itself. This is the true test of entrepreneurship when it comes to starting new businesses across the board. A business needs to balance all three of these factors without losing money. It’s difficult but doable.
For now, this is the main reason why we still have fast fashion, and sustainable fashion isn’t mainstream. Currently, there isn’t too much of a push in the market, even though there will be several years from now. Though, by then, there will be little opportunity for small companies to grow. Even though sustainable fashion companies are not as profitable as unsustainable companies, the market will shift, and it will shift towards companies that take more sustainable steps now.
That’s why I keep wanting to share this information with you. If you’re onto the sustainable fashion band-wagon early, the payoffs will be a lot better later on, than if you only looked a month or two into the future. To help you get out of this mindset, I put together a free worksheet on sustainable fashion companies that you can download with the button below. Sustainable fashion is possible and will happen, even if it doesn’t seem like that now. Might as well get prepared.