Fashioning Sustainable World
With the increasing threats coming from climate change, ever increasing population, and consumer driven pollution, making ethical and sustainable choices is more important than ever. While recycling and composting have become common place among today’s consumers, they are still the tip of the iceberg in the ethical choices that can be made.
It’s important to do more and support manufacturers who make positive contributions. Choices can include shifting to organic and fair-trade products or finding brands who use plant-based alternatives to plastic.
While there are industries who have made large strides in adopting environmentally conscious practices, one notorious hold-out has been the fashion industry. Over the past twenty or thirty years there has been an increase in the environmental and social impact caused by the rise of fast fashion, but things are starting to shift.
There is a rise in brands and manufacturers looking to improve materials, process, and design to reduce impact on people and the environment. There are many important factors to consider when you want to make a more ethical choice for the things that go on your body.
What are you made of?
Cotton is largely seen as an environmentally friendly, sustainable material, and yes it can be, but much of the global production is far from it. It’s produced cheaply, using harsh chemicals to protect crops and increase yields. Clothing made from this cotton is also treated with chemical-based dyes and waxes to improve its durability. The trouble is none of this is sustainable or friendly.
From a production side one good alternative would be simply shifting to organic cottons that don’t rely on the number of damaging chemicals. Additionally, there are plant-based alternatives that can be used to dye and treat these fabrics. Both good options for producers looking to be more conscious of their manufacturing process.
Recycling is also becoming an increasingly important change within the industry. By recycling or upcycling unwanted clothes, they are diverted away from landfills and reduces the need for new material production.
There’s more that can be done. Using alternatives to petroleum based synthetic materials can also have a huge impact. There are several plant based products like latex foam, natural rubber, cork, bamboo, and algae that could find important roles in the industry.
The Greatest Resource
Possibly the most important ingredient to any product is the people who produce it.
It wasn’t that long ago there was a reckoning when some of the major fashion brands got caught producing their clothing in sweatshops. Things have improved for people throughout the production chain, but not that much.
Workers in the field picking the raw materials are still being exposed to harsh chemicals, and garment makers in the factory are still getting paid substandard wage and working in substandard conditions.
Things do look bright for the future. As more brands shift their sourcing of materials to become more environmentally friendly, there is also a shift to a more socially conscious workforce. They’ve taken a page from the coffee playbook and using fair-trade production. Some brands have even taken it a step further and making investments in the communities where their factories are located. In turn brands benefit as well. Workers ensure their needs, and the needs of their families are met, while brands not only keep a skilled workforce but maintain a positive image in their communities and abroad.
When it comes to sustainable choices, few function as well as the product you only buy once. This used to be the norm in the clothing industry. With the rise of fast-fashion there has been a corresponding rise in disposability. Where styles and patterns used to last several seasons, now the industry pushes consumers to chase new trends every few months. It’s simply not sustainable.
With high quality materials, good design, and an experienced, resolute workforce, product durability should be a natural byproduct. A critical part of producing sustainable products is to ensure they have long lives and ultimately don’t end up in landfills.
A handful of brands are buying into this method. Through the use of higher quality materials, improved production processes, and designs rooted in the classics, the element of durability is beginning to emerge again. Focus has shifted from simply recycling, to reducing consumption, and improving the long-term viability.
Prosperity for All
Like other sectors, the environmental responsibility within the fashion industry has been offloaded onto consumers. They’re asked to do their part by donating old clothes to charitable organizations to be resold, but more recently the upward pressure seems to be having small effects on the industry.
A push for sustainability is critical. The fashion industry can have a massive impact in preventing climate change, and even bigger social contributions. It’s a welcome change some brands have begun to make sustainability part of their mission and made critical investments in their supply chains and the people they work with.
As for consumers. Informed choices can lead to massive change for everyone. Look for brands that are working to better the lives of workers and improve environmental stewardship. Everyone needs to work together to create a sustainable future.