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susTainable FashioN

Words by Rosie Dalton


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WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE FASHION?

 

WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE FASHION?

‘Sustainability’ is one of those slippery sort of terms; one that defies containment. According to the online Oxford Dictionary, sustainability is “the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” Which means that, in the context of fashion, it could refer to equitable supply chains just as much as environmental protection. As is so often the case, though, it could simply be an empty term, used to trick us into buying more than we need.
 
In general, sustainable fashion has become synonymous with minimising planetary impact. Perhaps significantly, the secondary definition offered for ‘sustainability’ in the online Oxford Dictionary is: “Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.”
 
As a result, many sustainable brands focus on natural fibres that also minimise environmental impact. Like hemp, for example; certified closed loop textiles including Tencel and Modal; or organic cotton – which doesn’t use pesticides and insecticides. This is unlike conventional cotton, which accounts for an estimated 2.4%of the world’s land, but represents as much as 6% of all pesticides and 16% of all insecticides used globally.
 
Other materials that minimise environmental impact include recycled fabrics. Even recycled nylon can be considered sustainable, because it is an example of using what we already have, rather than producing more man-made plastic fabrics. However, using materials that reduce environmental impact is just the beginning.
 
To be truly sustainable, I would argue that you also need to have a sustainable approach to business. This means that your design philosophy prioritises both durability and timelessness. It also means that you treat your workers fairly, to ensure a robust and stable supply chain. Finally, it means making to order, or at least focusing on small production runs, to minimise deadstock inventory.
 
Last year, it was reported that fast fashion giant H&M was sitting on a pile of deadstock worth $4.3 billion. These unsold clothes were the direct result of rampant overproduction, for which the fast fashion sector has become known. And, although the Swedish retailer uses some organic cotton and has a ‘Conscious Collection’ tacked onto its mainline, its inventory problem just goes to show that this business model can never really be sustainable.

 

‘Sustainability’ is one of those slippery sort of terms; one that defies containment. According to the online Oxford Dictionary, sustainability is “the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” Which means that, in the context of fashion, it could refer to equitable supply chains just as much as environmental protection. As is so often the case, though, it could simply be an empty term, used to trick us into buying more than we need.
 
In general, sustainable fashion has become synonymous with minimising planetary impact. Perhaps significantly, the secondary definition offered for ‘sustainability’ in the online Oxford Dictionary is: “Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.”
 
As a result, many sustainable brands focus on natural fibres that also minimise environmental impact. Like hemp, for example; certified closed loop textiles including Tencel and Modal; or organic cotton – which doesn’t use pesticides and insecticides. This is unlike conventional cotton, which accounts for an estimated 2.4%of the world’s land, but represents as much as 6% of all pesticides and 16% of all insecticides used globally.
 
Other materials that minimise environmental impact include recycled fabrics. Even recycled nylon can be considered sustainable, because it is an example of using what we already have, rather than producing more man-made plastic fabrics. However, using materials that reduce environmental impact is just the beginning.
 
To be truly sustainable, I would argue that you also need to have a sustainable approach to business. This means that your design philosophy prioritises both durability and timelessness. It also means that you treat your workers fairly, to ensure a robust and stable supply chain. Finally, it means making to order, or at least focusing on small production runs, to minimise deadstock inventory.
 
Last year, it was reported that fast fashion giant H&M was sitting on a pile of deadstock worth $4.3 billion. These unsold clothes were the direct result of rampant overproduction, for which the fast fashion sector has become known. And, although the Swedish retailer uses some organic cotton and has a ‘Conscious Collection’ tacked onto its mainline, its inventory problem just goes to show that this business model can never really be sustainable.

 
“To be truly sustainable, you also need to have a sustainable approach to business.”

With all of this in mind, it is understandable that ‘sustainability’ remains such a muddy term today. But in lieu of a global accreditation system for such things, it has become increasingly important for brands and individuals to define what sustainability means to them. 
 
Genuinely sustainable brands like Arnsdorf are really open about their supply chains, to help us understand the impact of our clothes. Meanwhile, sustainable jewellers like Holly Ryan recycle all of their waste materials, and ethical fashion marketplace Well Made Clothes has created a rigorous code of conduct, to which its sustainable brands must adhere.
 
Until we have an industry-wide definition for sustainability, though, it will largely be up to us, the consumers, to decide what it means and how we can reduce our impact, both individually and collectively. When in doubt, just do as Dame Vivienne Westwood does: “Buy less, choose well, make it last.”

With all of this in mind, it is understandable that ‘sustainability’ remains such a muddy term today. But in lieu of a global accreditation system for such things, it has become increasingly important for brands and individuals to define what sustainability means to them. 
 
Genuinely sustainable brands like Arnsdorf are really open about their supply chains, to help us understand the impact of our clothes. Meanwhile, sustainable jewellers like Holly Ryan recycle all of their waste materials, and ethical fashion marketplace Well Made Clothes has created a rigorous code of conduct, to which its sustainable brands must adhere.
 
Until we have an industry-wide definition for sustainability, though, it will largely be up to us, the consumers, to decide what it means and how we can reduce our impact, both individually and collectively. When in doubt, just do as Dame Vivienne Westwood does: “Buy less, choose well, make it last.”

Here are three of my favourite ways to build a sustainable wardrobe:
 
UNIFORM DRESSING

VINTAGE SHOPPING

  CUSTOM TAILORING  

Here are three of my favourite ways to build a sustainable wardrobe:
 
UNIFORM DRESSING

VINTAGE SHOPPING

  CUSTOM TAILORING  

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