The Importance of Sustainable Fashion
The fashion industry is the second most harmful to the environment; the most harmful being the oil industry. The reasons for this are varied, however include the use of pesticides and other harmful chemicals in the production of cotton. The use of these substances in material production, coupled with other factors such as the use of fossil fuels in the production of man made fabrics, is damaging the environment. The concept of sustainable fashion is one which clothing manufacturers are using to tackle the harmful elements head on, bringing the fashion industry in line with those like the motor industry, which are constantly innovating to become more environmentally friendly, losing the fast fashion stigma which is currently attached.
What is Fast Fashion?
The term “fast fashion” is used to describe the production of high volume, low cost clothing, ultimately using manufacturing processes which are harmful to the environment. Fast fashion first appeared in the 1990s, as corporations, in an attempt to increase profits, invested in cheaper production methods to mimic fast paced fashion trends. Very high quantity manufacturing can be a costly business and retailers began to cut corners when it came to the quality and sustainability of their products in order to create more revenue. As fast fashion has become the norm in the industry, large companies and manufacturers have continued to cut costs wherever possible, adding to the negative effects to the environment which come with fast fashion.
Fast forwarding to today, fast fashion has become taboo in the industry, and brands are increasingly distancing themselves from processes and fabrics associated with it. To that end, some of the biggest high street chains who were once the pioneers of the fast fashion culture are making an effort to introduce sustainable ways of manufacturing.
An element of fast fashion which is quite unnecessary, but done mainly to save costs, is the use of polyester in garments.
Polyester vs Cotton
As a way to cut costs, many fast fashion brands utilise polyester. Polyester is made from fibres polyethylene terephthalate, or PET; a plastic derived from crude oil. Developing materials from fossil fuels clearly has no place in sustainable fashion. Polyester does have it’s advantages for large brands; mainly being that it’s cheap to produce, and easy to blend with other fabrics like cotton. If a fabric is made from 65% Cotton and 35% Polyester, it will retain many of the properties of cotton, whilst keeping the actual cotton usage down. This is at the sacrifice of quality and the environment however. Another issue with polyester is the fact that because it is essentially plastic, it can take may hundreds of years to biodegrade, adding to the problem of the amount of plastic pollution in the world at this time.
By comparison, cotton being a natural fabric should be seen as the eco friendly solution for producing clothing, however it is not quite as simple as that.
To keep up with the global demand, cotton farmers utilise chemicals such as pesticides and growth enhancers which act as pollutants for the water systems in the surrounding area. Because there is only so much farmland in the world available for growing cotton, there has been a demand for scientific advancements to allow farmers to yield the maximum amount possible from their crops. However, this is at the expense of the environment and clearly not sustainable.
Organic Cotton, however, does not use any toxic chemicals to increase production yield. Organic cotton uses less energy in all aspects, from removing the need for energy to produce fertilizer for the crops, to the fact that less irrigation is required and therefore less water is used in its production. Although organic cotton prices are higher than the traditional equivalent, the by-products are cleaner air, conserved water, purer soil and less toxic chemicals being circulated through the water systems. There will always be an argument for the use of non organic cotton in clothing, however the industry is starting to realise that consumers do care about the environment and are acting as such; investing in ranges which use organic fabrics rather than their fast fashion equivalents.
Why Should the Consumer Care about Sustainability?
Most decisions made in retail are spur of the moment and the customer will naturally prioritise things like fit, style, and the colour before they consider whether it has been ethically produced. Sustainability is important in every industry, however due to the massive global impact the fashion industry has alone on the environment, it’s important for consumers to understand the impact that non sustainable clothing has.
In the same way that only a small amount of current consumers in the food industry are likely to spend extra for organic, the same principle applies to clothing. More and more consumers however are starting to realise that fast fashion is the past and sustainable fashion is the future. With influential fashion bloggers dedicating their whole presence to sustainable clothing, it is clearly something which people are starting to care a whole lot more about.
You’re Helping the Planet
By purchasing sustainable clothing, you’re helping the planet; something we all need to start thinking about if not for our well being, but for that of future generations also. If everyone could reduce their carbon footprint via the clothes they wear, it would be a huge contribution to reducing the environmental damage currently being caused.
It’s Actually Better Value for Money
One of the perhaps not so obvious reasons for buying sustainable is that it is better value for money in most cases than fast fashion equivalents. Non sustainable fabrics include so many chemicals that they can actually affect the durability of the garment, and quite simply, sustainable garments last longer meaning you won’t have to buy as many.
A Real Life Example of Sustainability
One of our customers, Sam McCarthy, Founder of Ivywake is an eco fashion expert who has chosen to take his entire brand down the sustainable route. Here’s what he had to say on the topic:
“When creating Ivywake and researching the fashion industry we knew that we had to develop a company that will change the way the fashion industry operates on a global scale. In order to do this we created a single core value that is the foundation of Ivywake, ‘creating timeless pieces through sustainable and ethical processes.’
The fashion industry at the moment is the world’s second largest pollution industry. Just the cotton industry alone also accounts for 16% of the world’s pesticides usage and 25% of the world’s insecticide usage. These pesticides and insecticides have enormous repercussions on the land and ecosystems in the surrounding area. They also can be extremely dangerous to the farmers that use them. According to the World Health Organization up to 20,000 deaths each year are caused by pesticide poisoning in developing countries. In the US alone, more than 10,000 farmers die each year from cancers related to such chemicals.
We knew that this was something we needed and had the ability to change. When growing organic cotton no chemical fertilisers, pesticides or insecticides are used. This allows for a massive improvement in the land quality that the crops are grown on and a huge reduction in water contamination. With no chemical run off, the ecosystems in the surrounding area are also able to flourish. By using organic cotton we are investing in the future of the fashion industry. One of our main goals is to change people’s view on sustainable fashion. By creating high-end style using sustainable and ethical processes people are able to buy the clothing they love and support the creation of a sustainable fashion industry.”