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If you’ve ever wondered why sustainable fashion is so important and why the big uproar, we have answers for you!! There’s been a growing interest and a growing need for sustainable fashion, especially in recent years. Yet, sustainability has become a buzzword which can make it hard to reach a clear definition and understanding of it.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the information and messaging around sustainable fashion, we’ve gathered some of the main reasons why slow fashion is so important.
p.s. for a full guide on how to do sustainable fashion on a budget, click here!
This is your full guide to answering the question: Why is sustainable fashion important?
Sustainable fashion matters in creating a better industry for all involved and addressing climate concerns.
Unfortunately, the fashion industry is riddled with problems, harmful practices, and ethical abuses. We also know climate change has a negative impact on nature and human life. This negative impact is amplified by other societal and environmental factors related to fashion such as unsustainable consumption, land degradation, and poverty (to name a few).
Why is sustainability so important?
Before we dig into why sustainable fashion matters, let’s review why sustainability is important in the first place. While there are many definitions, I like how former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland defines sustainability.
“Sustainable development is that which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
When it comes down to it, sustainability is making thoughtful decisions today that allow for a promising future. In our current society, we are not acting in ways that allow for a healthy, promising future.
The science is pointing at an inevitable climate crisis that requires us to take urgent action. Climate change has already impacted all living systems across the globe. These impacts not only affect natural systems but have prevalent human consequences like food shortage and lack of access to clean water. The good news is that these impacts can be reduced if we can adapt and make changes.
Sustainability is a necessary path forward to create those changes.
What does "sustainable" mean in fashion?
There are 3 pillars to sustainability: economic viability, environmental protection, and social equity.
Or simply– people, profit, planet.
All three of these elements are intricately connected and dependent on each other. You cannot have sustainability without all three.
What’s the point of protecting the planet and building environmentally-friendly businesses if the people whose home is on this planet are still being exploited?
We need to do the important work of protecting the planet and the people, but it’s also not viable if there isn’t an economic future in how we do it. And while you can economically empower people through business, it won’t work if it’s at the cost of the environment and resources needed to have a healthy existence.
People, profit, and planet are all interlocked in this pursuit for sustainability, especially in fashion.
When you are deciding what fashion brands to support, look for those who are doing work in all three. It’s not just about being “eco”— it’s about building a holistic future that both meets our current needs and allows future generations to thrive as well!
In a fast fashion business model, we’ve seen the harm of prioritizing profit at the expense of people and planet. A sustainable fashion brand will pay and treat workers fairly. It will offer transparency about their practices and supply chains. It won’t produce in excess or push overconsumption to drive sales. Sustainable fashion designers will be designing with circularity and regeneration in mind. They ask questions like “How can I create this in a way that has the least likelihood of ending up in landfill? What materials will hold up the best for a high quality product but not burden the environment for centuries to come?” Sustainable fashion considers both the present and future impact.
9 Reasons Why Sustainable Fashion Matters
Now that we’ve discussed what sustainability in the fashion industry looks like, here are 9 reasons why sustainable fashion is so important to our current and future World…
The ugly truth behind fashion involves many human rights abuses. The fast fashion business model requires a high volume of clothing to be produced quickly at a low cost.
This prioritization of profit over people creates hazardous working conditions for garment workers who do not earn a living wage. To achieve the prices and speed of fast fashion products, the businesses cut corners and exploit those in their supply chain.
Sustainable fashion brands seek to offer their garment workers a living wage while also slowing down the production process, so as to not push workers to their limits as fast fashion does.
100 billion garments are produced every year. Fast fashion plays a volume game. By producing a lot of cheap clothing, they encourage customers to shop often, but, 20% of items go unsold.
When brands overproduce, they have to deal with the excess. Often this is dealt with by destroying inventory or shipping off the excess to be dealt with in other countries often ending up in landfill.
Additionally, a majority of fashion’s environmental impact comes from the production stage. When brands produce in excess, they are using up unnecessary resources. Sustainable fashion designers often produce in smaller batches or even made-to-order as a way to prevent excess.
Fashion produces 2% to 8% of global carbon emissions. If nothing changes, it will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.
As a part of the Paris Agreement and the other climate commitments made by our governments, we must reduce our emissions in order to keep warming from surpassing the 1.5 degree benchmark.
Sustainable fashion has a smaller carbon footprint and actively works to reduce emissions while the fast fashion business model recklessly emits carbon.
The average shopper buys 68 garments a year. The average garment is worn just 7 times. All those clothes have to go somewhere when people are done with them.
Americans send more than 11 million tons in textile waste to landfill each year. 85% of all clothes are either landfilled or incinerated. Often, the clothing gets shipped to countries in the Global South, which burdens their economy and environment despite the fact that it wasn’t their waste to begin with.
One example of this is the landfills of discarded fast fashion building up in Chile’s Atacama Desert. Because the clothing isn’t biodegradable and contains chemicals, municipal landfills won’t accept them. Therefore, around half of the 59,000 tons of imported clothing ends up filling the desert in Chile each year.
With so much of clothing, especially fast fashion, being made of plastic, the impact of our clothing is heightened.
Synthetic and plastics-based clothing releases microplastics into our waterways. It also can take centuries to decompose, adding to the volume of landfill.
Not only do we need to divest from fossil fuels, we need clothing made of less harmful, natural fibers that don’t leave such a lasting imprint on the planet.
The fashion industry is resource and water intensive. A pair of jeans and t-shirt takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce. Textile dyeing and production is also polluting our waterways. Clothing factories dump toxic wastewater full of chemicals into nearby rivers.
Sustainable fashion can address these issues by choosing better materials, working with factory partners that reduce and recycle the water used in production, and avoiding the synthetics and chemicals that can go into clothing.
The average consumer disposes of 82 pounds of textile waste per year. When fast fashion encourages the constant shopping of cheap garments, it reinforces the idea that clothing is disposable. Yet, we know clothing isn’t disposable due to the complex secondhand and recycling systems that still send a majority of clothing to landfill.
Sustainable fashion means slow fashion. Slow fashion means intentionally cutting back on shopping. In practice, slow fashion is only adding pieces you really love, wearing them often, and loving and caring for them for years to come. This will reduce the amount of clothing that we buy and then, in turn, get rid of. Slow fashion reduces our personal waste while also reducing our consumer demand for new production which can lessen overall fashion waste.
Sustainable fashion isn’t about chasing trends and constant newness. It’s about being intentional about the clothing choices you make.
This requires a heightened sense of self awareness because it creates an opportunity to reflect on what you truly love, rather than what fashion marketing tells you to love. It’s not just about supporting unique, independent sustainable fashion designers. It’s also about getting resourceful and creative with what exists like shopping your own closet, thrifting, or upcycling.
Sustainable fashion opens the door to creating a wardrobe that can celebrate your individuality because you can step away from the trend cycles and consumption patterns pushed by fast fashion. This allows you to find contentment in what you have.
Climate science reports emphasize the need for widespread change and diverse solutions due to the interdependence of climate, ecosystems, and human society. Lifestyle changes are a part of those solutions.
As the IPCC puts it, “a healthy planet is fundamental to securing a livable future for people on Earth, and that’s why the needs of climate, nature, and local communities have to be considered together and prioritized in decision-making and planning– every day and in every region of the world.” Cutting back on the harm that fashion has on the planet is part of creating that livable future.
Sustainable fashion is important to creating a better future and a better fashion industry.
Sustainable fashion brands play a necessary role in shaping how the fashion industry can improve its practices, reduce environmental harm, and support garment workers. Fast fashion has wreaked enough havoc and it’s time for a shift.
As we discussed above, fashion has an extensive impact on both people and the planet. Because climate science points to a need for urgent action, we can’t delay pursuing sustainability in the fashion industry.
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