Sustainable fashion is a movement and process of fostering change to fashion products and the fashion system towards greater ecological integrity and social justice. Sustainable fashion concerns more than addressing fashion textiles or products. It comprises addressing the whole system of fashion.
There are seven different routes to sustainable fashion. There’s more than one answer to be fashionably responsible. Not all of the methods to approaching sustainable fashion, suits all people equally, because we all have different needs and preferences.
There are seven different moving sections to sustainable fashion.
Sustainable Fashion can be broken down into seven categories:
On Demand & Custom Made
Made to order
Green & Clean
Keeping a green and clean production process throughout the products life cycle
High Quality & Timeless Design
Fair & Ethical Fashion
Fair Trade: According to Fair Trade USA, products that get to bear the “Fair Trade” logo “come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated.”
Ethical: The Ethical Fashion Forum says that “Ethical fashion represents an approach to the design, sourcing and manufacture of clothing which maximizes benefits to people and communities while minimizing impact on the environment.”
Repair, Redesign & Upcycle
Repair clothing so that you can give it a longer life
You can redesign clothes to customize it into a unique piece
If you don’t plan on wearing or using the clothing item, you can upcycle it into another use
Rent, Lease & Swap
Rent or lease formal wear, so you can keep your wardrobe quantity under control, and you’ll get to choose from more options
Swap clothes with your neighbors, friends and family
Secondhand & Vintage
Shop at second hand stores or swap with neighbors, friends and and family.
These multiple methods to support a more sustainable fashion industry, and can be adopted by everyone. There really isn’t one “correct” method to the sustainable fashion route. I wanted to mention these seven methods, because I know I’ve written about creating my own DIY clothing from existing pieces, as well as shopping at thrift stores, but I’ve never listed all of the different methods to support a more sustainable fashion industry.
Under the accordance of sustainability, recycled clothing upholds the principle of the “Three R’s of the Environment”: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, as well as the “Three Legs of Sustainability”: Economics, Ecology, and Social Equity. To change the existing fashion industry into a more sustainable system, we need to practice reducing waste, reusing textile materials, and recycling old textiles. The balance between the social, economic and environmental responsibilities needs to be taken into account as well.
Sustainable fashion takes a lot of self awareness from the entire fashion industry. It means actively working with the countries and farmers who take care of the materials we source, to create our textiles. We also need to make responsible decisions that won’t damage our resources or harm our environment. I buy a lot of clothing from thrift stores because I like the variety of options I can choose from. Walking into a thrift store, is like walking into a time capsule, and it’s a fun experience for me. I also upcycle a lot of my clothing pieces that have reached the end of their life. For clothes and textiles I want to keep, but I don’t want to wear, I will upcycle the items into something more useful for my life.
If you want to support a more sustainable fashion industry, consider adopting and practicing at least one of the seven methods that support the sustainable fashion industry. You can choose more than one method to support this much needed system. If possible, try to implement all seven methods into your wardrobe collection.
When H&M came to the California, specifically the Bay Area, word spread quickly. H&M started in Europe, and finally arrived here, to the states. The clothing looked like good quality, and the prices were low, cheap even. It felt like consumers hit the jackpot with this retail store, on the surface. This isn’t the first retail store to offer cheap clothing, with what looked to be good quality clothing. But if you dive right below the surface of what retailers are marketing, you might find the harsh reality of what consumers are benefiting from.
In the past decade, fast fashion has become a growing problem. The Fashion Industry has sold us the idea that instead of four seasons each year, we have 52 seasons each year. Style and clothing becomes outdated as soon as you buy it. Fast Fashion focuses on speed and low product prices, so that they can deliver frequent, new collections inspired by celebrity styles or runway styles.
As you might guess, fast fashion’s marketing strategy includes creating vibrant prints, vibrant colors and eye catching prints to be more appealing to the consumers. However, much of these fabrics are treated with toxic chemicals in order to achieve the final product. The pressure to reduce the time it takes to get a product onto the retail display floor, results in more environmental pollution. Water pollution, the use of powerful toxic chemical and the increase of textile waste are a few of the negative environmental impacts.
Garmets that are made of fabrics such as polyester and polyamides shed microfibers into the waste waste, which continue to contribute to the increasing plastic in our ocean. The demand for more production, increases the amount of waste produced as well as increases the amount of clothing consumers subsequently buy and then get rid of.
The fashion industry feeds our addiction to garments, and they’re very good at it. The low prices and latest trends are great selling strategies. “Newer, bigger, better, faster, etc.” are emphasized in commercials, advertisements and all over social media. Fashion moves fast, and therefore, must continue to develop and market new products. We, as consumers, have a tendency to buy, because buying something new gives us some form of fulfillment (that’s another topic I’ll write about in the future). The combination of companies pumping out new products and our addiction to fulfill that want for new products, creates a perfect storm in creating excessive textile waste and the destruction of the environment.
There are quite a few companies who have been called out for their practice of discarding unsold clothing and garments by cutting them up, destroying them or even pouring paint on them, so they can’t be worn. In January 2017, outside of Nike SoHo, in New York, there were bags of shoes found that had been slashed with a blade. Ex employees of Michael Kors, Juicy Couture and Henri Bendel have come forward in revealing that they were instructed to smash watches, cut up track suits and tear up silk dresses before discarding. Ex Urban Outfitters employees have admitted to being instructed to destroy “dime-outs”, which is a term used for merchandise that didn’t sell. H&M, Zara, JC Penny and even Victoria’s Secret have come under fire for these types of wasteful practices. Their defense in the the destruction of unsold merchandise, is that they are protecting the brand and are worried that donating the unsold clothing would undercut their brand. By not donating the extra merchandise, consumers won’t be able to purchase these items for a discount at outlets and thrift stores.
Americans throw out 25 billion pounds of clothing each year; 15% is recycled, and the rest ends up in a landfill. Not only does “fast fashion” damage the environment, it also disregards the rights of its workers. Fashion retailers such as Zara and H&M search for cheap manufacturing labor in countries like Bangladesh and others.
Here comes some ugly truths about fast fashion.
The fast fashion industry emits 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent per year.
The fast fashion industry is responsible for producing 20% of global wastewater.
In 2015, the fast fashion industry used 80 billion cubic meters of freshwater.
Production of textiles uses about 3500 different chemicals.
Cotton is one of the most resource-intensive crops out there.
We make 63% of clothes from petrochemicals.
The fast fashion industry produces 97% of our clothes overseas.
40 million people work in the garment industry today.
Dangerous working conditions exist for garment workers in the fast fashion industry.
Fast fashion is predicted to increase ~60% by the year 2030.
Between 1992 and 2002 the time we keep our clothes decreased by 50%.3
We buy 2X more clothes than we did just 15 years ago (2015 data).
The fashion industry produced 92 million tons of waste in 2015 alone.
85% of our old clothes end up in a landfill.
Only about 1% of textile waste is truly recycled.
With current technologies, it would take 12 years to recycle what the fast fashion industry creates in 48 hours
Fast fashion is a huge contributor to plastic pollution.
There are a lot of people and factors involved, when considering the timeline of producing a garment. From the farming of cotton fields, to the workers who work to create the bales of cotton fibers in the cotton facilities, then dying and creating the fabric, or using the screens to print images and patterns on the shirts, than to the manufacturer selling and sending the product out to distribution centers; there are a lot of people involved in this process.
There are real dangers for garment workers, who work to help push out production for big companies. In 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Balngladesh, which housed the Dhaka garment factory, collapsed and left 1,134 people dead and left approximately 2,500 people injured. It was a an eight story building and collapsed due to a failing structural system that included an additional illegal three stories above the original permit. Even though an engineer had requested an inspection of the building, since it was deemed unsafe, unethical administrative players in this case, passed the building off as safe, and told the workers they should return to the factory and continue to work.
There’s speculation that perhaps the pressure to have the workers return to the factory the next day, was to continue to complete the garment orders on time. The demand for the garments were still flooding in, so slowing down production was not an option for the managers. The demand for fast fashion, low-cost clothing by clothing brands, dangerous conditions, non-union representation and low wages, is what the fast fashion industry creates.
Our resources for producing cheap and fast clothing is taking a toll on the environment, and people are starting to speak up and speak out about it. The bigger the industry is, the more impact it has on our natural resources. More companies are looking towards more sustainable materials such as hemp, linen, and wool.
Hemp material is a favorite of mine because it is a more sustainable material. It’s a very durable material, has UV protection qualities, water absorbent and breathable, no chemical fertilizers pesticides required during farming, naturally biodegradable, and highly antimicrobial. It grows quickly and can be grown in all different climates.
Linen is derived from the flax plant. Linen is 30% stronger than cotton and is known to be the strongest natural fiber. It’s thicker than cotton, but linen lasts longer than cotton too. Linen can absorb 20% moisture before it starts to feel damp. It has a natural ability to prevent bacterial growth, yet can move air and moisture through it’s hollow fibers easily.
There are options when the choice of introducing new garments into your wardrobe. You can shop at thrift stores, choose more sustainable materials for your wardrobe, or even choose to not buy clothing as often, to alleviate the textile waste created by the fashion industry. Apparel retailers such as Zara and H&M dominate the world of fast fashion, with Zara owner Inditex making 3.44 billion euros ($3.9 billion) in profit in 2018.
The second hand apparel market was worth $24 billion in the U.S. in 2018, versus $35 billion for fast-fashion, say the figures from GlobalData.
However, by 2028 the used-fashion market is set to skyrocket in value to $64 billion in the U.S., while fast-fashion will only reach $44 billion.By shopping at thrift stores, you can help keep clothing out of the landfill.
Even better, is to stop buying cheap clothing, invest in sustainable fashion clothing and stop buying unnecessary amounts of clothing.
I discovered The Princes Project a few years ago, back in 2002. I actually gave my prom dress away along with the accessories that I wore with it. I really respect this organization and I encourage anyone to donate to it. Although you will pay for dry cleaning for the dress initially, it’s really not a big deal, consider it a gift you’re giving along with the dress. The Princess Project is a local nonprofit that promotes self-confidence and individual beauty by providing free prom dresses to high school teens. They provide free prom dresses and accessories to high school teens who cannot otherwise afford them. Each year they set up multiple locations for donations around the Bay Area as well as in San Diego. For more information, please visit their general website at The Princess Project Silicon Valley .
I wanted to show you my journey this year with The Princess Project. I actually don’t donate each year because I don’t always have gowns to donate, but this year I reached out to friends and asked for their donations. The Dress Donation Guidelines are as follows:
They DO accept:
Dresses MUST be current styles from 2008 to present
Dresses MUST be dry-cleaned and on hangers
Dresses MUST be prom dresses, formal gowns, bridesmaid dresses, or fancy party dresses, short and long, appropriate for teenagers, sizes 0-30
They CANNOT accept:
out of style garments
garments that have not been dry cleaned
accessories, shoes or purses
tuxedos or men’s clothing
dresses your mother would wear!
I initially asked for donations from my friends and had the task of dry cleaning them. (It’s requested that all dresses be dry cleaned before donating). My friend Julia had more dresses to donate than me, and thank goodness she had already dry cleaned three of them, so I didn’t have to dry clean all of them. I took the time out to research which dry cleaners I wanted to spend my money at. I found an eco-friendly dry cleaners in my hometown. Green And Fresh Cleaners. They are the first environmentally friendly, green dry-cleaners in Mountain View – 100% PERC Free. Green is better for your clothes, better for the environment, and better for you. I don’t’ ever dry clean clothes, so I did take the time out to make sure I spent my money where it would harm the environment less. I didn’t even know about green dry cleaning until I spoke to my brother and subsequently did research on it.
Did you know that most dry cleaners use PERC (also know as perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene), a chlorinated hydrocarbon classified by the EPA as a Toxic Air Contaminant. PERC can irritate eyes, nose and throat. It can cause headaches, dizziness or fatigue and is classified as a possible to probable human carcinogen by the EPA. We use an eco-friendly and green cleaning solution called GreenEarth. This solution is made from sand, the most abundant natural resources. In fact, it was discovered by a scientist working with a solution used in cosmetics. It’s the same base ingredient found in everyday shampoos, soaps and lotions, so it’s safe for you and your family.
At Green & Fresh Cleaners, they are 100% PERC free! So the images below shows the bundle that I brought into the dry cleaners, and the following picture shows the result after the dresses were cleaned and ready for transport to the donation site.
After I picked up the dresses from the dry cleaners, I dropped it off at Tuxedos & More. The last image is the collection of dresses building up at the store. Our contribution is on the right side of the line of dresses. The store employee actually informed me that the left side of the dress collection was from the owner of a gown store that just went out of business, so technically, all of the other dresses were brand new! I’m so proud of our contribution to this organization this year. Prom can be expensive or even slightly out of budget for some families and this organization eases the gown part of it for the girls.
Did you know:
A new study (April 2016), by Visa found that the average cost of promposals is a whopping $324. Here’s how the costs breakdown by region:
Northeastern families will spend an average of $431 on promposals and $738 on prom night for a total of $1,169.
On the west coast-$596 on the dance and $342 on the promposal totaling $937
In the south, the prom night averages $544 and the promposal $305 for a total of $859
Midwestern Families will fork over $515 on prom and $218 on the promposal for a total of $733.
In 2015, American families spent an average of $919, according to Visa Inc.’s ‘ annual prom survey.
A full 80% of respondents said they planned to spend money on the “promposal,” — an average of $324 — about a third of the average prom budget.
For girls, the whole “prom look” will cost around $400, and a new survey from Visa found that on average, families will spend $1,139 on prom in 2013.
This organization wasn’t around when I was in high school, but I’m so grateful that it’s here to lend a hand to families who may need it. Prom is a privilege and not everyone will experience it for a number of reasons. The cost and look of the dress was always a stress factor when I was younger. I hope more organizations like this become more prevalent. I hope I will be able to contribute each year, but if not, I hope that it stays and grows as our society grows and the next generation grows up.
Please consider donating to an organization like this around your area. This community effort brings people together and to help one another is what bonds us together as humans. Although you may have to pay for dry cleaning, consider it a gift along with the dress(es). It’s for a great cause and you may be contributing to a young girl’s dream to go to prom without the stress of the dress.