Sustainable fashion, also called eco fashion, is a part of the growing design philosophy and trend of sustainability, the goal of which is to create a system which can be supported indefinitely in terms of human impact on the environment and social responsibility. It can be seen as an alternative trend against fast fashion.
Origin and purposeEdit
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Sustainable fashion came into the public foray in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well-known companies such as Patagonia and ESPRIT brought "sustainability" into their businesses. The owners of those companies at that time, Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins were outdoorsmen and witnessed the environment being degraded by increased use. They commissioned research into the impacts of fibers used in their companies. For Patagonia, this resulted in a lifecycle assessment for four fibers, cotton, wool, nylon and polyester. For ESPRIT the focus was on cotton, which represented 90% of their business at that time.
The work of these companies influenced a whole movement in fashion and sustainability. They co-funded the first organic cotton conference held in 1991 in Visalia, California. ESPRIT ecollection, developed by head designer Lynda Grose, was launched at retail in 1992 and was based on the Eco Audit Guide, published by the Elmwood Institute. It comprised organic cotton, recycled wool, naturally processed wool, "low impact" dyes (focusing on water energy and toxicity), naturally colored cotton, non electroplated hard wear. Patagonia made a commitment to recycled polyester in 1992 and a company wide commitment to organic cotton in 1996. Both communicated their action for "sustainability" through point-of-sale materials, catalogues and PR. Both supported the work of The Sustainable Cotton Project, which ran farm tours for fashion industry professionals to meet directly with farmers growing organic and IPM cotton in California. Both companies contributed to the US NOSB standards to include organic fiber as well as food.
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the movement in sustainable fashion broadened to include many brands. Though the primary focus has remained on improving the impacts of products through fiber and fabric processing and material provenance, Doug Tompkins and Yvon Chouinard were early to note the fundamental cause of unsustainability: exponential growth and consumption. ESPRIT placed and ad in Utne Reader in 1990 making a plea for responsible consumption. Patagonia has since made headlines with its "Don't buy this Jacket" ad in The New York Times.
According to Earth Pledge, a non-profit organization committed to promoting and supporting sustainable development, "At least 8,000 chemicals are used to turn raw materials into textiles and 25% of the world's pesticides are used to grow non-organic cotton. This causes irreversible damage to people and the environment, and still two thirds of a garment's carbon footprint will occur after it is purchased."
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Unlike fast fashion, slow fashion production ensures quality manufacturing to lengthen the life of the garment. Slow fashion may be considered a revolt or action against the fast fashion movement. Developing a garment with a cultural and emotional connection is also pertinent to the purpose behind slow fashion: consumers will keep an article of clothing longer than one season if they feel emotionally or culturally connected to the article of clothing. A taxation is in early stages of development in order to deter fashion companies from purchasing or producing materials that are not made with recycled, organic, or re-purposed materials. Utilizing materials already made will reduce the industry's carbon footprint.
There is also an important movement towards companies being more transparent. The need for companies to show their manufacturing processes boosts the companies reputation and can aid buyers to making more conscious decisions. In accordance with the slow movement there is a trend towards more conscious buying as well as companies attracting new consumers with their eco-friendly processes. Consumers still need to do their research into companies as some of them use the idea of eco-fashion without fully backing it up.
Although price is sometimes a deterrent for purchasing slow fashion items, in the long run, one piece of well designed and well produced clothing will outlive five cheap pieces of clothing. Generally, the more a person spends on their clothes, the more value the item will hold (see empathic design below). It makes the piece more special and therefore will make the person feel better about what they wear. Slow fashion clothing is made up of high quality materials usually with timeless designs that can be worn year round and never go out of style. Slow fashion garments should also consider their end of lifecycle. Generally if it is well made and with natural fibers it can be broken down easier. One current problem with the fast fashion industry is the amount of waste generated into landfills.
The slow fashion movement has been studied by Kate Fletcher, a researcher, author, consultant, and design activist, and the author of Sustainable Fashion and Textiles. Her writings integrated design thinking with fashion and textiles as a necessary way to move towards a more sustainable fashion industry.
Empathic design as a tool for slow fashionEdit
Empathic design is a concept that is a part of user-centred design aiming to promote a deeper connection to the consumer, making it important to integrate it with slow fashion. This can be done by understanding the consumers’ needs, values, and emotions. A special meaning must be associated with the product or its use to inspire deeper attachment. Focusing on positive product experience can also result in product or brand attachment which can be broken down into three levels: visceral, behavioral, and reflective. The visceral component has to do with first impressions and first impressions. Human behavior is about how consumers interact with environments and objects, taking into consideration an objects pleasure and effectiveness. Enzo Manzini, a design thinker said there is a need to understand behavior and the underlying reasons for their consumptions in order to direct their consumptions towards more sustainable alternatives. The reflective level deals with personal attachment based on an individual’s memories and experiences. It can consist of feelings, emotions, self-image, personal satisfaction, memories and cognition.
There are many factors when considering the sustainability of a material. The renewability and source of a fiber, the process of how a raw fiber is turned into a textile, the working conditions of the people producing the materials, and the material's total carbon footprint.
Natural fibers are fibers which are found in nature and are not petroleum-based. Natural fibers can be categorized into two main groups, cellulose or plant fiber and protein or animal fiber. Uses of these fibers can be anything from buttons to eyewear such as sunglasses.
Cotton is one of the most widely grown and chemical-intensive crops in the world. Conventionally grown cotton uses approximately 25% of the world's insecticides and more than 10% of the world's pesticides. Other cellulose fibers include: jute, flax, hemp, ramie, abaca, bamboo (used for viscose), soy, corn, banana, pineapple, beechwood (used for rayon).
Recycled or reclaimed fibers are made from scraps of fabrics collected from clothing factories, which are processed back into short fibers for spinning into a new yarn. There are only a few facilities globally that are able to process the clippings. Variations range from a blend of recycled cotton fibers with added RePET yarns for strength to recycled cotton fibers with virgin acrylic fibers which are added for color consistency and strength.
Upcycled fibers are made from materials that are not originally used to make fibers, or they were thrown away being considered trash from origin. This includes fibers made of plastic and gillnets. An example of the use of this type of fiber can be seen in the shoe Adidas made with Parley for the Oceans.
Another example is fish leather made from fish skins that are a by-product of the food industry. Fish leather tanning is less harmful on the environment due to no hair-removal being required, leading to less solid waste and organic pollutants in the wastewater from the process. Also, no poisonous, explosive hydrogen sulfide gas is released in the process.
Designers say that they are trying to incorporate these sustainable practices into modern clothing, rather than producing "hippie clothes". Due to the efforts taken to minimize harm in the growth, manufacturing, and shipping of the products, sustainable fashion is typically more expensive than clothing produced by conventional methods.
Celebrities, models, and designers such as Lucy Tammam, Stella McCartney, Ioana Ciolacu, Frock Los Angeles, Amour Vert, Edun, Stewart+Brown, Shalom Harlow and Summer Rayne Oakes have recently drawn attention to socially conscious and environmentally friendly fashion.  Portland Fashion Week, which has featured sustainable designers and apparel since 2005, has also attracted international press for its efforts to sustainably produce a fashion week that showcases 100% eco-friendly designs.
Considered[by whom?] the Prince Charming of green designers, Ryan Jude Novelline created a ballroom gown constructed entirely from the pages of recycled and discarded children's books known as The Golden Book Gown that "prove[d] that green fashion can provide as rich a fantasia as can be imagined."
The sustainable fashion movement has begun to make significant in-roads in the bedding segment of the home fashion category. Brands such as Boll & Branch make all of their products from organic cotton and have been certified by Fair Trade USA.
The Hemp Trading Company is an ethically driven underground clothing label, specialising in environmentally friendly, politically conscious street wear made of hemp, bamboo, organic cotton and other sustainable fabrics.
There are some organizations working to increase opportunities for sustainable designers and increase the visibility of the movement. The National Association of Sustainable Fashion Designers is one of those organizations. Its purpose is to assist entrepreneurs with growing fashion related businesses that create social change and respect the environment.
Sustainable Designers provides specialized triple bottom line education, training, and access to tools and industry resources that advance creative, innovative and high impact businesses. The organization's mission is to create social change through design and fashion related businesses by providing education, training and programs that are transformative to the industry and to cultivate collaboration, sustainability and economic growth.
Red Carpet Green Dress, founded by Suzy Amis Cameron, is a global initiative showcasing sustainable fashion on the red carpet at the Oscars. Talent supporting the project includes Naomie Harris, Missi Pyle, Kellan Lutz and Olga Kurylenko. Undress Brisbane is an Australian fashion show that sheds light on sustainable designers in Australia.
Eco Age, a consultancy company specializing in enabling businesses to achieve growth and add value through sustainability is one of the most recognizable organizations that promote sustainable fashion. Its creative director, Livia Firth, is also the founder of the Green Carpet Challenge which aims to promote ethically made outfits from fashion designers.
Fashion Takes Action formed in 2007 and received a non-profit status in 2011. It is an organization that promotes social justice, fair trade and sustainable clothing production as well as advances sustainability in the fashion system through education, awareness and collaboration. FTA promotes sustainable fashion via social media, PR, hosting fashion shows, public talks, school lectures and conferences.
The Ethical Fashion Initiative, a flagship programme of the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and World Trade Organization, enables artisans living in urban and rural poverty to connect with the global fashion chain. The Initiative also works with the rising generation of fashion talent from Africa, encouraging the forging sustainabfdle and fulfilling creative collaborations with artisans on the continent. The Ethical Fashion Initiative is headed by Simone Cipriani.
The advent of technology has opened an avenue of apps and websites to streamline ethical fashion experience for customers such as the Higg Index, Free2Workd and FairTrace Tool.
Though organic cotton is considered a more sustainable choice for fabric, as it uses fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers, it remains less than 1% global cotton production. Hurdles to growth include cost of hand labor for hand weeding, reduced yields in comparison to conventional cotton and absence of fiber commitments from brands to farmers before planting seed. The up front financial risks and costs are therefore shouldered by the farmers, many of whom struggle to compete with economies of scale of corporate farms.
Though some designers have marketed bamboo fiber, as an alternative to conventional cotton, citing that it absorbs greenhouse gases during its life cycle and grows quickly and plentifully without pesticides, the conversion of bamboo fiber to fabric is the same as rayon and is highly toxic. The FTC ruled that labeling of bamboo fiber should read "rayon from bamboo". Bamboo fabric can cause environmental harm in production due to the chemicals used to create a soft viscose from hard bamboo. Impacts regarding production of new materials make recycled, reclaimed, surplus, and vintage fabric arguably the most sustainable choice, as the raw material requires no agriculture and no manufacturing to produce. However, it must be noted that these are indicative of a system of production and consumption that creates excessive volumes of waste.
Future of fashion sustainabilityEdit
On May 3, 2012, the world's largest summit on fashion sustainability was held in Copenhagen, gathering more than 1,000 key stakeholders in the industry to discuss the importance of making the fashion industry sustainable. Copenhagen Fashion Summit has since then gathered thousands of people from the fashion industry in their effort to create a movement within the industry.
In July 2012, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition launched the Higg Index, a self-assessment standard designed to measure and promote sustainable supply chains in the apparel and footwear industries. Founded in 2011, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition is a nonprofit organization whose members include brands producing apparel or footwear, retailers, industry affiliates and trade associations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, academic institutions and environmental nonprofits.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sustainable fashion.|
- Choi, Tsan-Ming; Cheng, T. C. Edwin, eds. (2015). Sustainable fashion supply chain management: from sourcing to retailing. Springer series in supply chain management. New York: Springer. ISBN 9783319127026. OCLC 907012044. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-12703-3.
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