Sustainable fashion is a term describing efforts within the fashion industry to reduce its environmental impacts, protect workers producing garments, and uphold animal welfare. Sustainability in fashion encompasses a wide range of factors, including cutting CO2 emissions, addressing overproduction, reducing pollution and waste, supporting biodiversity, and ensuring that garment workers are paid a fair wage and have safe working conditions.[1]

Sustainable fashion displayed by Swedish models, 2020

In 2020, it was found that voluntary self-directed reform of textile manufacturing supply chains by large companies to reduce the environmental impact was largely unsuccessful.[2][3] Measures to reform fashion production beyond greenwashing requires policies for the creation and enforcement of standardized certificates, along with related import controls, subsidies,[4] and interventions such as eco-tariffs.[5][6][7]

Background and history edit

In the early 1990s, roughly coinciding with the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, popularly known as the Rio Earth Summit, 'green issues' (as they were called at the time) made their way into fashion and textiles publications.[8][9] These publications featured well-known companies such as Patagonia and ESPRIT, whose founders Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins, were outdoorsmen who witnessed the environmental harm of overproduction and overconsumption. Doug Tompkins and Yvon Chouinard were early to note that exponential growth and consumption are not sustainable.[10] In the late 1980s, they brought environmental concerns into their business models, commissioning research into the impact of fibres used in their respective companies. For Patagonia, this resulted in a lifecycle assessment of four fibers: cotton, wool, nylon, and polyester. For ESPRIT, the focus was on cotton—representing 90% of their production at the time—and finding better alternatives to it. A primary focus on materials' provenance, impact and selection, fibre and fabric processing is still the norm in sustainable fashion 30 years on.[11]

In 1992, the ESPRIT e-collection based on the Eco Audit guide by the Elmwood Institute, was developed by head designer Lynda Grose[12] and launched at retail. In 2011 the brand Patagonia ran an ad and a PR campaign called "Don't Buy This Jacket" with a picture of Patagonia merchandise. This message was intended to encourage people to consider the effect that consumption has on the environment, to purchase only what they need.[13]

In parallel with industry, research around sustainable fashion has been in development since the early 1990s, with the field now having its own history, dynamics, politics, practices, sub-movements and evolution of analytical and critical language.[14][15][16][17][18][19] The field is broad in scope, including technical projects that seek to improve the resource efficiency of existing operations,[20] the consideration of brands and designers working within currently understood frameworks[21] as well as those which look to fundamentally re-imagine the fashion industry, including the growth logic.[22]

In the European Union, the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulations required in 2007 that clothing manufacturers and importers identified and quantified the chemicals used in their products.[23] In 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.[24] The Sustainable Apparel Coalition also launched the Higg Index, a self-assessment standard designed to measure and promote sustainable supply chains in the apparel and footwear industries.[25][26] Founded in 2011, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition is a nonprofit organisation 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.[27][28][29] The Global Change Award, is an innovation challenge created by the H&M foundation.[30]

Retailers must take responsibility for the social and environmental cost of clothes. They should use their market power to demand higher environmental and labour standards from suppliers. Offering rental schemes, lifetime repair and providing the consumer with more information about the sourcing and true cost of clothing are all measures that can be more widely adopted. Shifting business practice in this way can not only improve a business' environmental and social impact but also offer market advantage as they respond to the growing consumer demand for responsible, sustainable clothing.

Environmental Audit Committee of the UK Parliament, "Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability"[31]: 54 

In 2019, the UK Parliament's Environment Audit Committee published a report and recommendations on the future of fashion sustainability, suggesting wide-ranging systemic change, not least government regulation and tax-incentives for sustainable practices, such as lowered VAT for repair services.[31] The report highlights the need for wide political and social changes to push the fashion industry towards more sustainable practices and levels of consumption, with the goal of "less harm" being too low to be of any helpful consequence.[31]: 54  In the same year, a group of researchers formed the Union for Concerned Researchers in Fashion (UCRF) to advocate for radical and coordinated research activity commensurate with the challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change.[32] In the fall of 2019, the UCRF received the North Star Award at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards during Milan Fashion Week.[33]

Purpose edit

Designers highlighting their designs at Eco Fashion Week Vancouver Canada, 2011

Fashion industry followers believe the business sector can act more sustainably by pursuing profit and growth. This is done while adding increased value and wealth to society and the global economy. The goal of sustainable fashion is to create flourishing ecosystems and communities through its activity.[21] The movement believes that clothing companies should incorporate environmental, social, and ethical improvements on management's agenda.[34][35] This may include: increasing the value of local production and products; prolonging the lifecycle of materials; increasing the value of timeless garments; reducing the amount of waste; and reducing the harm to the environment as a result of production and consumption. Another goal is to educate people to practice environmentally friendly consumption by promoting the "green consumer", which can allow the company itself to gain more support and a larger following. Providing more sustainable option decrease the huge amounts of clothing that end up in landfills.[36][37]

Consumption geared towards saving money, lowering utility bills and greenhouse gas emissions, and meeting the country's energy needs is described as green consumerism. In recent years there has been an increase in research centered around consumer reactions to the advent of green products within fast fashion.[38] Critics doubt the effectiveness that this has, but companies have already begun slowly transitioning their business models to fit a more eco-friendly and sustainable future. Thus the industry has to change its basic premise for profit, yet this is slow coming as it requires a large shift in business practices, models and tools for assessment.[39] This became apparent in the discussions following the Burberry report of the brand burning unsold goods worth around £28.6m (about $37.8 million) in 2018,[40] exposing not only overproduction and subsequent destruction of unsold stock as a normal business practice, but behavior amongst brands that actively undermine a sustainable fashion agenda.[31]

The challenge for making fashion more sustainable often requires systematic reinvention, and this call for action is not new. The UCRF has argued that the industry focus remains the same ideas originally mooted in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Union observes, "so far, the mission of sustainable fashion has been an utter failure and all small and incremental changes have been drowned by an explosive economy of extraction, consumption, waste and continuous labor abuse."[41]

A frequently concern of those working in the area of sustainable fashion is whether the field itself is an oxymoron.[42] This reflects the seemingly irreconcilable possibility of bringing together fashion (understood as constant change, and tied to business models based on continuous replacement of goods) and sustainability (understood as continuity and resourcefulness).[11] The apparent paradox dissolves if fashion is seen more broadly, as a process not only aligned to expansionist business models[43][44] and consumption, but instead as mechanism that leads to more engaged ways of living.[45][22]

Challenges associated with implementing sustainability in fashion design are shaped by the perceptions, attitudes, and involvement of fashion design practitioners in sustainability. Both design and designer roles are key to inspiring sustainable design practices; their role can contribute to sustainability by shaping design production practices and influencing consumption processes.[46]

Production models edit

Traditional textile manufacturing in Teotitlán del Valle. Clothes made with techniques like this are considered more sustainable than fast fashion.

Aesthetic and social preferences of fashion change over time, leading to some items becoming obsolete and affecting garment lifespans.[47] The fast fashion business model became dominant in the 21st century, leading to an increase in consumption of inexpensive garments.[48] This model disincentives companies from making durable products, creating more textile waste,[49] and comes with significant health and environmental risks often disproportionately impacting developing countries and garment workers.[48] The "slow" movement, particularly slow food, has been proposed as an alternative to improve the sustainability of fashion.[50]

Fast fashion edit

Protesters holding a placard linking fast fashion to climate change

One of the most apparent reasons for the current unsustainable condition of the fashion system is related to the temporal aspects of fashion; the continuous stream of new goods onto the market, or what is popularly called "fast fashion." The term fast fashion is used to refer to the fast-paced production of goods at an unethical level which often has a negative impact on the environment. As a way to conform to the latest fashion styles and keep consumers wanting new garments, current fast fashion trends presuppose selling clothing in large quantities.[51] Due to fast fashion being affordable and able to keep up with the trends, there has been an increase in apparel consumption. Consumption has risen to 62 million tonnes annually and is projected to reach 102 million tonnes by 2030.[52] This type of fashion is produced in vast quantities with low-quality materials and are sold through chains such as H&M, Zara, Forever21, Shein, etc. Fast-fashion retailer Shein is one of the most visited fast-fashion websites in the world and ships to 220 countries. However, there are questions about Shein's ethics and sustainability as it was responsible for about 706 billion kilograms of greenhouse gases in 2015 from the production of polyester textiles and uses up hundreds of gallons of water per garment.[53] Additionally, leaving an aftermath of 6.3 million tons of carbon dioxide while missing 45% of the UN's goal to reduce carbon emissions by 2030.[54] In January 2021, Shein offered over 121,000 garments made from polyester, making up 61% of their clothing total.[55] The fashion industry has a value of three trillion dollars. It is two percent of the world's gross domestic product (GDP) - the total monetary or market value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country's borders in a specific time period.[56] Out of the three trillion dollars, the majority is made of fast fashion.

However, the "fast" aspect of consumption is primarily a problem for the environment when done on a massive scale. As long as fast conspicuous consumption was reserved to the rich, the global impact was not reaching public attention or seen as a problem. That is, "fast" shopping sprees of haute couture is not seen as a problem, rather it is celebrated (for example in movies such as Pretty Woman), whereas when people with less means shop fast fashion, it is seen as unethical and a problem. Today, the speed of fast fashion is common across the whole industry as exclusive fashion replicates the fast fashion chains with continuous releases of collections and product drops: the quality of a garment does not necessarily translate to a slower pace of consumption and waste.[57] These releases are only exasperated by the acceleration of fashion trends. As micro-trends are only lasting an average of 3 years, the demand for clothes has also accelerated.[58]

In addition to its negative environmental impact, fast fashion is unethical. Keeping up with fashion trends causes clothing to be produced in a harmful manner. "Fast" clothing is made with synthetic fibers as opposed to natural fibers. The synthetic fibers are made using the Earth's fossil fuels. Almost sixty percent of clothes are made this way.[59] Since people spend so much money on these types of clothes and purchase them so frequently, landfills are filling up quickly. Over sixty percent of clothes made every year end up in landfills as consumer waste, and almost twenty percent of the world's waste is constituted by fashion products.[56] Therefore, because fast fashion frequently introduces new collections, consumer consumption increases. Consequently, leading consumers to view low-cost apparel as disposable since there are continuous releases of products.[60] Production of these types of clothing is also commonly exploitative, with most factories that produce "fast" clothing employing workers on low wages in exploitative environments. Workers from Shein are reported to make as little as ~4 cents per garment produced, as well as operating on 18-hour workdays with 1 day off per month.[61] Exploitative fast fashion production is prevalent in countries like China, Bangladesh and Vietnam.[62]

Slow fashion edit

Slow fashion is a proposed sustainable alternative to fast fashion.[63] The term was coined by Kate Fletcher of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion and inspired by "slow food".[64] It intends to challenge growth fashion's obsession with mass-production and globalized style.[65]

A slow-fashion garment often consists of durable materials, traditional production techniques, or design concepts that are seasonless or will last for more than a season. Several points of the production chain are affected by slowness. Textile workers in developing countries earn higher wages because of slow fashion. For end-users, slow fashion means that the goods are designed and manufactured with greater care and high-quality products. From an environmental point of view, it means that there are less clothing and industrial waste that is removed from use following transient trends.[66]

Examples of stability of expression over long times are abundant in the history of dress, not least in ethnic or folk dress, ritual or coronation robes, clerical dress, or the uniforms of the Vatican Guard.[67] One of the earliest brands to emphasise slow fashion is Anglo-Japanese brand People Tree, which was the first fashion company to receive the World Fair Trade Organization product label in 2013.[68]

The concept of slow fashion is however not without its controversies, as the imperative of slowness is a mandate emerging from a position of privilege. To stop consuming "fast fashion" strikes against low-income consumers whose only means to access trends is through cheap and accessible goods.[69] Those who are already having a high position in society can afford to slow down and cement their status and position, while those on their way up resent being told to stay at the lower rungs of the status hierarchy.[70] "The prestige of slowness allows a cultural signifier for those already have social positions to preserve, and have time and money to take it easy and enjoy the pleasures of reflection and meditate over their moral superiority."[71]

Garment use and lifespan edit

The environmental impact of fashion also depends on how much and how long a garment is used. With the fast fashion trend, garments tend to be used half as much as compared to 15 years ago. It has been estimated that each year around $172 million worth of garments is expected to be discarded, many of them after being worn only once.[72] There has been a 7.1 kg increase in global per-capita textile production from 1975 to 2018. This means not only an increase in textiles but an increase in the amount of water pollution from dying and treating the textiles. The increase can be contributed to the need for consumers to keep up with the latest fashion trends and the quick disposal of clothing.[73] This is not only due to the inferior quality of fabrics used but also a result of a significant increase in collections that are being released by the fashion industry. To combat this issue at hand, longer lasting materials and products are being promoted to increase sustainability.[47]

Typically, a garment used daily over years has less impact than a garment used once to then be quickly discarded. Studies have shown that the washing and drying process for a pair of classic jeans is responsible for almost two-thirds of the energy consumed through the whole of the jeans' life, and for underwear about 80% of total energy use comes from laundry processes.[11] The dyeing process also contributes close to 15%-20% of wastewater. For this reason, innovative techniques are being introduced to reduce energy and water consumption, such as utilizing CO2[60] in the dyeing process where heat and pressure turns liquid CO2 into dye used for various garments.[74] Thus, use and wear practices affect the lifecycles of garments and needs to be addressed for larger systemic impact.[75]

However, there is a significant difference between making a product last from making a long-lasting product. The quality of the product must reflect the appropriate fit into its lifecycle. Certain garments of quality can be repaired and cultivated with emotional durability. Low-quality products that deteriorate rapidly are not as suitable to be "enchanted" with emotional bonds between user and product.[76] It is important to notice that choosing and promoting "emotional bonds" with consumer objects is an endeavor more easily done under circumstances of excess, as the needy have no other option than to keep and care for their belongings.

As highlighted in the research of Irene Maldini, slowing down (in the sense of keeping garments longer) does not necessarily translate into lower volumes of purchased units.[77] Maldini's studies expose how slow fashion, in the sense of long-lasting use phase of garments, tends to indicate that garments stay in the wardrobe longer, stored or hoarded, but does not mean fewer resources are used in producing garments. Thus, slowness comes to mean wardrobes with more lasting products, but the consumption volume and in-flow into the wardrobe/storage stay the same.[78]

Concerns edit

Environmental edit

The fashion industry has a disastrous impact on the environment. In fact, it is the second largest polluter in the world, just after the oil industry. And, the environmental damage is increasing as the industry grows.[79] The textiles and fashion industries are amongst the leading industries that affect the environment negatively. One of the industries that greatly jeopardize environmental sustainability is the textiles and fashion industry, which thus also bears great responsibilities. Globalization has made it possible to produce clothing at increasingly lower prices, prices so low, and collections shifting so fast, that many consumers consider fashion to be disposable.[15] However, fast, and thus disposable, fashion adds to pollution and generates environmental hazards, in production, use, and disposal. The globalization of the textile and fashion industry has also contributed to the uneven distribution of such environmental hazards and consequences. Developing countries who typically produce the textile and clothing bear the burden for developed countries who largely consume the products.[80]

Putting the environmental perspective at the center, rather than the logic of the industry, is thus an urgent concern if fashion is to become more sustainable. The Earth Logic fashion research action plan argues for "putting the health and survival of our planet earth and consequently the future security and health of all species including humans, before industry, business, and economic growth."[81] In making this argument the Earth Logic plan explicitly connects the global fashion system with the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C.

Furthermore, the Earth Logic fashion research action plan sets out a range of possible areas for work in a sustainable fashion that scientific and research evidence suggests are the most likely to deliver a change of the scale and pace needed to respond to challenges like climate change. Earth Logic's point of departure is that the planet, and its people, must be put first, before profit. It replaces the logic of economic growth, which is arguably the single largest factor limiting change towards sustainable fashion, with the logic that puts Earth at its center.[82]

Environmental hazards edit

The clothing industry has one of the highest impacts on the planet. Cotton requires approximately 15,000 liters of water to grow for a pair of jeans.[83] High water usage, pollution from chemical treatments used in dyeing and preparation and the disposal of large amounts of unsold clothing through incineration or landfill deposits are hazardous to the environment.[84] There is a growing water scarcity, the current usage level of fashion materials (79 billion cubic meters annually) is very concerning because textile production mostly takes place in areas of fresh water stress.[85] Only around 20% of clothing is recycled or reused, huge amounts of fashion product end up as waste in landfills or are incinerated.[85] It has been estimated that in the UK alone around 350,000 tons of clothing ends up as landfill every year. 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."[86] The average American throws away nearly 70 pounds of clothing per year.[87] Around 5% of the total waste worldwide stems from the textile industry, the clothing section of the textile industry has elevated the amount of waste contributing to global waste.[88]

Microfibers edit

There is increasing concern that microfibers from synthetic and cellulosic fabrics are polluting the earths waters through the process of laundering. Microfibers are tiny threads that are shed from fabric. These microfibers are too small to be captured in wastewater treatment plants filtration systems and they end up entering our natural water systems and as a result, contaminating our food chain.[89] One study found that 34.8% of Microplastics found in oceans come from the textile and clothing industry and the majority of them were made of polyester, polyethylene, acrylic, and elastane;[90] but a study off the coast of the UK and US by the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in May 2020 suggested there are at least double the number of particles as previously thought.[91] Eliminating synthetic materials used in clothing products can prevent harmful synthetics and microfibers from ending up in the natural environment. While some clothing companies and NGOs support the use of washing bags to filter out microfibers in washing machines and thus reduce microfiber release, microfibers are also shed during wear and disposal.[92] Plastic debris covers the surface of the whole ocean. If no progress is made to reverse the damage, it is calculated that there will be an increase of 850 Mts of plastic debris in the ocean by 2050.[93]

Fossil fashion edit

In February 2021, Changing Markets Foundation released a report on the fashion industry's dependence on oil extraction. The report analyses the current production model across the fashion industry is dependent on massive fossil-fuel extraction to fuel the production of fibers.[94] The report spotlights how the production of the most popular fibers, primarily polyester, is reliant on oil extraction. Production of polyester has grown ninefold since the 1970s, and is the fastest growing component in fashion production. The popularity of polyester is due to its low price, but also the fiber's flexibility as a material. The report suggests, synthetic fibers in the textile industry currently accounts for 1.35% of global oil consumption, and this is projected to more than double in the coming years: "BP's energy scenario presumes plastic production will account for 95% of future growth in demand for oil demand, while the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts petrochemicals will represent up to 50% of growth in oil demand by 2050 and 4% in the projected growth of gas demand." (p. 8)

Social edit

One of the main social issues related to fashion concerns labor. Since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, labor rights in the fashion industry has been at the center of this issue.[95] The 2013 Savar building collapse at Rana Plaza, where 1138 people died, put the spotlight once again on the lack of transparency, poor working conditions and hazards in fashion production.[96][97] Attention is increasingly being placed on labour rights violations in other parts of the whole fashion product lifecycle from textile production and processing,[98][99] retail and distribution[100] and modeling[101] to the recycling of textiles.[102] Whilst the majority of fashion and textiles are produced in Asia, Central America, Turkey, North Africa, the Caribbean and Mexico, there is still production across Europe where exploitative working conditions are also found such as in Leicester in the UK Midlands[103] and Central and Eastern Europe.[104]

The fashion industry benefits from racial, class and gender inequalities.[105] These inequalities and pressure from brands and retailers in the form of low prices and short lead times contribute to exploitative working conditions and low wages.[106] Also "local" production, such as garments labeled as "Made in Italy" are engaged in global sourcing of labor and worker exploitation, bypassing unions and social welfare contracts.[107]

It is generally accepted that at least 25 million people, the majority women, work in garment manufacture and up to 300 million in cotton alone.[108] The working conditions for employees working in garment industries are insufferable due to the intake and exposure of toxic substances.[109]

The environmental impact of fashion also affects communities located close to production sites. There is little easily accessible information about these impacts, but it is known that water and land pollution from toxic chemicals used to produce and dye fabrics and have serious negative consequences for the people living near factories.[110]

The social costs of fast fashion are left on the laborers working long hours to mass-produce the clothing. They bear the weight of the fast fashion industry as they work through environmental health hazards and cheap pay that does not compensate for the work, they put in.[111] This is a big reason why slow fashion is becoming so desirable. Unlike fast fashion, it places a big importance on ethical conduct and caring for people working throughout the supply chain.[112]

Transparency edit

Supply chain transparency has been a recurring controversy for the fashion industry, especially since the Rana Plaza accident. The issue has been pushed by many labor organizations, not least Clean Clothes Campaign and Fashion Revolution. Over the last years, over 150 major brands including Everlane, Filippa K, and H&M have answered by publicizing information about their factories online. Every year, Fashion Revolution publishes a Fashion Transparency Index[113][114] which rates the world's largest brands and retailers according to how much information they disclose about their suppliers, supply chain policies and practices, and social and environmental impact. The top scorers of the 2019 Fashion Transparency Index included Adidas, Reebok, Patagonia, and H&M.[115] The high place of several fast fashion retailers caused controversy regarding the parameters used for such rankings.[116]

Diversity and inclusion edit

In addition, fashion companies are criticized for the lack of size, age, physical ability, gender and racial diversity of models used in photo shoots and catwalks.[117] A more radical and systemic critique of social inequality in fashion concerns the exclusion and aesthetic supremacy inherent and accentuated through fashion that still remains unquestioned under the current environmentally focused discourse on sustainable fashion.[118][119]

While social "inclusivity" has become almost a norm amongst brands marketing ethical and sustainable fashion, the norm for what is considered a "beautiful" and "healthy" body keeps narrowing down under what researchers have called the current "wellness syndrome."[120] With the positive thinking of inclusivity, the assumption is that a consumer can be whatever he or she wants to be, and thus if the person is not living up to the ideals it is the person's own fault. This optimism hides the diktat of aesthetic wellness, which turns inclusion into an obligation to look good and be dressed in fashionable clothes, a "democratic" demand for aesthetic as well as ethical perfection, as argued by philosopher Heather Widdows.[121]

In Asia edit

China has emerged as the largest exporter of fast fashion, accounting for 30% of world apparel exports.[23] The country exports over approximately US$159 billion worth of clothing garments annually.[122] However, some Chinese workers make as little as 12–18 cents per hour working in poor conditions.[23] Each year Americans purchase approximately 1 billion garments made in China. Today's biggest factories and mass scale of apparel production emerged from two developments in history. The first involved the opening up of China and Vietnam in the 1980s to private and foreign capital and investments in the creation of export-oriented manufacturing of garments, footwear, and plastics, part of a national effort to boost living standards, embrace modernity, and capitalism.[123] Second, the retail revolution within the U.S. (example Wal-Mart, Target, Nike) and Western Europe, where companies no longer manufactured but rather contracted out their production and transformed instead into key players in design, marketing, and logistics, introducing many new different product lines manufactured in foreign-owned factories in China.[123] It is the convergence of these two phenomena that has led to the largest factories in history from apparels to electronics. In contemporary global supply chains, it is the retailers and branders who have had the most power in establishing arrangements and terms of production, not factory owners.[124] Fierce global competition in the garment industry translates into poor working conditions for many laborers in developing nations. Developing countries aim to become a part of the world's apparel market despite poor working conditions and low pay. Countries such as Cambodia and Bangladesh export large amounts of clothing into the United States every year.[23]

Economic edit

At the heart of the controversy concerning "fast fashion" lies the acknowledgment that the "problem" of unsustainable fashion is that cheap, accessible, and on-trend clothes have become available to people of poorer means. This means more people across the world have adopted the consumption habits that in the mid-20th century were still reserved for the rich. To put it differently, the economic concern of fashion is that poor people, or populations in developing economies, now have access to updating their wardrobes as often as the rich, or consumers in Western economies. That is, "fast" fashion is only a problem when poor people engage in it. In alignment with this, the blame for the proliferation of poor-quality, high-quantity and cheap fashion is often put on poorer consumers.

The distribution of value within the fashion industry is another economic concern, with garment workers and textile farmers and workers receiving low wages and prices.[125][126]

Business models for sustainable fashion edit

In order to promote more sustainable forms of consumption, there is a multitude of emerging business models that challenge the prevalent ready-to-wear model. Here is an example of a study that provides insight into innovative business models in the fashion industry that are geared towards sustainability.[127]

Circular fashion models edit

A number of emerging business models go under the name of "circular fashion," inspired by the circular economy. While there are many models under development, some are gaining more traction. Much of the work on circular fashion builds on ideas and initiatives explored in the 1990s and onwards, by scholars such as Lynda Grose,[128] Kate Fletcher,[129] Rebecca Earley,[130] Mathilda Tham, and Timo Rissanen,[131] especially the thinking around the "metabolism" of garments and wardrobes, "zero waste" production, and the focus on the whole life cycle of garments.[132] The popular terminology around circular fashion, reached the mainstream through a report that has come to define the field, the 2017 "A New Textile Economy: Redesigning Fashion's Future" by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.[133]

The "cradle-to-cradle" model, a circular system named after the influential 2002 book with the same name by German chemist Michael Braungart and US architect William McDonough has been a popular inspiration amongst proponents of circular fashion, it is not easy to achieve. Most textile fibers in consumer fashion are amalgamations of various materials to achieve flexible or aesthetic properties, and thus not optimal for circular reproduction. Industrially shredded fibers often need addition of new materials to achieve elasticity or durability. Up until now, most companies contributing to circular fashion are either mechanical or chemical textile recyclers such as Lenzing, Recover Textile Systems, Renewcell, Evrnu, Spinnova or Infinited Fiber Company.[134] Although all work with textile waste as their raw material, it is often from pre-consumer origins as it is easier to sort and process. More recently, some industry initiatives to develop and scale pre-consumer and post-consumer textile recycling have been emerging around the globe, particularly as a response to new legislation. On March 30, The European Commission published the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles,[135] a new strategy that lays out key principles to drive change in the textiles industry. The European Commission's vision of the future of the textiles industry in Europe lays on several pillars that include recycled textiles, ecodesigns, waste management, transparency, labelling, microplastics and extended producer responsibility (EPR).[136]

Biomimicry, natural cycles, and processes edit

Biomimicry suggests a perspective emphasizing the "Wisdom of Nature" where the industry looks into materials in tune with natural cycles.[137] Biomimicry replicates the cycles of nature, seeking to infinitely reuse materials to make commerce compatible with nature. Fashion from the viewpoint of biomimicry tries to make fashion work as a sustainable ecosystem, aligning with natural systems in harmony with the biosphere. Materials should be bio-compatible, combining biodegradable fibers with processes of fermentation and gasification, or materials that have been seen as waste could act as a more sustainable method to making new clothing.[30]

Biofabricate materials edit

Fashion companies are also innovating by incorporating biotechnology materials for the production of products such as sustainable fashion and sportswear, leading to a reduction in the impact of climate change.[138] Biofabrication refers to the process of using microorganisms, such as bacteria, yeast, algae, and fungi, to produce materials and ingredients used by humans, ranging from fuel to food to fibers. With the aim of harnessing biology and microorganisms, biofabrication aims to produce high-value ingredients without relying on fossil or limited land resources. American fashion designer and CEO of Biofabricate, Suzanne Lee, is developing biofabricate materials for the fashion world and gathering experts in the area to explore the possibilities of this new materials: "We've already seen various automotive concept cars with interiors made from biomaterials rather than animal or petrochemical materials. But it's probably going to be a while before it goes mainstream in the automotive sector because the volumes are so huge."[138]

Multi-national clothing retailers are making progress in sustainable clothing production utilizing biofabrication materials. In 2022, Zara offered party dresses made of polyester produced from bio ethanol created from the carbon emissions of a steel mill.[139] Similarly, H&M Move has partnered with LanzaTech, a breakthrough material science company that diverts carbon emissions from the atmosphere, traps them, and transforms them into thread.[140] Although the technology is still in its early stages, it has the potential to be transformative in the coming decades.[138]

Rental and sharing models edit

Rental models are gaining popularity across the industry, a model that has traditionally been used in attire for masquerades or special events, such as weddings. The idea is that sharing garments ultimately lowers the volume of new purchases and disposal of clothing, which means less waste.[30] Rent the Runway is a company building on the "Rent a Closet" approach to consumption, where a consumer leases a garment instead of purchasing it. Fashion rental is a model expected to grow over 10% annually until 2027 across the fashion industry, thus also increasing sales (and expected waste) of garments.[141] Renting and sharing clothing is also known as CFC (collaborative fashion consumption) but its environmental impact and mitigation of pollution are debated.[142][143] While convenient for the consumer, reducing the number of items housed in the wardrobe, the environmental impact of rental may however not be reduced as much as advertised. Transportation between users and storage, dry-cleaning, and re-packaging causes more environmental impact than reselling or hand-me-downs.[144][145] As noted by Levänen et al. (2021), the lowest global warming impacts are achieved be reducing consumption, followed by reusing and recycling, whereas rental services are likely to increase customers' consumption, logistics, and use, making sharing and rental scenarios having the highest Global Warming Potential.[143]

As noted by sustainability researcher Timo Rissanen, it is the total amount of clothing units in circulation that needs to be reduced, as well as their environmental impact during their life cycle, and rental services could, if improved, play a role in that.[146]

Vintage and resale models edit

The most sustainable fibers in fashion are the ones many people already have. Thus, to recirculate existing garments, new business models engage the resale, revival, and recirculation of used, second-hand or vintage clothing.[30] Purchasing second-hand, or vintage clothing is a way to lower the amount of new clothing that gets produced and disposed of and ends up in landfills.

Other resale models also contain elements of upcycling and repairs. Repairing and reselling used clothing has less environmental impact than creating, processing, dying, cutting, sewing, and shipping new clothing to the consumer. Through the upcycling process for clothing, the end-of-life management process of clothes is not applied because it extends the life of a clothing article instead of being disposed into a landfill.[112]

Rethinking recycling edit

Community clothing and shoes donation bins

A more technologically minded trend is "innovative recycling", which seeks to view waste itself as a source of value. Within the fashion industry, some[who?] manufacturers have created incentives for consumers to participate in the recycling of their clothing. Innovative recycling is also aimed at clothing stores themselves, who do not always have sustainable methods to properly dispose of boxes and plastic bags; innovative recycling also looks at the packaging that clothes come in having been sent from manufacturers. A change in approaches towards recycling within the fashion industry could potentially greatly impact the amount of waste the industry creates.[30]

From collective to connective edit

Using digital technologies and blockchain can promote more "Connected Clothes" which allows for more opportunities in digitalizing clothing for personalization, life-tracking, and traceability of its origin.[30]

Tailored resurgence edit

Tailored couture is another option for the future of a greener fashion industry, for those who can afford it, as it can potentially lead to less waste and more jobs improving the economy. Tailored couture is no longer desired because of the convenience of malls and stores provide but the consequence of the convenience is the pollution of the environment. The idea is that tailored clothing can reduce mass-production, while reusing and redesigning old clothes to fit could reduce the amount of old worn out unfitting clothes thrown out or given away.[147]

Open-source fashion edit

Open-source content has become a popular reference with designers sharing patterns and designs, connecting to the success of the open-source software movement. By sharing designs freely, using digital technology, the aim is to make consumers more engaged in the design, production, and lifetime use of the garment.[148] While the terminology is new, the concept builds on the sharing of patterns across European courts in 16th century (such as Kleidungsbüchlein or Trachtenbuch (usually translated as "Book of Clothes") of Melchior Lorck, and the wide range of sewing magazines, such as Burda Style, in the early 20th century. By making garments more open and adaptable across their lifecycle, the hope is that "garments can be multi-functional, beyond simply clothing our bodies; that fashion should be both useful and inventive; and that what we wear should relate to the world around us."[148] Examples of open-source fashion range from freely available patterns and production techniques, platforms for exchanging materials and patterns, and maker spaces.[149]

Reuse and recycling edit

A large amount of clothing purchased annually is discarded and eventually ends up in landfill.[150][151] Sustainability advocates highlight reselling and donating old clothes and buying secondhand fashion as an approach to sustainable fashion.[152]

Charity shops keep a small proportion of donated clothing received.[153] These clothes tend to be good quality, fashionable, and high valued fabrics that can easily be sold in charities' thrift shops. Some charities then sell the majority to textile recycling firms.[153]

Recycling edit

Some efforts have been made to recycling textiles and clothing, as the technology to do this has existed for centuries.[154] However, only around 1% of recycled clothes are turned into new items, primarily due to the difficulty and high cost of separating mixed and blended textiles.[151] Most discarded clothing is recycled for other uses, such as building insulation or carpet.[151]

Textile recycling firms process about 70% of the donated clothing into industrial items such as rags or cleaning cloths.[153] However, 20–25% of the second-hand clothing is sold into an international market.[153] Where possible, used jeans collected from America, for example, are sold to low-income customers in Africa for modest prices, yet most end up in landfill as the average US sized customer is several sizes bigger than the global average.[155]

Upcycling edit

Upcycling in fashion signifies the process of reusing the unwanted and discarded materials (such as fabric scraps or clothes) into new materials or products without compromising the value and the quality of the used material. The definition of textile waste can be production waste, pre-consumer waste, and post-consumer waste.[156]

Typically, upcycling creates something new and better from the old, used or disposed of items. Based on statistics taken globally, the majority of people wear their clothes for at least a few years and pass on unwanted clothes to others to use, but fewer say they avoid buying new clothes and repair their damaged clothes. [157] Hence, upcycling is one of the lesser sought-after methods of sustainable fashion, even though there are plenty of benefits to it.The process of upcycling requires a blend of factors like environmental awareness, creativity, innovation, and hard work and results in a unique sustainable product. Upcycling aims at the development of products truly sustainable, affordable, innovative, and creative. For example, shirts can be upcycled into a value-added product like a unique handmade braided rug, whereas the opposite of upcycling is downcycling such as cleaning rags made from worn T-shirts.[158]

Upcycling can be seen as one of the waste management strategies. There are different types of strategies. From least to most resource-intensive, the strategies are the reuse of product, repairing and reconditioning to keep products as long as possible, recycling the raw materials.[159] The reuse of textile products 'as is' brings significant environmental savings. In the case of clothing, the energy used to collect, sort and resell second-hand garments in between 10 and 20 times less than that needed to make a new item.[160]

It is meant to be innovative by making certain materials into something re-usable and improved, which gives companies and manufacturers higher values for their products. Recycling is a big factor in sustainability, so creating new materials to avoid mass pollution can help improve the economy.[161]

The advantages of circular fashion include: reduced dependency on imported raw materials, creation of eco- friendly industries and jobs, eco-friendly brands benefit from a better public image, and reduction in environmental damage caused by resource extraction. On the other hand, disadvantages include dependency on the consumer's actions, creating a new business model on the basis of recycled is tough, and the entire cycle requires integrating product life cycle from raw material to disposal.[162]

Clothing swaps edit

Clothes swap in Wrocław, Wyspa Tamka. Event is manifesting slow fashion movement, focusing on Fashion Revolution actions.

Clothing swapping can further promote the reduction, reuse, and recycling clothing. By reusing clothing that has already been made and recycling clothing from one owner to another, source reduction can be achieved. This moves away from usage of new raw materials to make more clothing available for consumption. Through the method of clothing swapping, an alternative resource for consumers to ultimately save in regards to money and time is provided. It reduces transportation emissions, costs, and the time it takes to drive and search through the chaos of most clothing stores. Swapping clothes further promotes the use of sustainable online shopping and the internet as well as an increase of social bonds through online communication or effective personal communication in "clothing swap parties." The EPA states, that by reusing items, at the source waste can be diverted from ending up in landfills because it delays or avoids that item's entry in the waste collection and disposal system.[163]

Consumption edit

There are negative social and environmental impacts at all stages of the fashion product life: materials production and processing, manufacture of garments, retail and marketing, use and maintenance, and at the discard phase. For some products, the environmental impact can be greater at the use phase than material production,[164] leading for instance to the suggestion to wash clothes less.

Consumer engagement edit

Sustainability and Style event held during Berlin Fashion Week 2016

Consumer engagement challenges the "passive" mode of ready-to-wear fashion where consumers have few interfaces and little incentive to be active with their garments; to repair, change, update, swap, and learn from their wardrobe.[22] This type of consumer engagement, aiming to promote fashion as an ability rather than primarily as a commodity, has been referred to as "fashion-ability."[165] The term "folk fashion" has been used in the emphasis on craft engagements with garments where the community heritage of skills are in focus.[166] There are currently many designers trying to find ways that experiment with new models of action that deposes passivity and indifference while preserving the positive social dynamics and sensibilities fashion offers, often in relation to Alvin Toffler's notion of the "prosumer" (portmanteau of producer and consumer). Notions of participatory design, open source fashion, and fashion hacktivism are parts of such endeavors, mixing techniques of dissemination with empowerment, reenchantment and Paulo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed."[11][167][168][169] An example of such consumer engagement can be Giana Gonzalez and her project "Hacking Couture", which has tested such methods across the world since 2006.[170] As highlighted in the research of Jennifer Ballie, there is also an increasing interest across industry to produce unique experiences amongst users, connecting co-design with social media apps and tools to enhance the user experience of consumers.[171] A recent example has been the Open Source Fashion Cookbook, by the New York-based brand ADIFF, showing how consumers can recycle materials, share and modify patterns, and co-create more engaging forms of fashion consumption.[172]

Enhancing the lifespan of products have been yet another approach to sustainability, yet still only in its infancy. Upmarket brands have long supported the lifespan of their products through product-service systems, such as re-waxing of classic outdoor jackets, or repairs of expensive handbags, yet more accessible brands do still not offer even spare buttons in their garments. One such approach concerns emotionally durable design, yet with fashion's dependency on continuous updates, and consumer's desire to follow trends, there is a significant challenge to make garments last long through emotional attachment. As with memories, not all are pleasant, and thus a focus on emotional attachment can result in favoring a normative approach to what is considered a good enough memory to manifest emotionally in a garment. Cultural theorist Peter Stallybrass approaches this challenge in his essay on poverty, textile memory, and the coat of Karl Marx.[173]

Technology edit

Novel technologies for virtual try-ons of clothes sold via e-commerce may enable more sustainable fashion and reduce wasted clothes and related transportation and production expenses.[174][175]

Sustainable fashion organizations and companies edit

There is a broad range of organizations purporting to support sustainable fashion, some representing particular stakeholders, some addressing particular issues, and some seeking to increase the visibility of the sustainable fashion movement. They also range from the local to global. It is important to examine the interests and priorities of the organizations.

Organizations edit

Clothes swap in Wrocław, Wyspa Tamka. Event is manifesting slow fashion movement, focusing on Fashion Revolution actions.
  • Fashion Revolution is a not-for-profit global movement founded by Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro which highlights working conditions and the people behind the garments. With teams in over 100 countries around the world, Fashion Revolution campaigns for systemic reform of the fashion industry with a focus on the need for greater transparency in the fashion supply chain. Fashion Revolution has designated the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh as Fashion Revolution Day. Fashion Revolution Week takes place annually during the week on which the anniversary falls. Over 1000 events take place around the world, with millions of people engaging online and offline.[176] Fashion Revolution publishes the Fashion Transparency Index annually, ranking the largest fashion brands in the world on how much they disclose about their policies, practices, procedures and social and environmental impact.[177]
  • Red Carpet Green Dress, founded by Suzy Amis Cameron, is a global initiative showcasing sustainable fashion on the red carpet at the Oscars.[178] 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.[179]
  • Global Action Through Fashion is an Oakland, California-based ethical fashion organization working to advocate for sustainable fashion.[180]
  • Ecoluxe London, a not-for-profit platform, supports luxury with ethos through hosting a biannual exhibition during London Fashion Week and showcasing eco-sustainable and ethical designers.[181][182]
  • The Ethical Fashion Initiative, a flagship program 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.[183][184] The Initiative also works with the rising generation of fashion talent from Africa, encouraging the forging sustainable and fulfilling creative collaborations with artisans on the continent.[185][186] The Ethical Fashion Initiative is headed by Simone Cipriani.

Companies edit

  • Eco Age, a consultancy company specializing in enabling businesses to achieve growth and add value through sustainability, is an organization that promotes 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.[187]
  • Organic by John Patrick is a clothing line run by John Patrick that was one of the earliest adopters of sustainable fashion,[188] and makes heavy use of organic and recycled materials.[189][190]
  • Trans-America Trading Company is one of the biggest of about 3,000 textile recyclers in the United States.[23] Trans-America has processed more than 12 million pounds of post-consumer textiles per year since 1942. At its 80,000-square-foot sorting facility, workers separate used clothing into 300 different categories by type of item, size, and fiber content. About 30% of the textiles are turned into absorbent wiping rags for industrial uses, and another 25–30% are recycled into fiber for use as stuffing for upholstery, insulation, and the manufacture of paper products.[191]
  • ViaJoes – Sustainable clothing manufacturer producing eco-friendly fabrics from recycled cotton and other sustainable products confirmed to GOTS[192] – Global Organic Textile Standard International Working Group standard

Materials edit

In fashion, the consideration of sustainability of materials is critical. The renewability and source of a fiber, the process of how a raw fiber is turned into a textile, the impact of preparation and dyeing of the fibers, energy use in production and preparation, the working conditions of the people producing the materials, and the material's total carbon footprint, transportation between production plants, chemicals used to keep shipments fresh in containers, shipping to retail and consumer, how the material will be cared for and washed, the processes of repairs and updates, and what happens to it at the end of life. The indexing of the textile journeys is thus extremely complex. In sustainability, there is no such thing as a single-frame approach. Issues dealt with in single frames will almost by definition lead to unwanted and unforeseen effects elsewhere.[159]

Overall, diversity in the overall fiber mix is needed; in 2013 cotton and polyester accounted for almost 85% of all fibers, and thus their impacts were, and continue to be, disproportionately magnified.[193] Also, many fibers in the finished garments are mixed to acquire desired drape, flexibility or stretch, thus affecting both care and the possibility to recycle the material in the end.

Cellulose fibers edit

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.[194]

Other than cotton, the most common plant-based fiber, cellulose fibers include: jute, flax, hemp, ramie, abaca, soy, maize, banana, pineapple. Bacterial cellulose is currently being tested and better developed as a new fiber alternative.[195]

Cotton edit

Textile worker using a bare loom in a Vietnam factory, weaving natural cotton fabrics, 2022
The Minister of State for Commerce, Shri Jairam Ramesh, at an event in India focused on the organic cotton industry, 2008

Cotton is a major source of apparel fiber. Celebrated for its excellent absorbency, durability, and intrinsic softness, cotton accounts for over 50% of all clothing produced worldwide. This makes cotton the most widely used clothing fiber.[196] Up to 1 billion people worldwide depend on the cotton industry for their livelihoods, including 100 million smallholder farmers.[197]

Cotton is one of the most chemical-intensive crops in the world, but growers in California have reduced their dependence on these chemicals.[198] Conventionally grown cotton uses approximately 25% of the world's insecticides and more than 10% of the world's pesticides.[199] However, growing and processing this particular fiber crop is largely unsustainable. For every pound of cotton harvested, a farmer uses up 1/3 lb of chemical, synthetic fertilizer.[200] As a whole, the US cotton production makes up 25% of all pesticides deployed in the United States. Worldwide, cotton takes up 2.4% of all arable lands yet requires 16% of the world's pesticides.[201] The cotton hulls contain the most potent insecticide residues. They are often used as cattle feed, which means that consumers are purchasing meat containing a concentration of pesticides.[201] The processing of cotton into usable fibers also adds to the burden on the environment. Manufacturers prefer cotton to be white so that cotton can easily be synthetically dyed to any shade of color.[202] Natural cotton is actually beige-brown, and so during processing, manufacturers would add bleach and various other chemicals and heavy metal dyes to make cotton pure white.[203] Formaldehyde resins would be added in as well to form "easy care" cotton fabric.[203]

Bt cotton edit

To reduce the use of pesticides and other harmful chemicals, companies have produced genetically modified (GMO) cotton plants that are resistant to pest infestations. Among the GMO are cotton crops inserted with the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) gene.[204] Bt cotton crops do not require insecticide applications. Insects that consume cotton containing Bt will stop feeding after a few hours, and die, leaving the cotton plants unharmed.[205]

As a result of the use of Bt cotton, the cost of pesticide applications decreased between $25 and $65 per acre.[206] Bt cotton crops yield 5% more cotton on average compared to traditional cotton crops.[206] Bt crops also lower the price of cotton by 0.8 cents per pound.[206]

However, there are concerns regarding Bt technology, mainly that insects will eventually develop resistance to the Bt strain. According to an article published in Science Daily, researchers have found that members from a cotton bollworm species, Helicoverpa zea, were Bt-resistant in some crop areas of Mississippi and Arkansas during 2003 and 2006.[207] Fortunately, the vast majority of other agricultural pests remain susceptible to Bt.[207]

Micha Peled's documentary exposé Bitter seeds on BT farming in India claimed to reveal the true impact of genetically modified cotton on India's farmers, with a suicide rate of over a quarter-million Bt cotton farmers since 1995 due to financial stress resulting from massive crop failure and the exorbitantly high price of Monsanto's proprietary BT seed, although the evidence does not support this claim as the suicide rate of Indian famers has decreased since the introduction of Bt cotton.[208] The film also refutes false claims purported by the biotech industry that Bt cotton requires less pesticide and empty promises of higher yields, as farmers discover the bitter truth that in reality, Bt cotton in fact requires a great deal more pesticide than organic cotton, and often suffer higher levels of infestation by Mealybug resulting in devastating crop losses, and extreme financial and psychological stress on cotton farmers. Due to the biotech seed monopoly in India, where Bt cotton seed has become the ubiquitous standard, and the organic seed has become absolutely unobtainable, thus coercing all cotton farmers into signing Bt cotton seed purchase agreements which enforce the intellectual property interests of the biotech multinational corporation Monsanto.[209]

Organic cotton edit
Organic cotton yarn

Organic cotton is grown without the use of any genetic modification to the crops, without the use of any fertilizers, pesticides, and other synthetic agro-chemicals harmful to the land.[210] All cotton marketed as organic in the United States is required to fulfill strict federal regulations regarding how the cotton is grown.[211] This is done with a combination of innovation, science, and tradition in order to encourage a good quality of life and environment for all involved.[212] Organic cotton uses 88% less water and 62% less energy than conventional cotton.[213]

Naturally colored cotton edit

Cotton is naturally grown in a variety of colors. Typically, cotton color can come as mauve, red, yellow, and orange hues.[202] The use of naturally colored cotton has long been historically suppressed, mainly due to the industrial revolution.[202] Back then, it was much cheaper to have uniformly white cotton as a raw source for mass-producing cloth and fabric items.[202] Currently, modern markets have revived a trend in using naturally colored cotton for its noted relevance in reducing harmful environmental impacts. One such example of markets opening to these cotton types would be Sally Fox and her Foxfiber business—naturally colored cotton that Fox has bred and marketed.[214] On an additional note, naturally colored cotton is already colored, and thus do not require synthetic dyes during process. Furthermore, the color of fabrics made from naturally colored cotton does not become worn and fade away compared to synthetically dyed cotton fabrics.[215]

Soy edit

Soybean plant

Soy fabrics are derived from the hulls of soybeans—a manufacturing byproduct. Soy fabrics can be blended (i.e. 30%) or made entirely out of soy fibers.[216] Soy clothing is largely biodegradable, so it has a minimal impact on environment and landfills. Although not as durable as cotton or hemp fabrics, soy clothing has a soft, elastic feel.[217] Soy clothing is known as the vegetable cashmere for its light and silky sensation.[217] Soy fabrics are moisture absorbent, anti-bacterial, and UV resistant.[217] However, soy fabrics fell out of public knowledge during World War II, when rayon, nylon, and cotton sales rose sharply.[218]

Hemp edit

Fibers from a Hemp plant

Hemp, like bamboo, is considered a sustainable crop. It requires little water to grow, and it is resistant to most pests and diseases.[219] The hemp plant's broad leaves shade out weeds and other plant competitors, and its deep taproot system allows it to draw moisture deep in the soil.[220] Unlike cotton, many parts of the hemp plant have a use. Hemp seeds, for example, are processed into oil or food.[219] Hemp fiber comes in two types: primary and secondary bast fibers. Hemp fibers are durable and are considered strong enough for construction uses.[220] Compared to cotton fiber, hemp fiber is approximately 8 times the tensile strength and 4 times the durability.[220]

Hemp fibers are traditionally coarse and have been historically used for ropes rather than for clothing. However, modern technology and breeding practices have made hemp fiber more pliable, softer, and finer.

Bamboo edit


Bamboo fabrics are made from heavily pulped bamboo grass. Making clothing and textile from bamboo is considered sustainable due to the lack of need for pesticides and agrochemicals.[221] Naturally disease and pest resistant, bamboo is also fast growing. Compared to trees, certain varieties of bamboo can grow 1–4 inches long per day, and can even branch and expand outward because of its underground rhizomes.[222] Like cotton fibers, bamboo fibers are naturally yellowish in color and are bleached white with chemicals during processing. Prior to a regulatory change in 2010, the majority of fiber and textile marketed as bamboo on the market was actually viscose rayon derived from bamboo. Now manufacturers need to label such products as rayon from bamboo.[223]

Kombucha (SCOBY) edit

Furnished by a grant from the US. Environmental Protection Agency, associate professor Young-A Lee and her team are growing vats of gel-like film composed of cellulose fiber, a byproduct of the same symbiotic colonies of bacteria and yeast (abbreviated SCOBY) found in another of the world's popular "live culture" foods: kombucha. Once harvested and dried, the resulting material has a look and feel much like leather.[224] The fibers are 100 percent biodegradable, they also foster a cradle-to-cradle cycle of reuse and regeneration that leaves behind virtually zero waste. However, this material takes a long time to grow about three to four weeks under lab-controlled conditions. Hence mass production is an issue. In addition, tests revealed that moisture absorption from the air softens this material makes it less durable. Researchers also discovered that cold conditions make it brittle.[224]

Other cellulose fibers edit

Other alternative biodegradable fibers being developed by small companies include:

  • leather alternative using pineapple leaves;[225]
  • bio-composites, fabrics,[225] and leather alternative[226][227] using various parts of coconut;
  • fabric and paper made from banana plant stalks and stems.[225]
  • garments made from tencel fibers.[228]

Protein fibers edit

Protein fibers originate from animal sources and are made up of protein molecules. The basic elements in these protein molecules being carbon, hydrogen oxygen and nitrogen.[229]

Wool edit

Just as in cotton production, pesticides are conventionally used in the cultivation of wool, although quantities are considerably smaller, and it is thought that good practices can significantly limit negative environmental impacts. Sheep are treated either with injectable insecticides, a pour-on preparation or dipped in a pesticide bath to control parasite infections, which if left untreated can have serious health implications for the flock. When managed badly, these pesticides can cause harm to human health and aquatic ecosystems both on the farm and in subsequent downstream processing.[159]

Silk edit

Most commercially produced silk is of the cultivated variety and involves feeding the worms a carefully controlled diet of mulberry leaves grown under special conditions. Selected mulberry trees are grown to act as homes for the silkworms. The fibers are extracted by steaming to kill the silk moth chrysalis and then washed in hot water to degum the silk. The silk fiber is known for its strength and is considered a prestigious fiber. Its use in textiles is limited due to its high cost.[230] The silk industry also employs millions of people in rural China.[231]

Cashmere edit

Cashmere is obtained from the fine, soft hairs of a cashmere goat's underbelly coat. This specific breed of goat is found throughout Asia. Due to the rarity of the breed, four goats are needed to produce enough cashmere for one sweater. Initially, cashmere was relatively expensive, but due to increased demand, the industry is beginning to take a toll on animals and the land. More and more goats are needed which results in more mouths to feed. Overpopulation of the goats degrades the land due to increased grazing. The cashmere industry is becoming more and more controversial with the questioning of the working conditions of goat herders and the underpaying of farmers.[232] Oxfam reported in Spring 2021 on a project in Afghanistan being undertaken jointly with the Burberry Foundation and PUR Projet, working with goat farmers to improve their business operations and make the Afghan cashmere industry more sustainable.[233]

Manufactured fibers edit

Manufactured fibers sit within three categories:[234] Manufactured cellulosic fibers, manufactured synthetic fibers and manufactured protein fiber (azlon). Manufactured cellulosic fibers include modal, Lyocell (also known under the brand name Tencel), rayon/viscose made from bamboo, rayon/viscose made from wood and polylactic acid (PLA). Manufactured synthetic fibers include polyester, nylon, spandex, acrylic fiber, polyethylene and polypropylene (PP). Azlon is a manufactured protein fiber. Rayon/ viscose is a fiber out of pulp highly used in fast fashion as it is cheaply manufactured. To extract rayon/viscose, plantations cut down 30% of endangered and ancient forests threatening the life of ecosystems.[235]

PET plastic edit

PET plastics are also known as Polyethylene terephthalate(PETE). PET's recycling code, the number within the three chasing arrows, is one. These plastics are usually beverage bottles (i.e. water, soda, and fruit juice bottles). According to the EPA, plastic accounts for 12% of the total amount of waste we produce.[236] Recycling plastic reduces air, water, and ground pollution. Recycling is only the first step; investing and purchasing products manufactured from recycled materials is the next of many steps to living sustainably.

Recyclables at transfer station, Gainesville, Florida

Clothing can be made from plastics. Seventy percent of plastic-derived fabrics come from polyester, and the type of polyester most used in fabrics is polyethylene terephthalate (PET).[237] PET plastic clothing come from reused plastics, often recycled plastic bottles.[238] The Coca-Cola Company, for example, created a "Drink2Wear" line of T-shirts made from recycled bottles.[239] Generally, PET plastic clothing are made from recycled bottles as follows: plastic bottles are collected, compressed, baled, and shipped into processing facilities where they will be chopped into flakes, and melted into small white pellets. Then, the pellets are processed again, and spun into yarn-like fiber where it can be made into clothing.[240] One main benefit of making clothes from recycled bottles is that it keep the bottles and other plastics from occupying landfill space. Another benefit is that it takes 30% less energy to make clothes from recycled plastics than from virgin polyesters.[241]

Fungal species edit

Alexander Bismarck and Mitchell Jones from the University of Vienna have conducted research on the possibility of using fungal species to create sustainable leather alternatives. Leather alternatives can be produced by using byproducts of agricultural products such as sawdust. The sawdust acts as a feedstock for the growth of fungal mycelium. After a few weeks, the fungal mycelium can be processed and chemically treated into a leather-like material. The researchers state that these fungal biomasses exhibit similar material and tactile properties as authentic leather. Using fungal biomass to create a leather alternative is sustainable as the entire process is carbon neutral and all the materials are completely biodegradable when they are done being used.[242]

Production edit

Producers edit

The global political economy and legal system supports a fashion system that enables fashion that has devastating environmental, social, cultural and economic impacts to be priced at a lower price than fashion which involves efforts to minimize harm in the growth, manufacturing, and shipping of the products. This results in higher prices for fashion made from reduced impact materials than clothing produced in a socially and environmentally damaging way (sometimes referred to as conventional methods).[243]

Innovative fashion is being developed and made available to consumers at different levels of the fashion spectrum, from casual clothing to haute couture which has a reduced social and environmental impact at the materials and manufacture stages of production[23] and celebrities, models, and designers have recently drawn attention to socially conscious and environmentally friendly fashion.

3D seamless knitting edit

3D seamless knitting is a technology that allows an entire garment to be knit with no seams. This production method is considered a sustainable practice due to its reduction in waste and labor. By only using the necessary materials, the producers will be more efficient in their manufacturing process. This production method is similar to seamless knitting, although traditional seamless knitting requires stitching to complete the garment. In contrast 3D seamless knitting creates the entire garment, eliminating additional work. The garments are designed using 3D software unlike traditional flat patterns. Shima Seiki and Stoll are currently the two primary manufacturers of the technology. The technology is produced through the use of solar energy, and they are selling to brands like Max Mara.[244]

Zero waste edit

Zero waste design in fashion is a concept that aims to reduce material waste throughout the textile and fashion production process. Although the concept has existed for a number of years on the grounds of reducing costs through reducing waste, zero waste design is increasingly being integrated into fashion production for environmental reasons.[167] Zero-waste pattern making designs patterns for a garment so that when the pattern pieces are cut, no fabric is wasted.[245]

Dyeing edit

Examples of textiles that have used the AirDye process

Traditional methods of dyeing textiles are incredibly harmful towards the Earth's water supply, creating toxic chemicals that affect entire communities.[246] An alternative to traditional water dyeing is scCO2 dyeing (super critical carbon dioxide). This process creates no waste by using 100% of the dyes, reducing energy by 60% with no auxiliary chemicals, and leaving a quarter of the physical footprint of traditional dyeing. Different names for this process are Drydye and Colordry.[247] Another company called Colorep has patented Airdye, a similar process that they claim uses 95% less water and up to 86% less energy than traditional dyeing methods.[248]

Comparison websites and ecolabels edit

No brand is considered by environmental experts to be fully sustainable, and controversy exists over exactly how the concept of sustainability can be applied in relation to fashion, if it can be used at all, or if labels such as "slow" and "sustainable" fashion are inherently an oxymoron.[50] Brands that sell themselves as sustainable often lack systems to deal with oversupply, take back used clothes, fully recycle fibers, offer repair services, or even support the life of the garment during use (such as instructions on washing, care and repair). Almost no brands offer replacement parts, such as buttons, straps or pockets, for their garments.[citation needed]

Some comparison websites exist which compare fashion brands on their sustainability record, which give some indication to consumers about the sustainability of their products.[249]

There are many ecolabels in existence which focus on textile goods.[250] Some notable[251] ecolabels include:

Sustainable textile brands edit

Some brands that sell themselves as sustainable are listed below;

  • Eastern European prisoners are designing sustainable prison fashion in Latvia and Estonia under the Heavy Eco label,[252] part of a trend called "prison couture".[253]
  • Other sustainable fashion brands include Elena Garcia, Nancy Dee, By Stamo, Outsider Fashion, Beyond Skin, Oliberté, Hetty Rose, DaRousso, KSkye the Label,[254] and Eva Cassis.[181][255][256][257][258][259][260]
  • The brand Boll & Branch make all of their bedding products from organic cotton and have been certified by Fair Trade USA.[261]
  • The Hemp Trading Company is an ethically driven underground clothing label, specializing in environmentally friendly, politically conscious street wear made of hemp, bamboo, organic cotton and other sustainable fabrics.[262]
  • Patagonia, a major retailer in casual wear, has been selling fleece clothing made from post-consumer plastic soda bottles since 1993.[23]

Designers edit

The Golden Book Gown made of recycled and discarded paper book pages

There is no certain stable model among the designers for how to be sustainable in practice, and the understanding of sustainability is always a process or a work-in-progress, and varies by who defines what is "sustainable;" farmers or animals, producers or consumers, managers or workers, local businesses or neighborhoods.[37] Thus critical scholars would label much of the business-driven discourse on sustainability as "greenwashing" as under the current economic paradigm, "sustainability" is primarily defined as keeping the wheels of perpetual production and consumption turning; to keep the "perpetuum mobile" of fashion running and in perpetual motion.[263]

There are some designers that experiment in making fashion more sustainable, with various degrees of impact;

  • 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."[264][265]
  • Eco-couture designer Lucy Tammam uses eri silk (ahimsa/peace silk) and organic cotton to create her eco friendly couture evening and bridal wear collections.[266]
  • Amal Kiran Jana is a designer from India and the founder of Afterlife Project which is a sustainability development project supporting global and unique designers in 360 degrees.[267]
  • Stella McCartney pushes the agenda for sustainable fashion that is animal and eco-friendly. She also uses her name and her brand as a platform to push for a greener fashion industry. The brand uses the EP&L tool which was created to help companies understand their environmental impact by measuring greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, water pollution, air pollution and waste across the entire global supply chain.[268]
  • Gabriela Hearst during her tenure at Chloé and under her own name has made sustainability a key focus of her work. The runway presentation for her Spring/Summer 2020 eponymous collection was certified carbon neutral.[269] Gabriela Hearst also avoids single use plastic in retail and supply chain networks, using compostable polymers and recycled cardboard.[270] While she was at Chloé, the label became the first major luxury brand to receive a B Corp certification.[271]

Controversies edit

Marketing controversies edit

The increase in western consumers' environmental interest is motivating companies to use sustainable and environmental arguments solely to increase sales. Because environmental and sustainability issues are complex, it is also easy to mislead consumers. Companies can use sustainability as a “marketing ploy” something that can be seen as greenwashing.[272] Greenwashing is the deceptive use of an eco-agenda in marketing strategies.[37] It refers mostly to corporations that make efforts to clean up their reputation because of social pressure or for the purpose of financial gain. Companies continuing to be using greenwashing in turn hurts companies that are true to their environmental goals, losing their competitive edge to bigger corporations.[273]

Greenwashing edit

A major controversy on sustainable fashion concerns how the "green" imperative is used as a cover-up for systemic labor exploitation, social exclusion and environmental degradation, what is generally labelled as greenwashing. Market-driven sustainability can only address sustainability to a certain degree as brands still need to sell more products in order to be profitable. Thus, almost any initiative towards addressing ecological and social issues still contributes to the damage. In a 2017 report, the industry projects that the overall apparel consumption will rise by 63%, from 62 million tons today to 102 million tons in 2030, thus effectively erasing any environmental gains made by current initiatives.[274]

Materials controversies edit

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.[275] 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.[276] However, these are indicative of a system of production and consumption that creates excessive volumes of waste.

Second-hand controversies edit

Used clothing is sold in more than 100 countries. In Tanzania, used clothing is sold at Mitumba markets (Swahili for "bundles"). Most of the clothing is imported from the United States.[23] However, there are concerns that trade in secondhand clothing in African countries decreases development of local industries even as it creates employment in these countries.[277] While the reuse of materials brings resource savings, there are some concerns that the influx of cheap, second-hand clothing, particularly in Africa, has undermined indigenous textile industries, with the result that clothing collected in the West under the guise of 'charitable donations' could actually create more poverty.[159] The authors of Recycling of Low Grade Clothing Waste warn that in the long run, as prices and quality of new clothing continue to decline, the demand for used clothing will also diminish.[278]

See also edit

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Further reading edit

External links edit