An introduction to sustainability in fashion

Sustainability. 

We’ve all heard of this word countless times in any environmental sciences class. But applying sustainability to clothes is not something we think we can even do. After all, sustainability is more of saving trees, recycling paper, and throwing your trash in the bin, isn’t it?

Not really.

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WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY?

Sustainability is “avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”.

Where do natural resources get depleted? In producing clothes, of course. From the process of growing fibres for fabric to dyeing, stitching, and shipping, each piece of clothing comes with a cost to the environment.

Hence, it becomes natural that sustainability can and should begin at home, by taking a closer look at what goes into making our clothes in the first place.

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General tenets of sustainable brands are those that use environmentally-friendly raw materials and production processes, produce in small batches, and reduces the burden it may otherwise have had on the environment (in terms of harmful dyeing, cheaper synthetic fibres, etc.). In some brands (but not all), sustainable overarches into traditional craftsmanship & its preservation — which more often than not are friendly to the society & areas surrounding them (e.g. indigo dye).

Before I delve into this topic more, I should say that I definitely cannot cover all the basics in one post. The debate and discussion around sustainability extends into numerous topics, from ethics to labour rights to awareness, and this is a humble attempt to provide a primer into the side of clothing that we don’t know we should think about. I will definitely write more posts on the topic— I hope to make this a series, providing one-stop information to everyone interested.

WHY SUSTAINABILITY?

Great question — why should this matter?

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It’s a simple thought: when we spend almost all our time in our clothes, why do we think so little about how these clothes came to be? Just like how we’ve begun look for organic labels on our food, we should start looking for the equivalent labels in our clothes too.

It’s important because it makes a difference in how we consume clothes, and changes how we approach fashion. Taking a long look at how we spend our money, and what we wear can spark lifestyle changes and a healthier outlook to consumption. And honestly, it helps develop a unique sense of style — you won’t have to worry if three other friends of yours have the same Forever21 top that you do.

If you don’t care about any of that, just learning to wear more of your own clothes in different ways will save you money, time, and make you buy better. Don’t regret a purchase again!

HOW DO WE PRACTICE SUSTAINABILITY?

The good news: It is becoming easier to become an aware shopper, with a greater number of brands providing environmental- & people-friendly alternatives.

The not-so-great news: The scale of production followed by our fast fashion brands (H&M, Forever 21, Zara, etc) will always make them provide products at a cheaper rate than most sustainable brands.

So how do we bridge the gap?

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  1. Buy less, wear more

    The advent of numerous brands both international and local all around us makes us feel like we’re getting a great deal whenever we shop. But always remember, if you’re paying less, someone out there is being paid less (think less than 10% of the price) to make your clothes. And it’s more likely that these clothes are being made with cheap material. Cheap inputs => cheap prices.

    ALSO, remember that even if you buy from sustainable brands, consuming more is counter-productive. There is no point in buying tons of things and stocking your closet and wondering “I don’t have anything to wear!”. It’s more logical to buy well-made, classic items that you know you’ll love and wear multiple ways. The first step to a sustainable wardrobe is to buy less and wear more.
    Repeating clothes is a great trick, and makes so much sense economically, and environmentally. So don’t be afraid to wear the same shirt over and over. I know I do.

  2. Try to be informed

    The internet can be the greatest source of information on brands, meanings of dicey terms, and more! Since more and more brands and people are beginning to show interest in sustainability, try to keep reading about different brands — there are so many in India that use ingenious ways of recycling & upcycling to create items like bags and shoes. I love the page EcoAge on Facebook that highlights international attempts towards sustainable fashion. But the easiest way to be informed is…

  3. Read my blog!!

    I’ll be shifting away from a “normal” fashion blog to help bring sustainability to your wardrobe in easy, realistic steps. My debating/economics brain will also outline alternatives, and necessary analysis for you to make good, informed decisions that will ultimately benefit the Earth and its people in some way, and your wardrobe too.

What’s important to remember is that there will never be one ideal solution for everyone. What may be sustainable to someone may clash with their ethical principles (and even economic principles — for e.g. you may not be willing to spend that much money on something).

But that’s okay. 

I do not want to convince or chide you into buying something. I just want to make you think about your decisions. I hope to provide you with alternatives that can inspire you to make some informed decisions — they will ultimately yield some good for the people around you.

Hope you enjoyed this post! Do let me know if you have any thoughts, questions or comments below.

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