What is Sustainable Fashion?
Sustainable or ethical fashion is an approach toward sourcing, manufacturing and designing clothes that minimizes the impact on the environment. Sustainability focuses on maintaining a balance by avoiding the depletion of natural resources.
There is an evident need for change in the way that the fashion industry currently operates. Sustainable fashion looks at the long term view and approaches design, manufacturing and the consumption of clothing. This process is about fashion that creates good and avoids harm. This includes its relationship with people, planet and animals.
Ethical fashion is a term that is often used interchangeably with sustainable fashion. For some consumers, ethical fashion focuses on what is ‘morally right’ and the treatment of both humans and animals that are affected in some way by the fashion industry.
The fashion industry has some devastating statistics that highlight the true cost of fashion in today's unsustainable world:
- Textile production in 2015 was responsible for 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2. This is more emissions than all international flights and shipping combined.
- Currently, nearly 70% of clothing is made from polyester or similar synthetic fabrics. These are made from non-renewable sources such as crude oil.
- Garments made from synthetic fibers are responsible for 35% of the global microplastic pollution
- The fashion industry is predicted to consume from 25% to 30% of the world’s carbon budget by 2050 if it continues to grow at the same rate.
- The annual clothing production exceeded 100 billion items in 2014 and doubled from the year 2000 to 2015.
These statistics are scary evidence of the state of the fashion industry globally. The need for a sustainable change is evident and alarming.
Sustainable Fashion vs. Fast Fashion
Fast fashion is clothing that is trendy, cheap and is produced in high quantities. Fast fashion is so detrimental because it is built on an endless cycle of overproduction and overconsumption. The cheap prices that these fast fashion brands offer are only possible because the garments are made in huge quantities. Therefore the brand only makes a small profit per garment however because they produce so many garments the profit is increased drastically. However the rise of fast fashion has caused a race to the bottom for each brand to compete against each other to offer the lowest prices possible. This comes at the cost of the garment manufacturers, the environment and the animals.
For example fast fashion brand H&M produces 3 billion pieces of clothing every year! Even though some fast fashion brands are greenwashing their consumers by advertising the fact that they use sustainable materials in their collections the huge volume of production can never truly be sustainable.
Fast fashion brands are able to negotiate low prices with the factories that work for them because they require just huge quantities of products. Unfortunately, these negotiations therefore suppress wages and often maintain a low standard of safety.
The impacts on the planet are devastating and any impact that the fashion industry has on the planet also impacts the people who call it home (us!). Not all people are impacted equally however, communities of color and communities who reside in the global south are disproportionately impacted by the pollution and the climate crisis.
These unfortunately are not the people who consume fast fashion and are often the manufacturer of fast fashion. The global north is responsible for 92% of all greenhouse gas emissions, yet the countries that will be most affected by climate change are not responsible for the emissions and have the least amount of resources to adapt and recover.
It is evident that the fast fashion industry is in desperate need of change and this is where sustainable fashion has the opportunity to shake up the entire industry and positively impact the people who are involved and the planet. The United Nations estimates that the fashion industry contributes up to 10% of the global greenhouse gas emissions.
Shifting from fast fashion to slow, ethical and sustainable fashion can directly minimize your carbon footprint. It can even be as effective as switching to plane free travel which is a huge win for your personal carbon footprint.
Industry leaders in the sustainable fashion world successfully prioritize the health of the planet in a few different ways. One of the key opportunities is to focus on the entire life cycle of the clothing. This starts with the sustainable production of the garment and ends with a closed loop waste reduction at the end of the garments life. This concept of circular economy is of a key importance to sustainable fashion brands.
Being apart of the sustainable fashion industry is possible by following these easy steps
- Reusing what you already have
The most sustainable item is the one you already own. Rather than buying something new, why not look into your wardrobe and see if you already own an item that could work. Alternatively borrow or swap items with your friends or attend a clothing swap.
This will not only save your money but it will save items from ending up in landfill as well as giving the item a second lease of life. Why not prolong the life of an item you already have by mending it any damages or taking it for alterations.
- Shop secondhand
Browse your local thrift shop or search on your favorite second hand clothing websites to find what you are looking for. This is a way to find the item that you are looking for but it does not require the resource depletion that the production of a new item requires.
- Shop sustainably
Shopping sustainably can feel like a mindfield sometimes. The reality is that terms such as “sustainable”, “ethical” or “eco” are not regulated terms. This means that brands can use them whenever they like so there are additional factors that are important to look for. These include:
- Conscious materials: There are so many different fabrics both eco-friendly and not however these are our favorite materials. Natural fibers, organic cotton, hemp, linen, tencel and fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles (rPET). However, upcycled and repurposed materials including deadstock which is fabric leftover from companies are two of the most sustainable fabric choices.
- Natural or low impact dyes: Synthetic dyes are made from petroleum and are extremely toxic and contain heavy metals such as chromium, mercury and lead. This is why natural or low impact dyes are recommended as they do not contain toxic chemicals.
- Resource usage: The factories that the garments are produced often use energy from fossil fuels. Can a garment truly be sustainable if the facility is not powered by renewable energy? Another factor to consider is water and chemical usage. Sustainable practices such as water recycling and water efficient dyeing practices should be utilized by a sustainable manufacturer.
Women’s Sustainable Fashion
Finding sustainable fashion for the outdoors can be very difficult. However, three of our favorite items from Seadon’s women's collection are included below. A deep dive into the materials that were used for these clothing items is detailed to give you a deeper understanding of the true sustainability factors in each item.
These stylish pants come in three colors and six different sizes. The fabric is made from Sunsail™ fabric which is re-engineered from discarded fishing nets. This consists of 85% recycled nylon and 15% spandex.
Recycled nylon has the same benefits as recycled polyester. The fabric diverts waste from landfills and the production uses less resources than virgin nylon. It is made from recycled fishing nets which diverts waste from being dumped in the ocean every year. The nets would remain in the ocean for generations and would degrade into microplastics which would continue to litter the natural environment.
Fishing nets account for about 10% of all debris in the ocean. More than 600,000 tonnes of fish gear is dumped every year. One of the reasons so many fishing nets are discarded is because the alternative for the fishermen is to pay for someone to dispose of them properly.
This t-shirt is available in three colors and in six sizes. It is made from a unique blend of 30% Tencel and 70% ZQ certified ultrafine Merino Wool.
Merino Wool is a naturally renewable and biodegradable textile. As the wool can be shorn from the sheep while the animal is still living it is considered both renewable and ethical. Unlike synthetic materials, Merino Wool can be naturally degraded in roughly four months under normal conditions and even faster in warm and moist environments. It is made up of keratin which is the same protein as human hair. This means that microorganisms feast on this protein as it degrades.
Merino Wool is naturally odor free. This means that the tee’s require less washing and are the perfect addition to any outdoor wardrobe. ZQ Merino Wool is the world’s leading standard of ethical wool. Growers must meet strict standards of animal welfare, environmental sustainability, fiber quality, and social responsibility.
The tank top comes in six colors and is available in six sizes. It is made from a combination of 80% recycled polyester and 20% Tencel.
Tencel is a type of rayon similar to viscose and modal. The production of Tencel requires less energy and water than conventional cotton. It is also biodegradable as it is derived from plants. When it is produced it is pure white in color. This means that no bleaching is required before the dying process. One of the biggest benefits of Tencel is that it is extremely versatile. It can be used in activewear to dresses. It also absorbs 50% more than cotton and is more breathable. This means that it is perfect for activewear and outdoor wear as it is more odor resistant.
Recycled polyester is often named rPET as it is made from recycled plastic bottles. This textile diverts plastic bottles from landfills and the production of recycled polyester requires fewer resources than that of new and virgin materials. Unfortunately, this material is not biodegradable and may release microfibers when being washed or when disposed of.
Sustainable Fashion for Men
Fashionable, functional and sustainable outdoor clothing can be challenging to locate. We have selected three of our favorite Seadon’s men’s options to highlight that style and sustainability can go hand in hand.
These stylish boardshorts are available in three colors and in five sizes. The body and the pockets are both made from 100% recycled polyester which is Bluesign approved.
Recycled polyester is made from recycled drink bottles as stated above. Bluesign is a group that monitors the journey of the materials from the factory to the final product. They audit factories and provide certification to factories that meet their high standards. Their process works by analyzing a factory's resource use, occupational health and safety, water and air emissions and consumer safety. With the Bluesign tick of approval you can know that your Seadon item has been made from the highest quality fabric and has met the strict criteria.
This wardrobe staple comes in five colors and sizes. It is made from 80% recycled polyester and 20% Tencel. It also features miDori™ bioSoft for enhanced wicking and softness.
The eco-friendly benefits of recycled polyester and Tencel have already been discussed above. miDori™ bioSoft is a plant seed oil that is used as a sustainable softener for textiles. It provides treated fabrics with a natural and smooth touch that will feel great when it’s on your body. Unlike other softeners miDori™ bioSoft is not derived from crude oil or animal fat. It is however based on a renewable resource, plant seed oil. The softener is also biodegradable and will not interfere with the recyclability, biodegradability or upcycling of the item. When compared to conventional fossil fuel based softeners miDori™ bioSoft has a positive carbon footprint.
The sunrise t-shirt comes in white and features five sizes. It is created from 50% recycled polyester and 50% Bluesign approved polyester. The tee features Polygiene® permanent anti-odor ‘Stay Fresh’ technology.
Polygiene® anti-odour technology that makes sure that garments, footwear and textiles stay fresh for longer. The antimicrobial technology inhibits the growth of odor-causing bacteria that is created from sweat, heat and humidity. This means that the Trailblazer t-shirt requires less washing so you can wear it for longer.
From an environmental point of view skipping one out of ten washes reduces total toxicity, lowers CO2 emissions and releases fewer microplastics into the waterways. Polygiene® is an effective fabric treatment that uses low concentrations of silver salt. This salt has antimicrobial properties and is applied at the final stages of textile production.
Polygiene® wants to limit the use of resources to ensure the availability of the resources for future generations. This is why the company carefully reviews its entire supply chain, from sourcing, production, application and washing and disposal.
Sustainable Fashion For The Outdoors
If you consider yourself an environmentalist like most outdoor lovers probably will, finding clothes and gear that not only perform but are also good for the planet can be difficult. There is a struggle between wanting your gear to perform in the natural elements, to last a long time and to be sustainable. However, sustainability should also be a factor that is carefully considered.
Luckily textile development has come a long way in recent years and the creation of new sustainable textiles is now an option for outdoor enthusiasts. Previously the only option was to purchase gear made from synthetic materials such as nylon, polyester and spandex. These materials are not biodegradable and will remain in the environment forever. The creation of these synthetic fabrics requires the use of harmful chemicals that pollute the natural environment.
New sustainable fabrics including recycled polyester and recycled nylon for example are created by diverting resources from landfills. They also take less resources to produce than virgin fabrics. There is also not a continuous drain on fossil fuels and includes less chemicals in the processing.
The shedding of microfibers when synthetic clothing is washed is a huge concern for the outdoor apparel industry. Unfortunately microfibers are a huge issue that has only been recently discovered and are polluting the world’s waterways. The tiny fibers are consumed by aquatic animals and then consumed by humans. One of the easiest ways to reduce microfiber pollution is by washing your outdoor gear and clothing as little as possible. This is when odor-resistant materials such as merino wool are so great because they require much less washing than typical synthetic items and the microfibers are biodegradable. When washing your outdoor clothing another way to reduce the pollution is by using a cold wash, washing a full load and not using the tumble dryer. These are all simple steps that can reduce the pollution of microfibers.
It appears that for some technical outdoor gear synthetic materials perform better than more sustainable materials. However if the technical gear is made from synthetics materials that last a long time and can be repaired to extend their life. Is it better to have an unsustainable item that outperforms a piece of gear that is made from a sustainable material? This technical piece of gear will then be a piece of slow fashion and will stand the test of time. This is the conundrum that is challenging the outdoor industry and is making consumers and brands question the sustainability of certain items. However with new developments in technology and fiber production the decision between performance and sustainability is lessening.
The outdoor industry has come a long way from the days of all items being made from petroleum and fossil fuels. Every year new sustainable advancements are created and industry moves to a more eco-friendly place.