The environmental impact your clothing is having right now has never been more topical – and for good reason. Until now, the fashion industry has had a bad reputation when it comes to sustainability and producing sustainable items in their business models. As a result, they aren’t showing their commitment to saving the planet. 

But this state of affairs is in flux – these days, the buzzword ‘sustainable fashion’ is on everybody’s lips. Aware that our world needs a greener future, the fashion industry is trying to find ways towards environmental sustainability and to help make this a possibility. 

Let’s take a look at the future of environmental sustainability and fashion…

What is sustainability in fashion today?

Everything we do has an environmental impact – and the fashion that we wear is no exception. The way fast fashion garments are manufactured has long had a negative environmental impact on sustainability and the environment. Statistics show that the fashion industry alone is responsible for between 4 to 10% of greenhouse gas emissions year on year.

In an environmental study carried out by McKinsey, it says: “The fashion industry emits about the same quantity of greenhouse gases per year as the entire economies of France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined.”

These shocking statistics are the reason the fashion industry is so frowned upon. As a result, some fashion brands have done their utmost to make a difference to sustainability by practising ‘carbon offsetting’ (reducing or removing greenhouse gas and carbon emissions to reduce their carbon footprints in the future). 

In a nutshell, sustainable fashion means manufacturing and buying clothes in a sustainable way (a method of sustainability that protects the environment and garment workers at the same time).

The way sustainability is being addressed is by cutting carbon emissions (eg by restoring forests) and reducing waste and pollution. Sustainable fashion also involves supporting biodiversity (protecting every life form on the planet) and ensuring that every one person who works in the industry is paid a fair salary and works in safe conditions.

Why being sustainable is so important in fashion clothing production

Every positive move the clothes industry makes towards sustainability and creating more sustainable fashion for the future is a step forward, from its production and manufacture of materials, to dyeing and creating clothes. These sustainability moves are a sector of the UN Fashion Charter, which launched in 2018 and was renewed in 2021. 

‘The United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action’, is a commitment by fashion and textile business towards sustainability, by achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and addressing their future roles in climate change.

The United Nations Fashion Charter also says that it’s committed to halving their emissions by 2030, a mere 8 years away.

Why fashion needs to become more sustainable

·      Currently, fashion production methods are extremely unsustainable

Around the world, one truck full of textile waste is dumped at a landfill every second. (Just so you know, ‘textile waste’ is waste created in every phase of the manufacture of fabric, from spinning and weaving to dyeing the material and making the item.) 

Find out what we do to maakelessfabricwaste and what our Social Responsibility policies are…

To address this, companies are now trying to produce fashion items using sustainable fabrics, materials that are created, from start to finish in a more eco-friendly manner using less water and energy to produce. This means making sure that harmful chemicals are not used in any of the processes, which could affect the environment. 

It also involves reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions in every aspect of fashion companies' business. We're talking about everything that the fashion business does, from the types of fabric used to make the items to the way they are made.

All of these processes should involve using biodegradable materials that are not chemically treated. They should also use water and clean energy to reduce fossil fuels when manufacturing as well as no pesticides or fertilisers.

·      Fashion workers have low salaries, poor working conditions and long hours 

Currently, a mere 2% of workers in the global fashion industry make a decent, liveable wage. This is because many fashion brands produce items in developing countries where the workers are paid ridiculously low wages and work extremely long hours.  A sustainable fashion industry would ensure that workers throughout the fashion manufacturing process are paid fair wages and have safe, healthy working conditions. 

10 ways to make a sustainable difference in fashion

Take a look at how you can make a difference to the fashion industry’s environmental dilemma:

1.   Buy ethical and fair trade fashion 

Both are examples of sustainable fashion brands – they involve making sure that those who work in the industry are being treated fairly and paid properly. The environmental implications include decent working hours and wages, safe, clean working conditions, sustainable methods of manufacture and printing of fashion fabrics and garments – and no child labour.

2.   Make sure that the fashion clothes you choose have been made in a sustainable manner

This involves the way the fashion fabric and the clothes made out of the material have been made. The methods used should not create waste or harm the environment. Unfortunately, the fashion industry is a long way from achieving this.  But the sustainable fashion business is taking heed and choosing environmentally friendly, biodegradable, natural fibres like organic cotton as well as regular cotton and more sustainable manufacturing and printing methods. For more insight, read our online guide to sustainable fabrics UK business uses for their fabric products.

You can also find out online all about fast fashion and why slow fashion is the preferable choice.

3.   Buy vintage items

Giving fashion a second life is a sustainable thing to do. Whether you pick up something old, or a fashion garment that is gently worn, pre-loved items are a great addition to your wardrobe. You can prolong the life of a fashion garment or transform into something else entirely – the fabric gets a second life and the garment will be new and unique. Buying second-hand fashion clothes is now called ‘upcycled fashion’, which indicates that the item is being reused or repurposed in some way to make something wearable. This is a great way of using something that would otherwise end up in landfill.

4.   Choose ‘circular fashion’

Unlike the fast fashion industry, circular fashion is made from textiles that have been sustainably recycled. The term is defined as fashion going full circle and being reproduced in another form.  Recycled polyester (rPET) is a perfect example of this – the polyester fabric is created out of plastic bottles that have been discarded. Read all about recycled polyester in our informative guide.

5.   Care for your wardrobe

‘Conscious fashion’ is being conscious of the luxury fashion garments you buy and how you care for them. That involves washing items sustainably in water instead of dry cleaning so that you don’t use too much energy or detergents that contain harmful chemicals. The more carefully you wash these fashion garments, the longer they will last.

6.   Buy less fashion – and buy quality items from sustainable fashion manufacturers

If you choose classic quality fashion pieces they can last a lifetime. Before you buy a fashion item, whether it’s a shirt, a jacket or a pair of jeans, study the item and ask yourself:

-       Why am I buying this pair of jeans, shirt, jacket, etc?

-       Will it be a necessary addition to my wardrobe?

-       Will I wear this garment once or will it become a great addition to my wardrobe?

7.   Be wary of being whitewashed about being sustainable

The term 'greenwashing' has nothing to do with washing your clothes; it’s being fooled into buying something that isn’t actually sustainable. Choose fashion brands that are known for being sustainable and check every label. If you’re unsure about a fashion brand, find out about it before you purchase a garment.

8.   Choose to buy from sustainable businesses

A sustainable business has special certifications. These include:

-       Sedex: is one of the world’s leading sustainable trade organisations that work with international businesses to improve their working conditions. If a business is a member of Sedex, the organisation helps them operate its business sustainably and source material ethically. It also protects their employees.

-       REACH: Those companies that use chemicals in their printing process are required to register these substances under EU REACH if the volume of the chemical they are using is more that 1 ton per year (t/y). Read our informative blog on fabric certification here.

9.   Beware of microplastic pollution in the fashion industry

No matter how hard we try, we will own fashion items that are made of synthetic fibres, albeit a blend of synthetic and natural materials. For instance, activewear requires a stretch and this is achieved with a blend of synthetic fibres. When you wash those items, thousands of microplastics can be released that land up in our oceans, harming marine life. You can prevent this: make sure you use a special washing bag that will filter out those microplastics when you do your laundry.

10. Know your fabrics

At maake knowing everything about fabrics is a crucial part of our business every single day. Every fashion fabric we use is detailed on our website so that you can find out just how sustainable or natural it is. We also emphasise that the printing methods we use to print on both synthetic and natural materials are as sustainable as possible, and use less water and energy. Sustainable fabrics are certified accordingly. Look for the Global Organic Textile Standard, GOTS, for organic cotton and wool and Oeko-tex®, which is one of the most well-known standards for sustainable fabric certifications. 

We do things differently at maake: More than 10,300 fashion and design businesses have worked with us to introduce sustainable digital textile printing into their brands and many brands have become more visible and have seen an increase in growth in their respected industries as a result. If you’re interested in sustainable printing methods that use less water and energy, as well as green local fashion suppliers and personalised customer service, you’ve come to the right place!

Let’s talk about fast fashion

We all know that mass-produced fashion clothing sold at stores like H&M and Zara is not the best quality. And for good reason. These instant fashion items are not expected to be worn more than a few times, as trends change so quickly. And once there’s a new trend, each one is discarded and replaced. Discarding these fashion items is the reason that so much ends up in landfill, which plays havoc with the environment.

 This is the reason why advocating sustainable fashion, or slow fashion, is so important. Slow fashion items are timeless, classic and are long-lasting, which is the opposite of fast fashion pieces. Making the slow fashion industry more trendy is ongoing, and if we do this, we will be able to reduce unethical fashion production and turn everything around.

What is slow fashion?

Slow fashion is sustainable fashion, high quality fashion pieces created in a sustainable manner. Like fast food, fast fashion is the absolute opposite of slow fashion. It’s important that UK fashion manufacturers stop the production of fast fashion clothing, put a halt to the consumption of fast fashion and keep local fashion sustainable. The way to do this is through designing and producing sustainable fashion pieces, items that will sustain the test of time and won’t be discarded after wearing just a few times. Each one of these fashion items will thus have much less environmental impact than fast fashion, and they won’t end up in landfills like fast fashion does.

Instead of our discarded fast fashion clothes ending up in landfill, it’s important that we rather recycle them. And to lessen the amount of recycled clothing, the fashion industry needs to make pieces more long-wearing, using fabrics that will last longer, like organic cotton, which uses less water to grow than regular cotton, or linen or vegan fabric instead of animal materials as well as other natural materials similar to cotton instead of fast fashion. Every time we buy a fashion item, we need to make a conscious effort to choose a more sustainable option like organic cotton and leave fast fashion on the racks.

Important environmental statistics

For a quick course on environmental issues, take a look at these sobering statistics on textile waste and fast fashion:

  1. A study carried out in 2020 revealed that the UK produces 206.456 tonnes of fabric waste. This made the UK the fourth largest producer of fabric waste in the UK and Europe. That’s an environmental nightmare.
  2. According to another recent study £140 billion worth of fashion clothing is expected to end up in UK landfills by 2050.
  3. That same study shows that by the year 2050, fast fashion will account for 10% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. And that’s before people start discarding those items in landfills.

Follow our lead…

Join us in being sustainable. As printers and textile manufacturers, maake focuses on supplying sustainable products that are produced in an eco-friendly manner. You can trust us. We are the winners of the 2023 Awards for Most Ethical Fabric and Best Custom Printing.

Our focus is on sustainability, and creating a sustainable world where custom fabric printing and sustainable fabric production is green. Every one of the cotton and other natural fabric items we produce and supply is tailored towards being environmentally friendly, which means that we use less water and energy in every process. In addition, to increase our sustainability we only print exactly the amount of fabric you need – no more. We take slow to heart and we avoid fast fashion.

  • We follow a zero waste policy, which means we don’t waste any of the fabric that we print. Any offcuts or excess fabric is given to local charities, schools and other educational establishments so that they can reuse them and there is no environmental impact.
  • Each one of our printing machines are fitted with energy-saving cut-off switches. This way, we create sustainability by reducing energy consumption when the machines are not in use.
  • To lessen environmental impact, the inks we use to print on fabric are all biodegradable inks.
  • We want to share the following about our sustainability: We print on demand, which means that we only print what you need, no more. There is no waste fabric if we can help it.
  • Another sustainability move we make is to source our fashion and other fabrics ethically from UK-trusted mills. By shopping locally, we assist the local economy.
  • For sustainability reasons, we focus on producing our products locally, in our NW London mill.
  • If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, you can even pick up your order from us, instead of us delivering it to you.

Your next steps

Read all about why your fashion business needs to be sustainable right here.

Find out what UK businesses are doing to print more sustainably in this informative blog.

Now that you’ve found out everything about sustainability in fashion textiles, it’s time to work with maake…

  • Get yourself a handy colour atlas, a 1-metre piece of fabric that is printed with more than 2,400 colours. This will give you an excellent idea of what each colour looks like when it’s printed on, as well as the code for each colour. You can use this for the duration of your fashion colour and pattern choices.