The impact your clothing has on the environment has made sustainability in fashion topical - and for good reason. Until now, the fashion industry has had a bad reputation when it comes to producing sustainable garments 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 to help make this a possibility. 

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

What is sustainability in fashion today?

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

In a 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 people frown upon the fashion industry. As a result, some brands have done their utmost to make a difference by practising ‘carbon offsetting’ (reducing or removing the greenhouse gas and carbon emissions to reduce their carbon footprints). 

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

The way people do this is by cutting emissions (eg by restoring forests) and reducing waste and pollution. It's also important to support biodiversity (protect every life form on the planet) and ensure that we pay people who work in the industry a fair salary and make sure they work in safe conditions.

Why sustainability in fashion is so important for clothing production

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

Called ‘The United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action’, it’s a commitment by fashion and textile businesses to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and address their roles in climate change. 

The UN Fashion Charter has also committed to halving their emissions by 2030, a mere 8 years away.

The importance of sustainability in fashion

·      Currently, we use very unsustainable production methods: Around the world people dump one truck-full of textile waste at a landfill every second. (Just so you know, ‘textile waste’ is waste that factories create in every phase of manufacturing fabric, from spinning and weaving to dyeing the material and making the item of clothing.) 

To address this, companies are now trying to produce fashion clothes using sustainable fabrics. They create these materials from start to finish in a more eco friendly manner. This means they make sure that they don't use harmful chemicals in any of the processes, so that they don't 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 a business does, from the types of fabric it uses to make the garments to the way it makes them.

We should do All of these processes with biodegradable materials that we don't treat chemically. They should also use water and clean energy to reduce fossil fuels when manufacturing as well as no pesticides or fertilisers.

·      Workers have low salaries, poor working conditions and long hours

Currently, statistics show that just 2% of workers in this industry worldwide make a decent, liveable wage. This is because many fashion brands produce clothing in developing countries where they pay their workers ridiculously low wages and make them work extremely long hours. 

A sustainable fashion industry would ensure that they pay workers who do anything in the fashion manufacturing process fair wages and give them safe, healthy working conditions. 

10 ways to make a difference to sustainability in fashion

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

1.   Buy fashion that is ethical and fair trade

 These examples of sustainable fashion brands. They involve making sure that they treat those who work in the industry fairly and pay them properly. 

We’re talking about decent working hours and wages, safe, clean working conditions, sustainable methods of manufacture of fabrics and garments – and no child labour.

2.   Make sure that you choose sustainable fashion garments

This means that factories make both the fabric and the clothes sustainably. The methods use should not create waste or harm the environment. Unfortunately, the fashion industry is a long way from achieving this. 

But sustainable businesses are taking heed and choosing environmentally friendly, biodegradable, natural fibres like organic cotton and more sustainable manufacturing methods.

3.     Buy vintage fashion items

Giving fashion a second life is a sustainable thing to do. Whether you pick up something old, or a garment that someone has gently worn, pre-loved garments are a great addition to your wardrobe.

You can prolong the life of a garment or transform into something else entirely – the fabric gets a second life and the garment will be new and unique. 

We call buying second-hand clothes buying ‘upcycled fashion’. This indicates that you are reusing or repurposing a garment in some way to make something wearable. This is a great way of using something that would otherwise land up in landfill.

4.     Choose ‘circular fashion’

Circular fashion is fashion items that we make from materials that we sustainably recycle. This means that fashion has gone full circle and we have reproduced it in another form. 

Recycled polyester (rPET) is a perfect example of this – factories create the polyester fabric out of plastic bottles that people have discarded.

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 clothes sustainably so that you don’t use too much energy or washing detergents that contain harmful chemicals. The more carefully you wash these garments, the longer they will last.

6.   Buy less fashion – and buy quality items

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

-       Why am I buying this?

-       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.   Don't let anyone fool you

If someone says 'greenwashing', this does not mean that you're washing your clothes in green detergent. Rather, it means that someone is trying to fool you into buying a garment that isn't sustainable. And that's something you don't want. You want clothing sustainability in fashion.

Choose brands that you know are sustainable and check the labels. If you’re unsure about a brand, find out about it before you purchase a garment.

8.   Choose to buy from sustainable businesses

Those businesses that are sustainable have special certifications. These include:

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

-       REACH: Companies that use chemicals in their printing process have 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). 

9.   Be careful of microplastic pollution

Sadly, no matter how hard we try, most of us own fashion garments that factories make out of synthetic fibres, albeit a blend of synthetic and natural materials. For instance, activewear fabric needs to have stretch and the manufacturers achieve this by blending different synthetic fibres. 

When you wash those garments, thousands of microplastics release into the water. These 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 very important part of our business. We explain every single fabric that we use in detail on our website so that you can find out just how natural or sustainable in fashion it is. 

We also emphasise that the printing methods we use to print on both synthetic and natural materials are as sustainable as possible. 

Sustainable fabrics are certified accordingly. Look for the Global Organic Textile Standard, GOTS, for cotton and wool and Oeko-tex®, which is one of the most well-known standards for sustainable fabric certifications. 

At maake we do things differently: More than 10,000 businesses have worked with us to introduce sustainable digital textile printing into their brand. That's our major contribution to sustainability in fashion.

Many have become more visible and have seen an increase in growth in their respected industries as a result. We can assist you if you want to find out about how to print sustainably, or would like a list of ethical local suppliers, we can assist. And our personalised customer service is legendary, too.

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October 24, 2022 — Artemis Doupa