Sustainability: it seems like the word on everyone’s lips. As the very, very real effects of climate change begin to not only make headlines but make their presence known, the fashion industry is having to reassess their ecological footprint. Specifically, the textile and clothing industry, second to oil, is the largest polluter in the world. Brought to you in part by fast fashion - the cheap, mediocrely made expressway whose sole purpose is to feed our immediate trendy needs. (Cute clothes on the cheap are hard to say no to, believe me. I’m guilty in this as well.)
And to be honest, as a consumer, any vast plan to save the future of the Earth can quickly seem, well, overwhelming and confusing. But the statistics are deafening and eye-opening. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, of the 15.1 million tons of textile waste generated in 2013, 12.8 million was simply discarded. Daily in Hong Kong alone, 253 tons of clothing and textile are sent to landfills.. Daily. I’m assuming you - like us - want to do your part to curb fashion’s wasteful habits, but where to start? Where to shop? It can be a lot to take in at once, especially when words like "sustainable" can be tossed around very liberally by fast fashion brands, without actual substance to back them up. However, supporting and shopping sustainable brands is one change we can all make that could really turn the tide. But how does one weed out the truly conscious brands from the ones banking off of a “shop green” hype? Well, there are a few key ingredients - for many make the claim, yet only few actually play the game.
First, it is very important to be aware of fabrics and their makeup. Many fast fashion brands stick to the the un-Holy Trinity: polyester, cotton, and elastane. On top of that they use dyes, many of them toxic, often with no regards to the environment. It’s often said that you can predict the “it” colors of next season by the colors of the Chinese rivers, because toxic dyes mills use 200 tons of water for each ton of fabric (about 2.5 billion tons per year) and send it all downstream. So when shopping, look for garments made with responsible materials like linen, alpaca, hemp, organic cotton, deadstock or vintage fabrics, recycled/organic non-mulesed wool, and/or Tencel (lyocell) along with natural or low-impact dyes. If a brand is really all about sustainability, then they will proudly proclaim exactly what materials make their pieces.
Then pay close attention to the brand’s production practices. Sustainable brands take pride in how and where their garments are made. Most of their mission, message, and legitimacy will be found on a brand’s “About” page online, so look at those very carefully. People Tree, for example, has been a fair trade company for 25 years, sourcing the majority of their products from marginalized groups as well as supporting economic independence and environmental stability in developing countries. Buzzwords like “handmade,” “domestic manufacturing,” “environmental responsibility,” along with accreditations and foundation partnerships are tell-tale signs of an ethically sustainable brand, as is an emphasis on transparency; Reformation even hosts free tours of their factory in LA on the first Friday of every month.
Nearly all of the sincerely sustainable brands have one or both of these traits in common. But it’s important to remember that fashion sustainability is also subjective. Each person will find their own way to reduce waste, be it by shopping secondhand, ethically disposing of unwanted clothes, breaking up with fast fashion, or supporting sustainable brands. It’s all about adapting to what works best for you, just as long as the goal is to make a change (no matter how small). The consumer votes with the almighty dollar, and I think it’s about we give sustainability - and Mother Earth - ours.