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  • Writer's pictureMichaela A de Guire

What is sustainable fashion?

Updated: Apr 16, 2023

So, you understand what sustainability is in general. But do you know and understand what sustainable fashion is?

Sustainability is to defend, maintain, advance and transform the things that matter most.

With such a large world, so much earth spreading for what seems like miles on end and an industry so far reaching, from coast to coast and back again, it’s easy to believe that your small, individual decision to live a more sustainable life has no major implications. No matter how small or unmeaningful you think your decision was yesterday, or today, your choice made a world of difference. As you work to live a more sustainable life, you are inspiring others to do the same.

Sustainable fashion has been around for a good 50 years now, it started back in the 60’s and 70’s with the hippies and all their “all-natural” take on life. It was because of the hippies second hand clothing became a big movement too. Although sustainable fashion has been around for a while now, it didn’t really take off until the early 2000’s.

Kate Fletcher coined the term slow fashion, she said, “Slow fashion is about choice, information, cultural diversity, identity, as well as balance, durability, and long-term quality products. Slow Fashion is about designing, producing, consuming and living better.”

I couldn’t agree with Kate on this topic any more then I do today. I believe you can look stylish and amazing while wearing sustainable attire. I also believe that our clothes should outlive us. But we haven’t enough education or experience in caring for and mending what we have now to have them outlive us. I also believe to have our clothing out live us, we need to purchase higher quality pieces.

I know as women our bodies are ever changing, from pre motherhood, pregnancy, to post motherhood. Our favorite sweater might not fit us in every stage of our life, but we do not have to be the only wearer of our clothes to say they have outlived us. Maybe we pass them down to our daughters, granddaughters, or a stranger in need.

Sustainable fashion is a movement, similar to the Green Movement, except specifically regarding fashion. It is a movement to cultivate meaningful change in the fashion industry by focusing on reducing, reusing, and recycling the things we have, while simultaneously working towards a higher social justice. Sustainable Fashion is more than mere textiles and products, it is us as consumers, wearers of the end product, and designers and manufacturing plants working together and aiming higher to create a circular, symbolic system that reduces the horrifying effects of the large scale human consumption, fast fashion.

There used to be about five seasons in the fashion industry. Back in Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Christian Dior’s time there was SSI (Spring/Summer one), S/SII, FWI (Fall/Winter), F/WII, and Resort, each one released in their designated time. For example, Resort was released just after Christmas, usually in January for any holidays or vacations in the warmer climates, thus, you could purchase swimwear in January, even with the three feet of snow on the ground.

Today we have as many as fifty-two micro seasons in any given year. With the increase in “seasons”, sacrifices have to be made to keep up with the higher demand for clothes. Thus, we see careless production, endless consumption, people hurt, and the one place God has left in our care, the earth, and it hurts nearly beyond repair.

“Sustainability is to defend, maintain, advance and transform the things that matter most.” - Michaela de Guire

With clothes playing such a large role in our day to day lives, working to have and maintain a sustainable style is one of the easiest and most accessible ways to enact positive change in the world today. The fast fashion industry is based on materialism. I am certain God does not want us to place something above him, this is called idolatry in the Catholic faith. And, the fashion industry is not friendly to those who seek longevity and sustainable clothes, but it is not impossible.

Clothes used to be made in the home they were to be worn in. Mothers would sew the household clothes, daughters would learn from them to create beautiful clothes and hand-me-downs were a regular thing.

Then, clothes were made in a fashion house, by fashion designers. Curated to your specific body. Made only to your measurements, with the finest materials. The city dwellers had the latest styles first, while country people wore their clothes till they were threadbare.

Today, clothes are designed in one country, manufactured in another, and sold across the globe. There is nothing personal about it. They are made cheaply. Both the materials they are made from and the rate in which they are made is unsustainable. The fashion industry as it stands today is not sustainable in itself. We have already witnessed toxic chemical spills, sweatshops, and manufacturing plants come crashing down, killing thousands of people. If you don’t believe me, watch “The True Cost” documentary. It goes in depth and explains how the fast fashion industry is unsustainable and the ways it is harming the earth.

There are fashion companies out there working toward eliminating the toxins and producing their clothes in clean and safe manufacturing plants. Some go so far as using organic textiles. A few places I shop that have a rather sustainable system include Duluth Trading, Pact, Eileen Fisher, Rothy’s, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Vetta and Sezane.

A few terms you should be aware of when looking into a company to know if they are sustainable include (but are not limited to):

Zero Waste: refers to the use of all materials at their fullest capacity. Thus, there is no waste.

Ethical: is social and environmental, the environmental side refers to the planet during the production process, while the social bit refers to the uplifting of working conditions for the people within production.

Vegan / Cruelty Free: No animals were harmed during the process of making this end product for you to use. No animal testing occurred throughout the whole process, including the research faze, and it was made with no animal byproducts.

Recycling / Upcycled: refers to the production of existing clothing in circulation that is repurposed into new items. This does occur in both post industry and post consumer waste. Post industry refers to the reuse of the scraps of fabrics and fibers for another purpose within the manufacturing plant. While, the post consumer refers to the end product being used by the consumer specifically and either turned into something new or sent to be recycled.

Small Batch: refers to the fact that the garments are manufactured in small production runs, which typically runs between 30-500 units. Thus, once sold out, depending on the consumer's demand, the company will make a second batch, eliminating over production (thus, waste).

Closed - Loop: refers to the manufacturing of the garments, from raw fiber to fabric and beyond. It can refer to a fabric manufacturer keeping the chemicals used to produce the fabric to recycle the chemicals within the walls of the manufacturing plant. It can also refer to a design and production method that works to keep clothes in circulation for as long as possible (aka circular design).

There are many more terms that are used in the fashion industry to watch out for in regards to sustainable fashion in which I will bring to you in a future blog post. In the meantime, I encourage you to check a few of your favorite companies and see which ones are actually working towards a better life.

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