Did you know that the fashion industry contributes almost 10 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions? It also is responsible for about one-fifth of the world’s wastewater.
These impacts raise the question: Can there be sustainability in fashion? The answer is not “yes” or “no,” but to what extent our individual decisions push the needle one way or the other.
Remember when “free range” eggs were hard to find? Now, every supermarket carries them.
That is due to one thing: consumer demand. The choices we make can and will have an impact on the products that companies offer.
The key is being informed. This article covers the major threats to sustainability in the fashion industry, as well as some of the best practices and products that help the planet. Keep reading to find out more.
What Is Sustainability?
“Sustainability” can have different definitions. One can be a balance between equity, economic, and environmental issues.
In terms of the fashion industry, a very basic understanding would be practices that do not harm people, animals, or the planet. Conversely, “sustainability” can mean products and production methods that help the planet and/or its occupants.
Often, “sustainability” is referenced as a matter of degree. For instance, using materials that need less water to produce is more “sustainable” than those that demand a lot of irrigation.
What Threatens Sustainability in Fashion?
It may be easier to start by identifying some products and practices that threaten sustainability in fashion. Here are two of the main ones.
The Use of Animal Products
One of the biggest threats to sustainability in fashion is the use of animal products. These include leather, which comes from the skin of various animals, as well as glues made from animal collagen.
Besides harming animals, these products rely on a great deal of land, feed, and water. They also produce a huge amount of waste byproducts that have the potential to contaminate underground aquifers. Also, treating animal waste is very energy- and water-intensive.
The Use of Non-Recyclable Products
At some point, every article of clothing and set of shoes will wear out. When it does, you either must recycle it or send it to a landfill.
The widespread use of materials that you cannot recycle is problematic for the fashion industry. According to the United Nations’ Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, every second the equivalent of one garbage truck full of textiles goes to landfills or is burned. This staggering statistic illustrates the need to move away from clothing that is not reusable.
What Supports Fashion Sustainability?
Besides avoiding the practices above, there are products and production methods that you can seek out to improve sustainability further. Here are a few of the most important ones to consider.
One of the biggest environmental impacts of the fashion industry is shipping. Buying local eliminates the need to transport freight over long distances and from overseas.
Independent retailers also rarely rely on large production facilities, the other leading cause of greenhouse gases in fashion production. Many products are handmade or constructed on a smaller scale. This also shifts production from industrial to personal means, which supports workers as well.
This has the added benefit of eliminating the prospect of supporting unfair labor practices. Unfortunately, much of the fashion industry’s wealth is built on cheap, overseas labor. This is exploitative to populations who have little negotiating power.
Buying local helps the environment, as well as the people in your own communities. It is an easy way to increase economic and environmental sustainability.
Buy Clothes That Last Longer
Landfills are full of old clothes and shoes that have worn out. Nothing lasts forever, but buying products that are durable and built well will keep you from having to replace them so often.
This also is a matter of convenience and economics. While it may be tempting in the short term to fill your closet with bargains, it makes more economic sense to spend a bit more on clothes that will last two or three times as long.
Also, quality clothes just look better. So, you get the added benefit of combining style with sustainability.
Buy Clothes That Use Sustainable Materials
Biocouture, or fashion made from more sustainable materials, is increasing. More retailers are offering clothes that use fabrics and other components that have less impact on the environment. Independent retailers that embrace these practices are easier than ever to find online and are a great alternative to big box stores selling unsustainable products.
Even materials that do not harm animals can vary in their level of sustainability. For instance, acrylic, nylon, polyester, rubber, and spandex are all synthetic fabrics developed using petroleum. They also need large amounts of chemicals and water to produce.
Petroleum-based materials are not only bad for the environment in production but disposal as well. They are extremely toxic to the soil and water resources, and can be difficult to dispose of properly.
Cotton is not petroleum-based, but it does require a lot of pesticides and irrigation to produce. Cork is a more sustainable alternative to rubber. However, cork bark is much more efficient at absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. For this reason, there has been some pushback on how much cork we use in the fashion industry.
Hemp is becoming increasingly popular in fashion. Industrial hemp has been around for thousands of years and was one of the most prominent fibers in Asia, Europe, and North America for hundreds of years. It is very easy to grow and restores nutrients to the soil, not achievable by other plants.
Unlike many sustainable materials, hemp has the added benefit of being durable and long-lasting. This means you can buy hemp shoes that both come from plant-based products and that you do not have to replace for a long time.
Find Quality Sustainable Fashion
Now that you understand how to achieve sustainability in fashion, you can feel good knowing that you are buying products and supporting companies that share your values. With a little bit of time and effort, you can look great while helping make the planet a better place.
FootHemp is dedicated to providing high-quality hemp footwear at competitive prices. Check out our online inventory of men’s and women's vegan footwear, and please feel free to reach out to us with any questions you might have.