Sustainable fashion considers the environmental, social and health impact of the design, manufacture and disposal of clothing, footwear and accessories, with the aim to minimise any adverse effects of the industry. This approach encourages the purchase of fewer items of better quality, products made from recycled and environmentally-friendly materials, and appropriate recycling and disposal of fashion at the end of its useful life. Fast fashion, on the other hand, focuses on quick manufacturing, with a view to producing inexpensive, current and short-lived fashion for sale by large retailers. The intention with fast fashion is that it can be affordably replaced by the next fashion trend as soon as it arises.
The impact of fast fashion is a huge amount of:
- raw materials used to create textiles
- energy and water expenditure in the production of fashion
- pollution as a result of textile manufacturing, including dying and washing and associated residual microplastics in our waterways
- unfair conditions and wages for foreign and local workers
- clothing, footwear and accessories sent to landfill (73 million tonnes globally per year), often having barely been worn.
Is your fashion sustainable?
Considering the sustainability of every piece of clothing, footwear or accessory you buy can be challenging. An easy way around this is to consider different aspects of your fashion purchases and to support businesses that take a sustainable approach to fashion.
The cost of a fashion item can tell a lot about its story. If a t-shirt costs five dollars and has been manufactured overseas and shipped to Australia, how much has the person who assembled the item been paid while still allowing the retailer to make a profit? Bulk purchasing items simply because they are cheap results in an overflowing closet, which leads to waste, as we either get rid of items or let them sit unused. Spending a little more on your clothing will encourage you to think about whether or not you really want or need it, will get you better quality items that will last, and will reduce waste and exploitation of workers in Australia and abroad.
A five dollar t-shirt is rarely made to last. You are far better off buying well-made clothes, shoes and accessories that will last for years, rather than cheaper goods that may not last. Buy quality products to protect the environment and worker conditions, save money and create a wardrobe of clothes you truly like and wear regularly.
Synthetic materials like polyester, nylon and acrylic contain plastic that can take up to 1,000 years to decompose and remains in our environment as microplastics. Chemicals used to produce synthetic materials end up in our waterways and the vast majority (approximately 80%) of clothing currently ends up in landfill. Choose a more sustainable wardrobe by looking for natural fabrics such as wool, or clothing and shoes made from recycled products such as plastic bottles.
Check the labels when shopping to see whether the brand is committed to responsible practices. Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) provides ethical accreditation for Australian-made clothing companies who ensure all workers throughout their supply chain receive fair wages and decent working conditions.
Buying from Ethical Clothing Australia accredited businesses has the added benefit of supporting the local economy and employment, and minimising energy expenditure and emissions associated with transportation.
How to shop sustainably for fashion – 5 questions to ask
1. Do you really need it?
Avoid, reduce, reuse, recycle. Better than recycling your clothing, shoes and accessories is minimising the amount that you buy in the first place. Do you need another black top, or skirt, or pair of trousers? Do you already have a similar piece of clothing at home? Do you like this new item better than an item you already own? If you're not sure, if you can't remember, then chances are you already have more clothing than you need. Often when we cannot find something to wear, it's because we have too many clothes to choose from rather than not enough. Simplify and minimise your wardrobe and your choices will be easier.
2. Was your clothing made by a brand with ethical accreditation?
Buy your clothes and footwear from accredited companies to support sustainable fashion and encourage other businesses to obtain ethical accreditation. There is even an ethical clothing app that allows you to check the rating of a brand, find more ethical brands, and deals on the best rated brands.
3. Is the fashion made from recycled or environmentally friendly materials?
Wherever possible, choose clothing that's made from recycled or environmentally friendly materials. These products will have less negative impact on our waterways, air and soil once you have finished using them. Even better, buy second-hand clothing from charity shops and second-hand stores.
4. How are your fashion purchases packaged?
Do your fashion purchases have excess packaging? This can be particularly relevant when buying online. Choose products with less packaging, and remember to take reusable shopping bags from home rather than use single-use plastic bags.
5. Could you recycle some of your clothes?
If your wardrobe truly needs a refresh and shopping is unavoidable, is it time to recycle your older clothes? Clothing in good condition can be given to friends and family, taken to your local charity or second-hand stores, or sold through online forums.