How do we define sustainable fashion?

As Anna Brismar writes:

”Most actors today agree that our modern society has to develop in more sustainable ways. This includes how we produce and consume clothing, shoes, accessories and other textiles. Virtually all major clothing companies in Sweden today have a work in progress in the area of ​​sustainability, particularly in the production phase, but also increasingly at the user level to encourage increased reuse and recycling. At major clothing companies, CSR managers and sustainabilty heads today openly discuss how they work to realign their business models, production processes and store concepts towards improved sustainability.”

Despite the growing interest in sustainability issues within the fashion industry, writes Anna Brismar, currently there is no common definition of what sustainable fashion actually means. Make it last uses Green Strategy’s definition of “more sustainable fashion” as a starting point:
“More sustainable fashion can be defined as clothing, shoes and accessories that are manufactured, marketed and used in the most sustainable manner possible, taking into account both environmental and socio-economic aspects. In practice, this implies continuous work to improve all stages of the product’s life cycle, from design, raw material production, manufacturing, transport, storage, marketing and final sale, to use, reuse, repair, remake and recycling of the product and its components.

From an environmental perspective, the aim should be to minimize any undesirable environmental effect of the product’s life cycle by: (a) ensuring efficient and careful use of natural resources (water, energy, land, soil, animals, plants, biodiversity, ecosystems, etc); (b) selecting renewable energy sources (wind, solar, etc) at every stage, and (c) maximizing repair, remake, reuse, and recycling of the product and its components. From a socio-economic perspective, all stakeholders should work to improve present working conditions for workers on the field, in the factories, transportation chain, and stores, by aligning with good ethics, best practice and international codes of conduct. In addition, fashion companies should contribute to encourage more sustainable consumption patterns, caring and washing practices, and overall attitudes to fashion.” (Green Strategy, June 2014)

Anna Brismar continues:

“Sustainable fashion is thus partly about producing clothes, shoes and accessories in environmentally and socio-economically sustainable manners, but also about more sustainable patterns of consumption and use, which necessitate shifts in individual attitudes and behaviour. However, there are many ways for fashion companies to offer a more sustainable fashion, and for consumers to consume more sustainably. Green Strategy has identified seven forms of more sustainable fashion from both a producer and consumer perspective.”

7 forms of sustainable fashion

Make it last contributor Anna Brismar of Green Strategy has defined seven forms of sustainable fashion of which Make it last consider:

“Sustainable fashion is today a highly debated and increasingly covered topic in media and at seminars worldwide. More and more clothing companies are transforming their business models and improving their supply chains to reduce overall environmental impacts, improve social conditions in factories, etc. We also see a growing awareness among consumers, especially younger generations. (It may be added that some individuals rightly question whether the word “sustainable” should in fact be used in relation to the fashion industry, which by definition relies on fast consumption. A better term may thus be more sustainable fashion.)

When we learn about “sustainable fashion”, we soon realize that there are many forms of (more) sustainable fashion. Some actors and individuals emphasize the importance of making clothes in a more environmentally friendly manner, while others advocate secondhand/vintage or underline the benefits of swapping, renting or borrowing clothes as opposed to purchasing newly produced clothes. All strategies promoting more environmentally, socially and ethically concious production and consumption are important steps towards a more sustainable industry. Green Strategy has identified seven main forms of more sustainable fashion production and consumption, as seen in the figure below.”

Seven-forms-of-sustainable-fashion-20141

Anna Brismar continues:

“Ideally, all aspects of the figure above should be combined for every new garment produced. Each fabric should hence be produced in an environmentally and ethically dignified manner (see no. 1 and 5), then demanded by customers in specific designs (no. 7), manufactured in high quality (no. 6), used carefully and redesigned to lengthen its life (no. 4) and then re-used repeatedly by new individuals through remake, secondhand, rental or swapping (2 and 3). When the garment is completely worn out, it should be handed to a collection point for recycling of the textile or fiber material, which can hence be reused for the manufacturing of new clothes and other textile products.

The figure thus shows seven forms of sustainable fashion from a consumer and producer perspective. Although ideally, clothes and other fashion products should be produced and consumed in the manner described above, in reality this is not the case yet. What we rather should seek, is that every individual tries to find his or her form(s) of more sustainable fashion. All forms do not necessarily suit all people equally well because we all have different needs and preferences. Some individuals – usually younger – prefer to experiment with and renew their wardrobes often; using “Second hand & Vintage”, “Redesign, Repair & Upcycle” and “Rent, Loan & Swap” would possibly be of most interest. For people who prefer newly manufactured clothes without history and who has a consistent style, “On demand” and “High quality & Timeless design” are likely to be most attractive.

Whether one prefers to renew the wardrobe often or more sporadically, “Green & Clean” and “Fair & Ethical” are important choices when purchasing new clothing. Buying new clothes that are manufactured in an environmentally and socially/ethically concious manner is something we all should aspire as much as possible, although it may entail a somewhat higher price tag.”

For more on this subject, visit Green Strategy.