What is sustainable fashion and how do we shop sustainably?

Sustainable fashion isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when one considers the sustainable lifestyle (ie the ‘target’ lifestyle that can be maintained within the finite resources this planet holds) – in fact sustainable fashion sounds almost like a gimmick – but the fashion industry’s environmental footprint has been under the spotlight for several years, for a number of reasons.  One is the environmental cost of producing certain materials – for example cotton, which requires at least seven cubic metres of water for each kilogram of material and, according to a 2018 report, consumes 12% of all pesticides applied worldwide.  Synthetic fibres are arguably far worse because they don’t biodegrade readily.  Another is the “throw-away” culture that is said to have resulted from chain stores producing loss-leading garments like T-shirts for under £5.  If you can replace an item of clothing for £5, the argument goes, you won’t think twice about chucking it away, and you’ll probably want to chuck it away before long if it’s made on the cheap out of low-grade materials.  In Britain we spend around £50 billion per year on clothing – and that is over a million tonnes of material but, worse still, we throw away an incredible 300,000 tonnes.  It has been calculated that in 2017, 235 million items of clothing ended up as landfill.

Towards sustainable clothing

So, what can consumers do to minimise their contribution to this problem?  There are several things.  Firstly, look after your clothes; follow the care instructions and don’t use them inappropriately (That hiking trip wearing the Dior ball gown? Forget it!).  Secondly, before disposal, consider instead whether a repair could give a garment a new lease of life.  Until relatively recently it was the norm to repair a garment at least once (incidentally Patagonia, the high-end outdoor wear company, guarantees that it will repair its products free of charge and employs a team of seamstresses to do this).  All towns have someone who can do this.  Thirdly, make sure that when clothes are really beyond repair that they get recycled and, finally, shop sustainably! 

So, in this throwaway world, what is sustainable fashion and how do we shop sustainably?   

How to shop designer wear sustainably

The first step, but perhaps not the most obvious one, is to lose the mindset that a garment has to be purchased new in the high street.  We’ve been bombarded with advertising to persuade us this is a great idea but there’s a better option.  Making and disposing of items, whatever they are, has an environmental cost (remember that statistic about cotton and water in the first paragraph?), and when it comes to clothing there’s a superb alternative – pre-owned designer and other, pre-owned, high-quality garments. And this choice overlaps nicely with the next step on the road to buying sustainable fashion: look for quality; that’s materials, design and stitching that will withstand years of wear (more on this in the next feature).  Most of the famous-name design houses take pride in producing garments that will look good on the fiftieth outing, not just the first, and the great news is that these items are more likely to be made of biodegradable fibres such as wool, linen, silk, cotton and cashmere, and choosing these fibres is the third step.  In summary:

  • Look for pre-owned
  • Look for good quality and, ideally,
  • Look for biodegradable fibres - the ‘classic’ materials

 Pre-owned designer?  Also referred to as pre-loved designer, you know it’s out there because you’re on this website.   In our next feature we discuss how to source pre-owned designer and how to judge the quality of a garment.  We also explain why it’s ok to have ten sweaters, not just three!

Why be part of eco-vandalism when you could be dressed to impress in pre-loved designer?

You might also find this article interesting.