EDGE shares this perspective on sustainable fashion from The Insatiable Margin.
Sustainababble refers to not only the increased frequency of the word ‘sustainable’ in recent years, but also the plethora of meanings it has adopted over time. Sustainable means different things to different people, so how do we know if we’re even talking about the same thing anymore? Below are a few definitions of sustainability that I feel capture its meaning well:
- Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs
- Never having to say you’re sorry to the future
- The capacity to endure
Sustainable design and development can be utilized in any product category, but let’s discuss how it applies to the fashion industry. How can we create a sustainable t-shirt? There are many ways to do this, but the only way to achieve real change is by using a holistic approach and life cycle thinking. It requires that we acknowledge the life of a garment both before and after our personal interaction with it.
So, it’s time to become acquainted with the triple bottom line. We are all familiar with the bottom line as it refers to profitability, but when sustainability is the goal we must also factor in social and environmental impacts and resources. How does producing a t-shirt impact individuals, communities, and society at large? How does it affect the planet’s resources and their ability to renew? After that same t-shirt has worked its way out of your closet, how is it disposed of and what happens to its component parts? Does it degrade and return to the soil or does it maintain its form for all eternity? Can it be recycled into something new?
Sustainable fashion considers these questions and seeks out the best solutions available. This certainly complicates the design process: instead of focusing all your energy on picking a color for that t-shirt, suddenly you’re considering what fibers have the lowest environmental footprint, if the yarns you use can be recycled into a new product later on, whether the factory you use has taken steps to reduce its carbon footprint and provide a living wage for its workers, how to build a zero-waste pattern for the shirt, whether you’ll package it in plastic bags or a plant-based bag, what kind of fuel is used in the trucks that transport your garment to the warehouse… and those questions only scratch the surface.
If so much extra work is necessary in order to make fashion sustainable, why do we even bother? To start, the textile and fashion industry uses more water than every industry besides agriculture. Each year, 30 million tons of textiles and clothing are produced across the globe. In that same amount of time, the American consumer buys 68 new garments and disposes of more than 65 pounds of clothing. If we head back to the definitions of sustainability, it’s easy to see where there’s a discrepancy. Can this kind of consumption and disposal endure? Will future generations be able to meet their needs if they’re forced to deal with the cumulation of our clothing waste? Looks like we might want to stock up on ‘I’m Sorry’ cards for our grand-kids…
The first step on the road to sustainable fashion is to start asking these questions. As consumers, this means getting curious about where we shop.
- Do your favorite brands mention anything about sustainability in their mission statements?
- Do they have any goals for decreasing their impact on the environment or improving the way they interact with their stakeholders?
Ask! There are so many brands working on really innovative projects and all you have to do is check out their website to learn more.