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The fast fashion industry has become one of the biggest culprits in harming the environment and perpetuating unsafe working conditions that exploit garment workers over the years. Some of the biggest brands we’re all familiar with have contributed largely to systems of exploitation and wastefulness which have impacted us much more than we think.
Climate change has become an increasingly alarming and devastating issue, and fast fashion and its massive carbon footprint have contributed a lot to this. From the huge amounts of harmful chemicals used in their manufacturing processes that find their way into local communities’ water supply to the tonnes of discarded clothing that end up in landfills around the world, this billion-dollar industry’s true environmental impact is absolutely devastating.
Because of the calamitous impact the fast fashion industry has had all over the world, the importance of sustainable fashion has become not just an important discussion, but an urgent movement against the destructive methods of the industry. From its supply chain to its consumers, the sustainable fashion and slow fashion movement is helping change how we view and consume the clothing we wear for the better.
So how does sustainable fashion help the environment? Here are some of the most important and life-changing ways that brands in sustainable fashion are helping the planet and people.
Fast fashion has wreaked absolute havoc upon the environment, with 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, 20% of global water consumption and waste, and 92 million tonnes of clothing waste generated throughout their production each year worldwide. If the fashion industry continues this reckless cycle of depleting finite resources, their environmental impacts will soon be — if they aren’t already — irreversible.
Sustainable fashion, also known as slow fashion, on the other hand has a significantly more positive impact on the environment, as the entire idea of slow fashion is to create a circular system that directly combats that of fast fashion. The sustainable fashion industry utilises and prioritises sustainable materials and sustainable practices when making the clothes we wear, creating fashion items that create less waste and are much more eco-friendly.
While the first thing many people consider when it comes to sustainable fashion is its impact on the environment and our natural resources, it’s also important to keep in mind that sustainability is also about people.
The dirt-cheap prices of clothing from fast fashion brands is due in part to the incredibly low wages given to the people who make them. Large fashion brands regularly exploit workers in developing countries for cheap labour in its production, with many brands fostering unsafe and desperate conditions that involve abuse, child labour, and inadequate wages.
To slow fashion down helps workers in such a big way. The ethical fashion movement is a huge part of sustainable fashion as it fights for the rights of workers who create clothing by providing them with sustainable, humane working conditions, healthcare, and liveable wages that help keep families fed and children in school and out of factories.
The fast fashion industry is responsible for the unbelievably quick turnover of modern trends today, otherwise known as microtrends. With large fashion brands creating new releases every single day, it’s almost impossible to keep up with the ever-quickening pace of the current fashion landscape.
While trends are a natural part of fashion evolution, this fast-paced nature of modern trends is completely unnatural and incredibly wasteful, as it encourages consumers to discard clothes that haven’t even come close to the end of their life cycle simply because they’re deemed “out of fashion,” making clothes less seem less valuable.
Slow fashion, another term used for sustainable fashion, quite literally slows down this process by discouraging trends through timeless and durable pieces and by encouraging us to wear our garments until they’re worn out.
While the absence of trendy clothing may sound unappealing to those that love fashion trends, this is actually a great way for us to develop personal style. Instead of following all the latest trends that pop up then disappear, sustainable fashion pushes us to be more creative and individual with the clothes we own.
So instead of following the current trends, you can discover new resources of inspiration that promote mindful and sustainable practices.
The fashion industry is notorious for its exploitation of workers who create their clothes. While millions of people around the world are given employment through garment work, the conditions that they find themselves in are often inhumane and unsafe.
From health and safety violations to unlivable wages that lead to child labour and even deaths, these workers are incredibly overworked and underpaid while being expected to meet demands and unrealistic daily quotas.
Ethical brands promote ethical working conditions through fair wages, fair trade, and safe work spaces while providing clothing that is even more quality than that of fast fashion brands. By enforcing labour laws and prioritising the well-being of their workers during the production process, slow fashion creates better clothing and better, more sustainable methods of manufacturing that benefits all.
The impact of the fashion industry on the environment has been devastating, with fashion being one of the largest contributors to climate change. In fast fashion, it takes about 2,700 litres of water to create a single t-shirt and another 7,600 litres to make a pair of jeans, while synthetic fibres and other non-degrading materials used in that t-shirt and pair of jeans will stay in landfills for thousands of years.
Slow fashion is largely a fight against climate change and the unnecessary wastefulness of the current fashion industry. Sustainable fashion creates eco-friendly clothes through the use of eco-friendly materials like organic cotton, recycled polyester, and other recycled materials.
Instead of creating a fashion product from entirely new materials, sustainable fashion chooses to repurpose perfectly usable materials that would have otherwise been discarded and give them new and extended lives.
Many brands in fashion also use an inordinate amount of animal products in their clothes, with the fur and leather industries killing over 430 million animals each year. Sustainable brands around the world are fighting this through incredibly innovative ways, however.
For every commonly used material in fashion today, sustainable fashion has found new resources that provide eco-friendly and quality substitutes, like recycled polyester created from ocean waste, bags created from recycled seatbelts, sneakers made from plant-based, compostable materials, leather made from pineapple (Piñatex), and many, many more.
In the same manner fast fashion harms our world in so many different ways, sustainable fashion provides an equal amount — if not more — of benefits for the environment, people, and the garments themselves.
Sustainable clothing created through the slow fashion process is much more durable thanks to the good-quality materials and careful attention placed on them by workers who are treated fairly. By being more mindful of the production process, sustainable fashion brands can extend the life cycle of each piece through reusing and recycling.
In addition to durability, the quality materials used in sustainable fashion are thoughtfully used to help the environment. Recycling materials prolongs their life and keeps them out of landfills for as long as possible, while finding and using new resources for sustainable clothes avoids the wasteful and toxic processes that commonly used materials currently require.
With sustainable fashion, consumers also relearn the value of their clothing. Fast fashion has influenced the way we view clothing so that with every new trend that comes along, we can spend more money on pieces that were only meant to last until the next new trend wave. Sustainable fashion and slow fashion, through their prioritisation of quality and timelessness, give us clothing that we can wear for a very long time.
While the current methods of the fashion industry provide us with convenient clothing that looks good and saves us some money in the moment, they do so much more harm for us and others in the long run.
While the majority of the responsibility for change lies on the shoulders of the big brands of the fashion world, you can also make a difference and contribute to sustainability by supporting slow fashion and everything it stands for.