A Quick Guide to Ethical Fashion: What is Sustainably Made Clothing?
Sustainability. Once a niche market industry now, an actual fashion trend. Gone are the days where sustainable fashion meant luxury or lack of accessibility to average income shoppers. It’s a popular word among the fashion industry and a concept that is changing the way we may shop for clothing.
The goal of sustainably made clothing is to not only look good in the clothes we wear but, feel good about the sustainable consumption choices that benefit the overall benefit to the environment.
Sustainably made clothing goes far beyond boycotting fast fashion. There’s a desperate need for a political and legal change and every day, we as consumers can make a difference. However, we need to hold ourselves accountable, and be knowledgeable, about the sustainable fashion industry before we start choosing where to spend our money or, telling other people where to spend their money.
To be honest, just because you buy “green” fashion or boycott fast fashion, it doesn’t solve the underlying problem. At the end of the day, we are given a choice.
Sustainably made fashion should be a choice, and a practice, of choosing between the right products and understanding the reasons behind your choice plus, understanding the impact your dollar makes to someone else’s life and the environment.
There are many avenues and global perspectives of sustainably made clothing within ethical fashion. In this post, you will learn:
- What is Sustainably Made Clothing
- Eco-Friendly Fabrics
- Country of Origin for Clothing
- Why sustainable and fair-trade clothing costs more than fast fashion
- Small steps to make a difference
What is Sustainably Made Clothing?
“Business is the largest, wealthiest, most pervasive institution on the Earth… and it’s responsible for most of the damage to the environment. We’re a major part of the problem, and unless we become part of the solution, it’s over…”
Ray Anderson – CEO of Interface Inc
This quote by Ray Anderson fits perfectly within the fashion industry as well. Sustainably made clothing is when the product’s life cycle; from fabrics, to manufacturing, the workers involved, transportation, the businesses and the consumers, doesn’t take more from the environment than it gives back. This means the process from start to finish isn’t depleting but sustains itself.
Keep in mind that the fashion industry is responsible for 10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. That is more than the emissions from all international flights combined!
What are Eco-Friendly Fabrics?
Remember the product life cycle I mentioned? It all starts with the choice of fabric used to make the product. Before I dive into the types of sustainably made fabrics, I want to highlight Curated for Equality’s new arrivals for Spring!
Our collection is full of ethical fashion from women of color owned brands making an ethical fashion statement. From lightweight dresses to dainty accessories and indulgent bath products -- we've got plenty of upgrades for your Spring wardrobe and self-care ritual. Check out our collection of Women's Apparel!
Here are 5 criteria taken in to consideration when labeling a fabric as sustainable.
- The source of the fiber. This basically means if the fiber within the fabric is considered natural or man-made, like synthetic.
- The resources required to create the fiber. These elements include; water, pesticides, land, energy, carbon dioxide, and fossil fuels. It is also important to note whether these elements are renewable.
- The process from taking a fabric to its finished state of yarn (before the production of the clothing). Here are some questions to keep in mind about the process from fiber to yarn:
- Harmful Chemicals?
- How are the chemicals disposed of?
- How much energy, or water, is used to transform the fabric into yarn
- The fabric’s longevity. Basically, the life cycle of the fabric.
- If the fabric is biodegradable
Now that you know the 5 considerations of what fabric is deemed as sustainable, here are a list of sustainable fabrics to get you started on your ethical fashion journey.
Sustainable fabrics can be broken down into 4 categories
- Vegan Synthetic Fabric
- Recycled Polyester
- Wool (Sheep, Alpaca, Merino, Yak)
- Vegetable tan leather
- Organic Cotton
- Recycled Cotton
- Organic Hemp
- Organic Linen
- Bamboo Linen
- Bamboo Lyocell
- Scoby Leather
- Brewed protein
- Apple leather
Now that you know some of the world’s most sustainable fabrics, you can take your first step to creating a new practice of seeking out the clothing fabric tags on all your favorite fashion pieces before you purchase.
Why the Country of Origin is important for Sustainably Made Clothing
Did you know that as early as 1962, researchers stated that ‘made-in’, as a fifth element of the marketing mix, can have a tremendous influence on the acceptance and success of a product over and above the specific advertising and marketing techniques used?
Let’s take a step back in time…actually back to the 1960s again where a scientist named Schooler did the first recorded research into the importance of country-of-origin image on apparel.
Schooler used a simple manipulation in which he showed Guatemalan students a piece of fabric that had a fictitious country-of-origin label (Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, El Salvador).
The study showed that products made in less developed countries, like El Salvador and Costa Rica, were perceived as lower in quality while home products and Mexican products were perceived as higher in quality. Schooler used this study to prove that there is an influence of country-of-origin image on consumers’ perception of product quality.
There was another study done in 2015 by FutureBrand where people were asked to rank the importance of country of origin with regard to their daily purchase decisions. Surprisingly, country of origin, design and manufacture were all ranked higher than traditional drivers of choice like price, availability and style.
We’ve all seen the “made in China, made in USA or, made in Taiwan” stamps on every product you purchase, including clothing. Has this impacted the way you purchase clothing? It’s ok to admit that knowing where a product is manufactured and how far it has to travel to reach you, may make a huge difference in how you purchase.
Country of origin can also negatively affect the brand itself. There is more growing concern, now than ever, of child labor and work labor abuse in certain countries. If a brand were manufacturing clothing from a notorious country known for child labor, the consumer may not purchase the item.
With all of this being said, it’s important to note that just because a clothing item is made in a certain country doesn’t automatically deem it as “unsustainable”. There are many factors that go into a clothing item being sustainable and it’s important to weigh all the factors, do your research and spread awareness.
Why sustainable and fair-trade clothing costs more than fast fashion
When you hear about ethical fashion, you usually hear the negativity surrounding fast fashion. Fast fashion basically means faster production with lower costs. In the 1950s, if a you wanted to purchase a ready-made dress, you would spend about $9 ($72 now) to order an item from a Sears catalog.
Now today, you can easily walk into Forever 21, or shop online, and buy a simple dress for about $12. The price of an article of clothing today including the cost of material, labor, and supply chain logistics required for its creation is cheaper than ever before. However, it also means there’s little to no longevity.
Did you know that Fast fashion produces 20 percent of global wastewater, which is mostly caused by toxic textile dyes. This dye leaches into ecosystems, and micro-fibers from unsustainable fabrics, like polyester, and pollute our waterways to a point of no return.
Here are some of the common, and largest, fast fashion brands as an example;
- Forever 21
- Fashion Nova
- Urban Outfitters
- Victoria’s Secret
- Pretty Little Thing
- Free People
A big misconception about the costs of sustainable fashion is that most consumers associate luxury with price. Luxury can be more than a price tag, it can me purity of fabric, essential care for manufacturer workers, safe shipping standards and more.
Some of the key factors that contribute to ethical fashion’s higher price points are;
- Fair labor
- Safer workplaces
- Artisan crafts
- Organic and Regenerative materials
- Local and small-batch production
How You Can Make a Lifestyle Impact with Your Next Purchase Towards Ethical Fashion
Hopefully, you are walking away with some new knowledge about ethical fashion and sustainably made clothing. However, this blog post doesn’t touch on all aspects. Please do your research and spread knowledge about ethical fashion and set an example of practicing ethical buying decisions.
Here’s a few small ways you can start shopping for sustainably made clothing;
- Buy second-hand when possible
- Choose clothing based on quality and sustainable fabrics
- Buy from brands that are water-conscious
- Buy from brands that give back
- Buy from brands that incorporate responsible manufacturing
- Buy from brands that use sustainable packaging
- Stock up on reusable tote bags so you can use them when purchasing clothing items
- Take better care of your clothes when doing your laundry
Loved this post? We’d love if you share it with a friend who wants to learn more about sustainable fashion. Check out our other blog posts!
What are you currently doing, as a consumer, to create a positive impact in the ethical fashion industry? Let us know in the comments below.
Here are also some apps we suggest you check out and download to help you become more knowledgeable within the ethical fashion industry.