Sustainability in Fashion refers to reducing environmental impacts, supporting biodiversity and providing fair treatment of garment workers. More clothing companies claim that sustainability is at the forefront of their business models.
Consumers are demanding more sustainable consumption patterns and fashion designers are exploring materials such as Lyocell (made from eucalyptus cellulose) and Bemberg, both made of recycled textiles.
Fashion is one of the world’s largest industries when measured by production and sales volume; however, its environmental and social impacts are massively problematic. Millions are employed and it uses harmful substances such as toxic chemicals, energy and water consumption – as well as globalized supply chains with often low working standards – while its wastefulness makes this sector highly wasteful (Laudal 2010).
Consumer consumption decisions are heavily impacted by values and beliefs. Affective associations with sweatshop labor, ethical codes of conduct, fair trade practices and environmental effects have been identified as crucial predictors of consumers’ attitudes towards apparel brands (Dickson 2001; Kozar & Connell 2010; Gupta et al 2011; Kang and Hustvedt 2014a/b).
Shin (2014) asserts that fashion design as an artistic profession offers cultural, economic, and aesthetic values to society, making it worthy of consideration as an academic subject, similar to architecture or interior design. She recommends including it on university curricula as one such field is architecture or interior design.
An effective circular textiles sector is crucial to reducing resource use, energy and water demand, emissions and waste (ETC/WMGE 2021b). Achieving circularity requires technical, social and business model innovation as well as behavioral change and policy support; design is central to each pathway to circularity: longevity/durability/optimized resource use/collection reuse/recycling material use.
Reducing garment washes, offering durable designs that resist fast-changing fashion trends, offering product care information and repair services and making consumers aware of them can all help extend the lifespan of textile products. But this only works if people accept using them.
Closing the loop requires access-based business models that promote renting and leasing over buying and ownership, along with policy enablers such as targets and regulatory incentives (e.g. VAT reductions or extended producer responsibility schemes). Furthermore, textile products should be designed for recycling by making it easy to remove buttons, zips and trims that obstruct fibre-to-fibre recycling processes such as zippers.
Now more than ever before is it essential for clothing and textiles producers to produce them with reduced environmental impacts. Fashion is responsible for approximately 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, depletes water sources, pollutes rivers and lakes with dyes and chemicals and estimates suggest 85% of clothing ends up in landfills or burned (UNEP 2018).
Many brands are now turning to bio-based materials as a sustainable replacement for conventional livestock-derived and fossil fuel-derived synthetics, including Orange Fiber’s fabric made from orange leaves and rinds and Flocus’ use of Kapok fibres extracted from tree pods without harming trees.
Other initiatives involve reducing overproduction, avoiding pollution and waste, supporting biodiversity and treating workers fairly. By supporting such initiatives, businesses can shift towards sustainable pathways more easily; yet individual consumers can do even more by making wiser clothing purchases.
Fashion production and consumption harms the environment in every stage, from using harmful agrochemicals during fibre crop production to disposing of worn-out clothing after wear and tear. Textile and garment industries are one of the world’s major polluters, contributing to climate change, water scarcity, and biodiversity loss.
Fast fashion brands typically source their cheap garments from developing nations, often employing workers with inadequate wages in unsafe working environments. Factory discharge pollutes rivers with toxic wastewater which pollutes local water supplies while negatively affecting downstream communities and marine life.
Sustainable clothing brands prioritise safe working conditions, fair wages for their employees and the use of organic fabrics such as linen, hemp and TENCEL (made from wood pulp). Furthermore, sustainable brands use biodegradable fabrics that require minimal chemical treatments, water use or fertilizers / pesticides in production; some even recycle fabrics and encourage second hand clothing through social media platforms or local clothing donation bins.