What Is Sustainable Fashion? A Beginner’s Guide

I consider “sustainable fashion” the phrase of the year. Everyone is jumping in the bandwagon. And that is A M A Z I N G.

Last summer, I saw this ad about a 1$ bikini going around.

I rolled my eyes so hard it hurt.

Like, seriously, who thinks producing such a thing is possible.

Spoiler alert, it’s not possible – meaning sustainable and profitable for all parties involved

what is sustainable fashion

Okay, this is out of control, and we, responsible consumers of the world, have the most important role to play.

We know the importance of protecting the environment and everyone’s human rights while looking f a b u l o u s. So it’s our time to support a better, fairer, cleaner fashion industry.

Are you with me?

And I’m here to have a chat with you about this alternative that will help you look superb + guilt-free: sustainable fashion.

Do you want to learn more about sustainable fashion? Check out my Sustainable Fashion 101 series

Let’s get to the nitty-gritty of sustainable fashion.

First things first, what is sustainability?

Sustainability means ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs‘ (definition given in 1987 by the United Nations’ Brundtland Commission #themoreyouknow).

And call me crazy, but the fact that we are not willing to endanger our future for the sake of looking great…hmmm…kinda makes sense to me.

This means that both the environment AND the rights and integrity of all people involved in the manufacturing process must be taken into consideration during all stages of clothing production.

And hey, this process is longer than you might think.

How garments are designed, which materials are used and how they are sourced, as well as how resources such as energy or water are used in factories, and in which conditions all employees work.

These are all elements that come into play when we talk about sustainable fashion.

Even the way in which final products are presented to the consumer, through honest and transparent marketing has a key role – only like this we can consume responsibly and avoid greenwashing.

Read more about how to avoid greenwashing here!

Sustainable fashion is ethical, eco-friendly and slow

We use the term sustainable fashion as an umbrella term, but each sub-term has its particularities.

Well…actually this makes everything more complicated for producers – who have to follow more rules and regulations than ever before in order to offer sustainable and fair products – , and for conscious consumers who want to make informed decisions to invest in this kind of goodies.

These are some of the different faces of sustainable fashion:

  • eco-fashion has little to no impact on the environment and is mindful of the resources it uses.
  • ethical fashion focuses more on social aspects and the ethical treatment of the workers and communities where the garment is produced – no matter if it’s in California or Cambodia.
  • slow fashion is a whole movement that focuses on supplying timeless fashion for the four seasons in the year. Its motto: quality over quantity.

Why is sustainable fashion great for our environment?

1. Little environmental impact sustainable fashion environment

One of the main goals of the producers is saving as much as possible of the resources that they really need to use.

They will avoid overusing these resources – like trying to save as much water as possible, or conserving energy.

As well, they try to reduce their carbon footprint (or even try to become carbon neutral) by using renewable sources of energy.

Not only that, but they will also make sure that they taking care of the environment that surrounds their factories and not causing any indirect environmental damage to it – for example by not leaking dirty water or chemicals into fresh water streams.

2. The materials they use – and how, where and by whom they have been produced

This point is crucial. Most modern fast fashion brands will use whichever material is cheaper in order to optimize their investment and get a greater profit.

There are two common situations: they will use synthetic (plastic-based) materials, or natural fibers but with a GMO twist, which ends up being equally detrimental for the environment.

Thankfully, sustainable fashion brands come to the rescue making sure to use natural and organic materials that don’t harm the land or the health of their producers.

There are tons of natural fibers that come from plants, not from animals, which make them vegan as well, which is a plus.

Nowadays a lot of brands are using recycled plastics to produce their clothing. There is controversy around this because clothes made of recycled plastic are, well, still made of plastic. And that comes with all the problems of synthetic clothes, such as the creation of microplastics.

If you want to learn more about clothes made of recycled plastic, check this post!

3. Minimize waste

Industrial waste is a huge problem for any company selling material goods. In the fashion sector, industrial waste means that fabric scraps, left-over materials, and faulty products are just thrown away and end up either in landfills, or being burnt.

Sustainable fashion brands will try their best to minimize their waste by

  • repairing flawed clothing that is not suitable to be sold
  • reusing left-over materials or selling them as scraps to other companies that can take advantage of them
  • and, when there is no way to save the material, recycling it correctly

There’s also a human side to sustainable fashion

The cornerstone of sustainable fashion companies is empowerment instead of abuse. 

This involves everything that has to do with how workers are treated: wages, health insurance, safety in the workplace, stability guarantees,… It has a lot to do with ethical fashion.

sustainable fashion revolution

These companies follow their ethical guidelines to the T. They respect all of their workers and their rights regardless of gender, race, social background, etc. And they ensure that their factory workers, even overseas, have the living standards they deserve.

This is a way to empower individuals and communities to grow and prosper, promote their autonomy and reduce inequalities, instead of making them dependent on abusive companies.

If you haven’t watched the documentary The true cost yet, leave whatever you’re doing (after reading this post of course) and go watch it.

It’s a serious eye-opener.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our own lives that we forget that there is someone behind our clothes – who cultivated our cotton, who assembled the fabrics,… that whole other side of the supply chain.

As a consumer, you make the decisions

You set the rules, you decide who you empower, and what kind of business you want to help perpetuate.

By supporting sustainable brands, you will be contributing to all the good these fashion angels are doing for the world. You will be supporting social development, environmental conservation, and future.

Economics 101: companies bring to the market what consumers ask for. This change is happening right before our eyes: governments banning single-use plastics, food chains quitting plastic straws, …

Try and learn how to focus on the quality of your clothes and the role they have in your life, instead of just consuming for the sake of it.

And in the meantime, you can check this post on how to quit fast fashion, or this one on how to tell if a brand is really sustainable. 




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