I recently listened to a podcast by Behind The Seams on Youtube and I wanted to share it with you all because they had some really interesting ideas on what exactly sustainable fashion is. I decided to gather together some of their best points and write them into a blog post, so all credit for these ideas goes to Behind The Seams.
Their definition of sustainable fashion was ‘the choice to present yourself in a way that does no harm to the environment or other human beings or people or animals while still maintaining a unique form of self-expression and identity.’
When you have a company that takes down one tree and replants one other tree, that’s not enough, you need to replant ten trees. You need to make it sustainable and make it better in the end. We don’t want to stay the same. We want to have economic growth, environmental happiness. We not only need to do the bare minimum, but go above and beyond.
In order to truly digest the concept of sustainable fashion, it is easiest to break it down amongst its Four Pillars. The environmental, economic, social and the often forgotten emotional. All four pillars really address two aspects: The large scale and the small scale implications.
For the environmental pillar we are really looking at the industry as well as the government’s responsibility to conserve natural resources throughout every point of the supply chain, while the government is enforcing regulations to ensure the preservation of these finite resources and really putting a cap on pollution. Industries shouldn’t let the bi-product of their production, or their products, effect the environment and really the government needs to regulate their actions. They can’t just sit back and let the industries do whatever they please. They need to step in if they’re not being responsible about their environmental impact.
There’s also the small scale aspect which really focuses on the consumer’s responsibility to be conscious of their purchases and be respect the environment through informed consumption, the use of and disposal of their goods. We can’t just go and buy whatever we want and throw it away. There’s a shocking 68 pounds of textile waste thrown away each year for each and every American. We’re talking about the weight of a ten year old child. When you think about it, that’s 68 pounds for 318 million people. If you really think about the scale of just textile waste alone from one country out of hundreds in the world you can imagine how detrimental this could be to the environment.
And the fashion industry has been so successful. It’s a 3 Trillion Dollar industry. Of course there’s going to be waste. How are consumers dealing with that? How is industry dealing with that? How is government stepping in and dealing with that?
The next pillar is the economic pillar of sustainable fashion. And in terms of the large scale that refers to an industry’s ability to engage in production and trade of goods through conservation and also the development of natural resources and human capital as well to create a system that really encourages a long-term stable economy. All while domestic and international regulations and standards are established by governments to maintain this economic stability that we so desperately need, especially now.
So basically, it is simply conducting research and development to create a healthy economy that focuses on the long-term and not just the quarterly profits, which really is just focusing on the short-term. And when you think about it, it’s focusing on short-term pain and a long-term gain. We use this phrase so much in our society but when you think about the way the economy has been for so long now it’s really short-term gain with long-term negative implications. We need to find a way as a society to flip that.
And bringing it back to small scale, talking about the consumer as an individual and their obligation to purchase responsibly and efficiently in terms of their own personal budget. Being able to seek alternatives to fast fashion that are really going to satisfy their needs for fashion, refraining from over-spending, spending in general even, and focusing more on secondary markets like thrifting, which has surged in the past ten years, or supporting local economies and repurposing items from the thrift store. Like getting a dress and trimming it or getting a pair of jeans and trimming them off and making cut-offs. Even repurposing things you already own. Bringing something to a tailor if it no longer fits you or if jeans no longer fit you cut them into shorts. People need to learn there are many alternatives to fast fashion and that you shouldn’t be supporting something like fast fashion when it doesn’t support you in return. In any good relationship people look for balance and you have to give a little to get a little.
So generally the third pillar of sustainable fashion is considered to be the social pillar, and when looking at this from a larger scale it’s considered to be the industry’s and the government’s overall accountability, protecting and guaranteeing basic human labour and compensation rights to all workers. That really stresses the fact that it’s about each level of the supply chain and how to do this is to implement regulations and standards that protect these rights. When we think about the fashion industry we think about the people in corporate offices but we often forget about the garment workers who are responsible for making the clothes that we are relying on. And often times these workers aren’t being paid a proper living wage and are living on about two dollars a day. A lot of times it’s not even safe for them to go to work and be exposed to these conditions. On the smaller scale, it brings forward the consumers responsibility to actively observe and gain knowledge about the items that they plan to purchase. Look at that garment tag, see where it was made and be aware of the wellbeing of the people who are behind that label.
One of the biggest tools of the fashion industry is its power over consumer purchasing habits through use of marketing to form these perceptions in our minds of status, quality, price and style within their products. They play into the insecurities of the consumer create a need and a void in the consumer. On the small scale, it is the responsibility of the consumer to have a relationship with and respect for the goods they buy. This is fostered through the idea that goods serve the personal identity of the consumer. The lifespan of goods are dependent on consumer actions but it is also dependent on our emotions and our connections to these items.
If you’d like to hear more about these ideas or listen to the Podcast yourself then check them out on Youtube at BEHIND THE SEAMS.