In the past 20 years our values as a society on the whole have shifted to a championing of environmental causes. Some people probably recall Al Gore’s, An Inconvenient Truth, back in 2006 as the initial wake-up call to the severity of global warming. The overwhelming irony today is the United States’ exemption from the Paris Climate Accord, of course.
In any case, consumer behavioral patterns have been a great area of interest not only for economists, but for designers and global fashion brands over the past few years. Sustainable and ethically produced clothing is actually in demand. According to research recently published by the Business of Fashion in partnership with McKinsey & Company, 66 percent of global Millenials are willing to spend more on brands with some aspect of sustainability. More importantly, it’s not only Millenials who are drawn to sustainability. Demand for ethically made products is a trend extending far beyond the world of fashion to the beauty and food industries as well.
Across the beauty and food industries, it is understandable why natural, local ingredients are important deciding factors in making a purchase. What we ingest and what our skin absorbs should sound familiar to us, right? Certainly, and if it goes for makeup, skincare, food and drink, then the same way of thinking should be applied when it comes to the clothes we wear.
Sustainable fashion aims to respect environmental limits and support positive social impact by safeguarding people’s health and wellbeing. A great motto coined by Vivienne Westwood dictates, “Buy less. Choose Well. Make it Last.” Let’s unpack this. If we were to follow the lifecycle of one plain white t-shirt sold in the basics section of a popular fast fashion chain, we would probably find roughly 500 grams of pesticides that have been used in the cotton farming process. Such extensive pesticide usage affects more than the cotton crop, but the farmers, local civilians, and the water supply. In contrast, if we followed the sustainable alternative to this plain white t-shirt, we would ideally find no pesticide usage and an article that holds up better over a longer period of time. In the sustainable model, the entire garment lifecycle is strategically considered in order to reduce environmental impact and make a garment that will last longer and perform better.
One of the most common things I hear about sustainable fashion is that it’s unaffordable. This is tricky because it can be very hard to rationalize paying anything more than $10 for a plain white t-shirt when the fast fashion basics section seems so convenient. This is not a lecture. This is a reminder that the power to change and improve systems lies in large part in our buying power. Though the sustainably produced t-shirt made from organic cotton may cost 10-20% more than the regular one, supporting the more costly one is worth the extra money when considering the big picture and our role in contributing to positive change within fashion industry practices.
At the core of this entire movement is transparency and the pivotal moment in which transparency became a selling point. Westwood’s point is about trading in passive consumerism for a more holistic approach that respects people at every step in the supply chain. It can even be useful to think about a sustainable purchase in terms of an investment in people and the planet. If we take Westwood’s words to heart and remember them the next time we are shopping, there is a chance for every person to make positive change and do good. In order for sustainability in all realms to be sustainable itself we must train ourselves and condition our attitudes to understand why something like sustainable fashion are vital in the long run. For more on the current state of the fashion industry, check out the following report.
image courtesy of Google.