Ah! the six million dollar question. I get asked this all the time and it is somewhat hard to nail down. Sustainability means different things to different people and there are so many issues wrapped up in the production of a single piece of clothing. Chemicals used to make (or grow) the textiles and dyes, fair labor practices, shipping, textile waste, and supporting local economies and manufacturing are just a few of the topics I hope to explore going forward. I’ve found that it helps to think about which changes you can make to have the most impact. For example, small efforts, like mending your clothing instead of throwing it out and replacing it, can have a big impact on reducing textile waste in landfills.
People certainly have different priorities when it comes to the impact they have on the world, for example some choose not to wear any animal products. Opting for “vegan leather” (a term that makes me cringe) instead of the real deal. As a proud carnivore I know, for example, that leather is a byproduct of the meat industry and it would be wasteful to not use it. The fake stuff is made from plastic, not a good alternative in my book, and it falls apart much quicker than leather which can last a lifetime if cared for properly. That being said, I recognize that there are a great deal of caustic chemicals used in traditional leather tanning and that the process could be improved greatly. There are greener alternatives out there.
My bottom line is that we should stop creating so much “stuff” and the stuff we do make should me made in a mindful way; fair labor, quality materials, no chemicals, and it should be made to last. There are certainly different approaches to making this happen.
One way to stop creating more stuff is to buy vintage or used clothes. I think it’s super fun to dig through racks at a local thrift store or go into a resale store to trade in a bag of clothes for something “new.” I have a friend who goes every week to buyselltrade, yes all one word, so she has tons of variety in her wardrobe.
Supporting local manufacturing is one more piece of the puzzle. I am fortunate to live in a city with a vibrant art and fashion scene so when I can I buy locally made clothing, jewelry and other gifts (not to mention food and booze). As a designer, I know the blood, sweat and tears (and love, laughs and wine) that go into making that dress or pair of earrings. Bonus points for not having to have it shipped from a sweatshop halfway around the world. Need somewhere to start? Hop over to Etsy and search for artists in your town.
Ideally I would wear all natural fibers, grown organically. But what about recycled polyester, you may ask? I have really mixed feelings about this. The fact that polyester is so prevalent in our wardrobes is a big problem. It’s made from toxic plastic which ends up in landfills and in our oceans. On the other hand recycling is GREAT! And polyester is a great example of UPcycling, turning a waste product (like plastic bottles) into something with greater value. Buying recycled products is an awesome way to show manufacturers that you believe in what they are doing and it encourages more recycling. It’s the the all important final step in that old saying we learned in elementary school: Recycle, Reduce and Close the Loop. In my dream world if we must continue to make polyester (which makes you sweat and stink) it should all be from recycled materials.
Please know that I have barely scratched the surface on this issue and I am by no means perfect in my purchasing habits, but each day I try to do more and more in my mission to eliminate the bad and increase the good. I’d love to hear what eco fashion means to you and what you are doing to green your wardrobe.