Sustainability is the buzzword that many businesses are now using to increase the value of their products. It can be hard to know which businesses are telling the truth about their environmentally-friendly schemes and mindsets, especially when it comes to big corporations with a global outreach.
But what is ‘sustainable fashion’?
Sustainable Fashion is the practice by fashion brands to actively make changes to the way in which they make and source their clothing, trying to keep it eco-friendly and in line with the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN. These include humanitarian goals such as ending poverty and hunger and increasing quality in well-being for all people. They also include more environmental points such as the availability of clean water globally, and the preservation of life underwater and on land.
For the fashion industry, sustainability should be a requirement, and not just a selling point. The textile industry is the second largest polluter in the world and contributes 10% of global carbon emissions annually, using 4% of the annual global use of freshwater. That equals the consumption of 93 billion cubic meters of water every year, in a world where some of the population are without it. When 87% of fashion’s products end up being burnt or thrown into landfill sites, it is pressing that more is done.
Not only is this harmful environmentally, but also costly. In 2014 the disposal of fashion and textiles was costing the UK £82 million per year, with the manufacturing of clothing continuing to increase. So, whilst these fast fashion brands might appear to be selling cheap clothing, the costs come elsewhere. The expenditure takes the form of value loss, depletion in textile quality, and corruption within the supply chain with regards to working rights and fair pay. You as the customer end up losing more than you are gaining.
So, are the labels you are buying from doing their part?
Many of this industry’s big names, in particular the 'fast fashion' brands, have been accused of ‘greenwashing’. Greenwashing is the advertising of sustainability without the execution. This is not only false advertising, but also diminishes the importance of sustainable practice and misleads customers into thinking that they are buying eco-friendly clothing, when really they are not.
Sustainability achieved through Fabrics
Fabrics such as ECONYL, which is made from recycled sea plastic, or recycled Polyester are a great alternative to standard non recycled materials. The carbon emissions released in creating regular Polyester fabric is higher than cotton, however, cotton uses more water in its production. By using a recycled alternative for polyester, the carbon emission is reduced but the water consumption remains low.
But there is a catch.
With bigger businesses, the use of sustainable fabrics sometimes does nothing in the way of improvement. This is because the brands are making clothing to such a scale that the amount of waste and energy expended is the same. Similarly, whilst bigger brands might claim to practice recycling of clothing or textiles, often the scale to which the company would have to recycle produces more greenhouse gases than if they were to throw it in landfills.
Companies Making to Order reduce waste
Companies that undertake the ‘make to order’ system dramatically reduce the amount of waste they produce. They can calculate the exact amount of fabric required for the collection, and won’t have any left over. On top of this, this system allows the designer more control in the production and they will be able to design clothing to your sizing. This not only means your clothing will flatter you, but also extend its wearability as you won’t be inclined to throw it away as a result of a misfit.
Smaller businesses or slow fashion are more productive in achieving sustainability
The use of sustainable fabrics, and recycling, has environmental benefits in smaller systems. Similarly, it is more likely that smaller companies will have an understanding of their supply chains, and more control within it. Due to fast fashion's desire to make so much at such a limited cost, and quickly, they often source from a multitude of different places, use numerous factories, and consequently the direct line of the supply chain becomes a jumble where things can occur within it that don’t fit into the concepts of sustainability.
We don’t think that it should be difficult to find out where and how your swimwear is made. We believe that honesty and transparency are essential and are committed to sharing our knowledge on sustainability and helping to encourage positive change throughout the industry.
If you are interested in learning more about sustainability and brands who demonstrate sustainable practices, Click Here for our LAB Sustain page.