For something to qualify as sustainable, it must meet the needs of the present, without compromising those of the future. In essence, the virtue of sustainability relies on finding methods of harnessing a resource without fully depleting it.
Environmental concerns have become increasingly significant – with climate change now a major contributor in moving the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight. Indeed, sustainability is big, ethical business. Sustainable energy, sustainable forestry, and sustainable food sources are just some of the areas being developed to stave off environmental collapse.
The fashion industry, a major offender, is also taking steps to play its part.
What is sustainable fashion?
It’s generally acknowledged that global extinction events aren’t great for business. Sustainable initiatives seek to reverse damage already done, and prevent environmental collapse. Sustainable fashion concerns itself with the production, use, and also disposal of clothing and accessories, enabling fashion items to fit in as part of a wider ‘green’ conservation strategy.
Whilst the term sustainable fashion is broad and not precisely defined, it often incorporates a larger socio-economic viewpoint, taking steps to ensure raw materials are ethically-sourced, retailers align with environmental best practice, and conditions for workers at all stages of the supply chain are improved where possible.
In today’s culture, floating somewhere between concerned and conscientious, fashion brands can seldom be seen without an environmental policy. A number of new brands are being formed with sustainability at the forefront of their business plan. For some longer established brands, the emphasis is on shifting their efforts steadily towards this end; in effect, the main responsibility of fashion companies is to change their overall strategy to not just include – but exude – sustainable practices.
How does sustainable fashion help the environment?
The practice of churning out items quickly and cheaply has resulted in a long list of harmful outcomes, from environmental damage, to exploitative labour practices. A prime example which defines both of these shortcomings is the cotton industry: the worldwide production of this fibre employs over 250 million people, uses 20,000 litres of water per kilogram (read as: per t-shirt), and parallel to its offences against the natural environment, it notably overlooks the well-being its manufacturing workforce.
Understandably, there are some key initiatives to combat this impact – for cotton, and for other causes. The principle goal of many of these initiatives is to find alternative, sustainable solutions, and bring about comprehensive change in the industry. It’s open season for innovative ideas in this field, as stakeholders assess each and every stage of a product’s life cycle for suitable solutions. Use of energy and water, reduction of chemicals, and methods of preventing pollution - including product transport - are also being scrutinised.
Product longevity is a key consideration, with the ethos split between fast and slow fashion; at the slow end, there is a drive to create attractive items with a longer lifespan, ultimately reducing waste. Conversely, there is also a trend for ‘ultra-fast fashion’, using compostable materials such as paper, card, or cellulose, which can be worn once (or as many times as possible until they fall apart) before being discarded.
There has also been a recent upsurge in the appeal of second-hand culture, such as vintage clothing; thrift shops, in particular, extend the life of older, previously unwanted items. Additionally, handmade or bespoke clothing helps shed the ‘mass-produced’ image, offering consumers ‘one-off’ items that are unique in the marketplace.
A sustainable career
If you are interested in cultivating a career in sustainable fashion, why not consider an MA in Fashion Retail & Luxury Management or Global MBA (Luxury Brand Management), or alternatively have an impact on wider sustainable business areas with Advanced Diploma in Sustainable Business?