We get that you want to look good and feel good, but at what cost
Understanding fashion and sustainability and becoming a conscious consumer means supporting ethical, fair trade, “green” and slow fashion. But first, what does that actually mean? Let’s dive into the details!
Fashion is ever-changing. Many describe it as a form of self-expression where your clothing, accessories, footwear, makeup, hairstyle, and posture create a look that is concurrent with what’s trending at a certain place and time. Fashion may be described as the art of saying it all without saying a word.
Above all, fashion is powerful, it evokes emotions, and it is here to stay.
Thanks to consumerism, we’re all in the “buy, buy, buy” mindset, 365 days a year. As a result, there is an influx and overconsumption of mass-produced, cheaply made items, all in the name of fashion. Clothing, accessories, and footwear of this kind is collectively known as “fast fashion”. This is where the problem begins.
Which side of history do you want to be on? Keep reading to know more.
What is sustainability?
In simple terms, sustainability is a way to satisfy our needs without negatively impacting future generations from satisfying theirs. Actions have consequences and these consequences can be monumental over time. Humankind needs to coexist long-term with the environment. Sustainability is taking steps towards ensuring the same.
In the fashion industry, sustainability means creating clothes, accessories, and footwear without harming people, communities, animals, and the environment. This often goes hand-in-hand with achieving social justice and equality along with striving to be carbon neutral.
Did you know that the fashion industry is responsible for up to 10% of the world’s carbon emission? If that’s not terrible enough, another staggering statistic claims that the fashion industry is the second largest water-polluter in the world, the first being the oil and gas industry.
Fast fashion is cheap because you and I aren't paying what it actually costs the environment. Your fashion choices shouldn’t contribute to more carbon emissions and other global issues. Sustainable clothing brands are the solution and it’s about time everyone realized it.
What impacts a brand's ability to be considered conscious fashion?
For clothing brands to consider going into “conscious fashion,” there are a few hoops they might have to jump through and sacrifices they might have to make. For starters, businesses in every industry prioritize profits. With slow fashion, there are major investments involved. Raw materials will need to be ethically sourced, and exploiting cheap foreign labor won’t be an option. These two factors alone will eat away at the potential profits.
Secondly, only about 15% of global fashion consumers care about sustainability when making purchases. Although the numbers are projected to increase, some clothing brands in the fashion industry might not consider 15% to be a significant fraction to create change.
Thirdly, there is an information gap. You might have heard of slow fashion and so have your peers, but your neighbor or grandma might be completely oblivious. Similarly, some well-meaning people could be unaware of the carbon footprint and what it means. Conscious fashion is yet to become a household name.
Lastly, not every customer will be inclined to choose slow fashion when fast fashion clothing brands are so much cheaper. Most shoppers want the best bang for their buck. That’s why they go hook line and sinker for cheap clothing and accessories. Will you?
Do sustainability, ethical, fair trade, “green” fashion, and conscious mean the same thing?
Terms like sustainability, ethical, fair trade, green fashion, and conscious have been thrown around a lot lately. They’re often used synonymously among fashion industry brands which creates confusion.
Sustainability focuses on the future. Being sustainable means adopting steps so that our actions don’t negatively impact future generations. It focuses on preserving natural resources and coexisting with the environment.
Ethical means that a product is manufactured while ensuring that the foreign workers in the supply chain are treated well and compensated fairly. Since international trade has become prevalent, and production has moved overseas, there have been questions regarding the treatment of foreign workers. During the 1980s, global trade was more regulated and there was a push to implement fair wages and standard working conditions in the developing world.
Fair trade means that when business is conducted with producers in developing countries, the producers are paid fair prices for their export products.
Anything that benefits the environment can carry the word “green” in its name. From Starbucks to IKEA, there are several major brands that are taking steps towards becoming carbon neutral and striving to be green. Green fashion refers to clothing that was made keeping in mind the environment, safety of workers, and health of consumers.
Conscious is a term used to describe customers that are aware of how consumerism impacts the environment and take steps such as paying more for sustainable or cruelty-free fashion brands.
Conscious fashion: what does being a conscious consumer mean?
The fast fashion industry mainly cares about profits while conscious fashion brands care about the environment, people, and sustainability just as much as they care about profits. Conscious fashion or slow fashion can be described as the opposite of fast fashion.
Being a conscious consumer means your buying decisions are motivated by environmental sustainability. You’d rather pay more for an article of clothing that was ethically sourced and manufactured than a cheap alternative that will eventually end up in a landfill. Afterall, the average American consumer discards 81.5 lbs. of clothes every year.
Isn’t that alarming?
Investing in a few quality pieces instead of overconsuming from fast fashion brands will minimize this amount by a lot. Conscious customers try to buy what they need and curb impulse shopping. They tend to focus on quality over quantity.
Upcycling or recycling clothing is another factor to consider when trying to be a conscious customer. Taking into account product longevity and trying to improve product lifespan by taking good care of it contributes to being a conscious customer.
“As consumers we have so much power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy” – Emma Watson (Source: Earth.org)
How does slow fashion affect fashion and sustainability?
The slow fashion industry has a great impact on sustainability. If more people decided to opt for slow fashion, there would be monumental shifts in the fashion industry. These benefits of more slow fashion include:
- Decreased over-consumption with mindful shopping
- Spending money on quality clothes that will last longer
- Saving customers money in the long run
- Better quality clothes with longer lifespans
- Clothes upcycled and used for a few more years
- Decreased carbon footprint
- Reduced textile wastage
- Better working environments and wages
- Reducing environmental pollution
- More focus on timeless styles than trends that last a season
Vivienne Westwood once said, “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last”. Spoken like a true fashion queen.
Spot greenwashing attempts in “green” fashion
Greenwashing is when clothing brands use vague dialog or graphics to portray environmental consciousness. This is an attempt to create an image of being green while conducting activities that may not be environmentally sound. The marketing and PR teams of these companies use deception to trick conscious buyers into buying their products.
There are a few ways to spot greenwashing attempts. They are:
Using green (the color) or imagery of flora or fauna
When we see the color green or images of plants and animals or the planet, we associate it with being good for the environment. This is a common tactic used by some companies to mislead customers.
Use of buzzwords
Word like all-natural, plant-based, organic, raw, etc., with no additional details on the product packaging or website is a red flag. Certifications confirming such claims can help eliminate doubts.
Sometimes a company will sell their products in recyclable or biodegradable containers. From the outside, they fit the mold of a green company. However, there might be individual units inside the container that are individually wrapped with single-use plastics. Another example would be paper straws that come individually packaged in plastic.
Misleading or vague slogans
Words are powerful and can have a significant impact on people. If the wording claims sustainability but there are no certifications, credentials, or seals to validate these claims, it might be a little dubious.
What is the future for fashion and sustainability?
Qué será, será
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours to see...but we respectfully disagree!
As responsible citizens of the world, it is vital that we care about the environment and future generations. This includes reducing carbon emissions, decreasing wastage of natural resources, conserving wildlife and forests, and working towards equity for all human beings.
Fashion is a powerful medium that connects people worldwide. It shouldn’t come at a cost to the environment or people in the developing world. The fashion industry needs to recognize its role in building a better world.
The slow fashion industry is gaining momentum and is projected to keep growing. At EMLE, we aim to educate consumers about how their fashion and buying choices impact sustainability. We continue to create stylish pieces for your wardrobe that elevate your look and are better for the planet.
Shopping as a form of therapy isn’t something we encourage but if you’re looking for guilt-free fashion indulgence, we’re here for you.