What is Sustainable Fashion?

Clothes in closet hanging

I’m going through my old clothes and I keep thinking on how I can bring fashion into my sustainable lifestyle. We all wear clothes so it’s no surprise that fashion is one of the largest industries on the planet. Because of this, it contributes to a large part of the world’s waste and pollution. I’m trying to reduce my own personal impact on the planet but how will that effect what I choose to wear from day to day? How can fashion be sustainable? How can I make sustainable choices when buying my next coat or skirt? Do my fashion choices make a difference?

What does sustainable fashion mean?

But, what is sustainable fashion?

Sustainable fashion focuses on many issues around the fashion industry. It looks at different areas from maufacturing to the distance clothes have to travel. It looks at using different ways to make the industry better for the environment.

This can as simple as changing the material to organic. Or, changing the supply chain so there are less carbon emissions from transportation. It looks at different points in the system and points to choices you can make that will make difference.

Why is sustainable fashion important?

Why do my fashion choices matter? Is sustainable fashion important enough for me to make a personal change?


Since the year 2000 clothing production has doubled. While this is happening people are purchasing more clothes. When comparing the year 2000 with 2014 they found people bought around 60% more garments. The fashion industry makes clothing affordable but at the cost of the planet.

“Fast Fashion” companies like Zara and H&M have been producing more and more clothing styles. To keep up with the changing fashion trends H&M releases about 15 collections per year. All the unsold clothes from previous collections that are no longer in style often end up in the dump. It’s surprising that 85% of clothing and textiles created end up in landfills.

How can fashion be sustainable?

It sounds like fashion can be pretty harmful for the environment. How can it be more sustainable?

There are many actions you can take to make a more sustainable choice. The fashion industry works as a system and there are choices you can make to ease your impact on the planet.

Buying “Slow Fashion” rather than “Fast Fashion”

Neutral Tone Clothing

The first change you can make is buying more “slow fashion” items rather than the “fast fashion” trends. Slow fashion references the slower trends that have stood the test of time. Rather than chasing the flavor of the week your closet could focus on some timeless classics. Have a solid capsule wardrobe would be a start. Selecting a few classic pieces you can mix and matched for a different look. Along with this more neutral colors such as blacks or grey would hold up well. Clothing styles and colors change throughout the year. Having a simple, classic look and style will always be popular.

Buying second hand

Thrift Shop Window

One of the best ways to keep clothing out of the dump is by giving it a second life. Buying from a second hand store or thrift shop is a great way to practice sustainable fashion choices. These clothes won’t go to waste. Thrifting can be a unique experience. It can be good for your wallet as well as the environment. Nothing feels better than finding the perfect shirt or pair of pants for a fraction of the price it would be new.

There are also some hidden gems in thrift stores. It’s one of the best ways to get a unique wardrobe. Also, with fashion trends cycling every few years you won’t be far away from being up with the latest fashions. You may even start a new trend on your own.

Buying repurposed clothing

A different way designers keep clothes out of landfills is to make them into something new. This is a unique way to deal with the mountains of fashion waste. By making it into something new they are saving it from the dump and putting their own creative spin on a new garment. An example of upcycled designs might be creating a patchwork from different scraps. A designer could sew them together to create a collage of different patterns or colors. Then they could make a new shirt or pair of pants out of it.

Another way designer’s upcycle material is to use something like printed sheets to create something new. The Etsy marketplace is full of different upcycled designs. Housewares like aprons and oven mitts to new chic styles for women. These artisans are showing their talent and making things better for the environment.

Purchasing sustainable fabrics

The materials used to make our clothes are as important as buying second hand or upcycling old clothes. Sustainable fabrics are becoming more popular and many designers have taken notice.

From plant based natural fibers to futuristic alternatives there is a wide variety to choose. One you may be aware of is hemp. The plant fibers create lightweight durable clothing that is stronger and more eco friendly than cotton. Bamboo is another plant based material that is on the rise. Both of these plants are fast growing and use less water to produce than traditional cotton.

Animal based fibers are also on the rise. Wool from animals like sheep and alpaca have many benefits when used in clothing. Breathable, anti-wrinkle and easy to clean. Wool is biodegradable and is an excellent addition to any wardrobe.

Buy local made clothes to reduce carbon footprint

One part of the fashion industry that people overlook is the transporting the clothes to the retail stores. A differnt way to practice sustainable fashion is to reduce carbon footprint by buying local made items. This reduces the carbon emissions because the clothes don’t have to travel as far to end up on store shelves.

Another way it help the environment is through the manufacturing process. Local made items are usually done on a much smaller scale than other traditional manufactured clothes. Some may even be handmade which places an extra unique touch to a garment.

Taking care of your clothes

The final way to practice sustainable fashion is to take care of your clothes. This might seem like a no brainer but taking care of your clothes is as important as purchasing sustainable fabrics. Follow cleaning instructions when washing and drying your clothes. Also, the use of an eco-friendly laundry detergent would be a step in the right direction.

Taking care of our clothes is important. Something like a small hole or stain could make the clothing unwearable. If we take care of our clothes they could last us years or decades. This goes for our older clothes as well as the new sustainable ones we buy. This includes cleaning them and having them repaired as needed. Patching up small holes or fixing a snagged thread may not seem like much but every little bit extends the life of our clothes.

These are a few brief ideas on sustainable fashion practices. Some ideas to help you get started on your journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Looking at my own closet I have a few ideas I’d like to get started. I love that with sustainable fashion there isn’t one thing you need to do but you can fit it to match your own style. If buying new clothes is more your thing thrifting and sustainable fabrics may be a solution. If you want something unique and made with care buying local is a great option. Taking care of our clothes is another important piece. If you get really into it you may upcycle some old things from your closet into something new. There is no one size fits all to sustainability but every little bit counts.

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