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Guide to Sustainable Fashion

By Habitat Staff Writer
Share to PinterestGuide to Sustainable Fashion
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Sustainable fashion initiatives seek to create better working conditions and reduce the environmental impact of clothing production, with much less waste and pollution and more reliance on reused materials rather than virgin resources. The aim is to create a circular economy, as far as possible, that puts less pressure on the planet and its most vulnerable people. There are, seemingly, pros and cons to every choice in this sphere. But positive change is afoot. There are hopeful signs in the industry, from zero waste pattern cutting and "design for disassembly" to digital clothing on social media and textile research and development. Individual wardrobe choices can make a big difference, too.

01

Understanding sustainable fashion

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Responsible or sustainable fashion is clothing that's more ethical and environmentally friendly. Why? Because of the choices made by everyone involved in using and producing these garments, from the customer to the chief executives leading companies. To understand responsible fashion, we must also consider fast fashion and the social media culture of conspicuous consumption. Clothes have become so abundant and low-priced thanks to synthetic materials and exploited labor. We can afford to wear items just a few times before disposing of them, and sometimes, we're forced to move on because the clothing quality is so poor. All this amounts to waste, pollution, and unconscionable working conditions.

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02

The true cost of fast fashion

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Compared to the early 2000s, we buy more and keep clothing in our closets for much less time. Not even 1% of clothing is recycled to produce new garments, so old clothing is incinerated or heads to a landfill, and plastic-derived fabrics take up to two centuries to break down and produce methane in the process. Microplastics from synthetic fabrics enter our water and food with unknown health risks. Approximately 20% of global wastewater is linked to fashion, and the industry uses more energy than aviation and shipping put together. To ensure fast fashion is cheap and quick to reach customers, manufacturers rely on workers in developing countries, including child labor. These laborers work crazy hours in often hazardous conditions and don't earn a living wage for their efforts. 

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03

How to identify sustainable brands

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Unfortunately, the onus currently falls on the consumer to find companies making strides in cleaning up their supply chain and design processes. This is difficult when greenwashing is so common. Greenwashing refers to misleading marketing tactics using terms like "sustainable" that aren't regulated. Companies often overstate their eco-friendly initiatives or make claims that are not true. The EU's green claims proposal wants companies to provide verifiable evidence for their green labels, but until laws come into place, customers have to do their research. Look for credible sustainability certification and audited sustainability reports. Learn about fabrics. For example, vegan leather isn't as green as it sounds, and materials like bamboo may be touted as sustainable when potentially harmful chemical processes are used to soften them. Check out brand websites for evidence of transparency, including scores from reliable third parties. Are the brands using generic photos to relay their ESG efforts? That could be a red flag.

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04

Investing in quality over quantity

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Spend your hard-earned money on higher-quality garments that you will love having in your closet for many years. Well-made clothing can stand the test of time—even if a shirt or pair of trousers seems expensive, its durability and longevity make for a low cost per wear. If you purchase a neutral color that you can wear often and divide the price tag by the number of times you can wear an item, you'll frequently find that high-quality items cost you less in the end.

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05

The power of second-hand and vintage

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If you're someone who gets bored with wearing the same clothing for more than a couple of years, you can sell clothes you're tired of on pre-loved marketplaces and thrift stores online and purchase clothes from these stores, too. Never toss your old clothes in the trash when brick-and-mortar charity shops or interested individuals in your community could benefit from them. As for all that quiet luxury you keep hearing about—you can get your hands on it for a fraction of the price in second-hand boutiques. Educate yourself on how to spot the good stuff with better stitching and finishes.

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06

Clothing care and maintenance

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Cutting an excessive demand for new clothing production will do the environment a lot of good, whether that be because of a lower carbon footprint or less waste at landfills. You can save your clothing, your money, and the planet with a few tips in mind.

  • Only wash your clothes when really necessary to prolong items' lifespan.
  • Mend your garments wherever possible rather than getting rid of them.
  • Don't ignore care labels.
  • Use a guppy bag to catch microplastics.
  • Use short, cold wash cycles.
  • Avoid chemical-filled dryer sheets and use earth-friendly detergents.
  • Wash jeans inside out.
  • Drip dry clothing and replace ironing with drying clothes in steamy bathrooms.
  • Fold woolen items instead of hanging them.
  • Store garments in cool, dry, well-aerated spaces.

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07

The role of clothing rental and swapping

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The circular economy keeps materials in repeated use. Purchase only what you have to and outsource the rest—formalwear is only needed a couple of times, after all. Resale and rental companies like PoshMark and the RealReal with circular business models have become popular and are a small step in the right direction, even if their methods need refining.

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08

Embracing minimalism in your wardrobe

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Less is more, guys. Don't be tempted by those SHEIN overconsumption hauls that give online shoppers dopamine hits. Focus on building a capsule wardrobe and invest in pieces that fit you well and in brands known for their quality—a higher price tag doesn't always mean better quality. Pieces should be versatile so you can easily mix and match. Minimalism means less clutter, which can give you a psychological boost too.

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09

Sustainable fabrics and materials

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Organic hemp has been used in clothing for centuries because it's suitable for every season and softens when you wash it. Hemp is a low-maintenance plant as well. Organic linen is similar to hemp and is biodegradable and resistant to moths. Regenerative or recycled cotton is even better than organic cotton, and recycled polyester is made from plastic waste, which is great but still releases microplastics. Look for single-fiber garments which are easier to recycle because they're made from one type of material. Lyocell is a sustainably produced option made from wood pulp, and Tencel is a well-known brand. Avoid nylon, polyester, and acrylic, which are linked to fossil fuels, and regular cotton, which puts too much strain on the environment.

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10

Taking action beyond your wardrobe

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If you're passionate about the cause, raise awareness and give your social network simple ways to take action. Petition companies to do better, and bring progressive policies to the attention of local lawmakers. Actively seek out and support brands working on ground-up changes for the better.

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