"Sustainable fashion" has become a bit of a buzzword lately, and it's easy to dismiss it as another marketing gimmick (more on greenwashing later...). However, it's actually a really important idea that we all need to pay more attention to when making a purchasing decision.
Let's start by defining sustainable fashion: what does the term really mean?
Well, at the moment there may not be a clear universal definition, and a big reason for that is likely because it encompasses a wide range of things. With that in mind, Dr Anna Brismar of Green Strategy last year defined 7 main forms of sustainable fashion in production & consumption, which we feel captures the idea really well.
Namely these are:
- On Demand & Custom Made
- Green & Clean
- High Quality & Timeless Design
- Fair & Ethical
- Repair, Redesign & Upcycle
- Rent, Lease & Swap
- Secondhand & Vintage
In an ideal world, where a true circular economy flourishes, all of these aspects would exist for a given article of clothing. For this to become a reality, though, it requires participation from both businesses (us) and consumers (you).
What does this partnership look like? Well, as a business we feel it's our responsibility to focus on the first four points, which are directly within our realm of control, and call on our customers to work on the last three. We'll go into this in a bit more detail in a future post, but for now just try to bear it in mind – not just when you buy from us, but for all of your clothes!
Okay, with that out of the way, let's address the crux of the issue: why is a sustainable approach to fashion so important?
This one can be broken into two parts: environmental and social.
The Environmental Aspect
When people think (and talk) about sustainable fashion, they are often referring mainly or wholly to the environmental aspects. This includes things like using sustainable textiles (such as organic cotton, recycled polyester, and tencel), reducing water consumption, reducing carbon footprint, using recyclable packaging, etc. The importance of this is obvious: the fashion industry is the world's second most polluting industry, according to the UN. Given this, and the fact that we're unlikely to stop needing clothes (unless nudism is your thing, in which case more power to you, friend 😉👊), it is crucial that we work to fix the problems – and sooner rather than later.
Let's close off this point with a few hard facts about the industry:
- It currently generates as much as 10% of the world's carbon emissions
- Has already led to more than 1.4 million trillion plastic fibres in the ocean
- Is responsible for 20% of global wastewater
- A garbage truck full of textiles is landfilled or incinerated every second
Not easy to hear, right?
These are amongst the many reasons that the environmental aspect is absolutely the central focus of Nerd Jar as a brand. However, our commitment to sustainability goes beyond that; the social implications of our business are extremely important to us as well. So let's talk about this so-called "human cost" of the fashion industry.
The Social Aspect
According the International Labour Organisation (ILO) around 152 million (or 1 in 10) children are in child labour globally. Sadly, many of those work in the fashion industry, be it directly or indirectly. On top of that, the ILO says progress towards reducing that number has slowed in recent years.
"Sweatshops" – factories in which workers are paid illegally low wages and work for long hours under poor conditions – have also been a massive concern in the supply chains of many fashion retailers, even the large well-known brands. And sadly, according to some accounts, they are still alive and well – and may not be as far from home as you might thing. The New York Times' recent story around Fashion Nova's exploitation of sweatshops in Los Angeles is one scary testament to that fact.
In order to eliminate child labour and sweatshops, businesses need to commit to higher social standards. Which means employing people above the legal working age, providing fair working conditions, and offering fair pay. In addition, our governments need to enforce it and consumers need to demand it.
So, as you can see, sustainability is extremely important in fashion, and the onus is on both the seller and the buyer. It is critical to bear both the environmental and the social factors in mind when you think about "sustainable fashion", and even more important to think about these things when it comes to the brands you choose to support and buy from.
Of course, as you're probably aware, a business's operations are often pretty opaque, and it's difficult to assess the true nature of their policies...
So how do you know whether a brand really is sustainable?
Unfortunately, a lot of brands are throwing around the right buzzwords to appear eco-friendly and socially responsible when in fact they are anything but. This concept is known as "greenwashing".
The best thing you can do to avoid being fooled by this trick is to make sure you do your research, and don't be afraid to ask tough questions directly to the company should they arise.
Additionally, be sure to look out for labels like these:
- Fair Wear Foundation
- Peta-Approved Vegan
- Organic Content Standard (OCS) 100
- Certified B Corporation
Don't worry, we'll do another post in the future to help you understand what each of these mean and why you should pay attention to them.
We hope this helps, and if you'd like to know more about our own sustainability practices be sure to check out our sustainability page. If you have any questions, feel free to post a comment below or reach out directly either via live chat or this form. See you again soon!