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What is sustainable fashion and why should we care?

Have you ever taken a second to think about where the clothes you're wearing come from?

Sustainability, in its truest sense, refers to preserving the ecological balance of the planet by preventing the depletion of natural resources. However, sustainability is also frequently extended to social systems, ensuring that they advance the wellbeing of all impacted people and communities.

According to the Global Slavery Index, there are currently 40 million people believed to be victims of modern slavery, many of them are from the Global South and are employed in the supply chains of western apparel companies.

Climate change, as well as the ongoing exploitation of the worlds poorest, are two of the biggest issues we face as a global society. These issues are far reaching, but perhaps most accessible when we take a moment to think about the clothes on our backs and the impacts of fast fashion, the endless trend cycle, and our love of shopping.

So, what is sustainable fashion?

Currently, the fashion industry prioritises the creation, production, and consumption of clothing and accessories over the long-term ecological effects that consumption is having on the world and its environment.

Turning that system on its head is what sustainable fashion is all about. It's about wearing clothes that benefit others while preventing harm to the environment, the planet, or animals.

Let's put it simply with some of the practical benefits of supporting sustainable fashion:

  • Sustainable clothing lowers global carbon emissions, water pollution, and waste production.
  • It's also proven to be better quality. Slow fashion (which is the opposite of fast fashion) advocates for better quality garments overall, meaning you can enjoy your clothes for longer while also knowing they were made ethically and sustainably.
  • You're supporting fair labour practises as workers are paid a living wage, which means its enough to meet a worker and their family's basic needs.
  • When you choose environmentally-friendly clothing, you immediately feel good about helping the earth.

What are the ethical issues in the fashion industry?

Ethics, sustainability and the fashion industry are intertwined. In fact, fashion is one of the five key industries implicated in modern slavery.

Despite there being no legal definition of modern slavery, it's used as a blanket term to refer to acts including forced labour, debt servitude, forced marriage, and human trafficking.

In essence, it refers to exploitative circumstances where a person is unable to refuse or leave due to violence, threats, coercion, misrepresentation, or the abuse of power. Additionally, about one in ten children worldwide, or more than 150 million kids, are involved in child labour.

What good is it to protect the environment and start ecologically-friendly businesses if the people who call this planet home are still being taken advantage of? That's why there are three principles to sustainability: economic viability, environmental protection, and social equity.

It's important to remember when you choose where you buy your clothes to look for information around how that brand and it's manufacturers and suppliers treat people, animals and the planet.

What is the future of sustainable fashion worldwide?

The future of sustainable fashion starts with you. No that doesn't mean you have to go through your cupboard and throw out everything you've ever bought from a fast-fashion retailer!

It also doesn't mean we're naive to think we can solve these issues individually. However, as people who live in one of the richest countries in the world, we have the opportunity to put our money where our mouth is and demand more from large fashion retailers.

Try taking small steps toward making your wardrobe more sustainable:

  • download the good on you app to your phone or visit 1% for the Planet's business directory and research how your favourite brands rate toward sustainability and ethical treatment of workers and animals
  • write to your favourite brands that don't measure up and ask them to consider more sustainable practises
  • go through your wardrobe and see if you can pair clothes you haven't worn in a while with newer ones
  • invest in clothing from slow-fashion brands over fast-fashion brands
  • work out how much you buy per month and set a goal to lower that number
  • challenge yourself to a 'wear your wardrobe' challenge, and commit to not buying any new clothes until you've cycled through what you have already.

Want to know more? Catch up with fashion lecturer Ehud and his student while they chat through TAFE Queensland's Bachelor of Creative Industries (Applied Fashion) (ARB402) and what’s involved in the future of the fashion industry, before discussing the importance of sustainability in the fashion world and how aspiring fashion designers can tackle this challenge head on.