Given the amount of time I spend throwing around the phrase “sustainable fashion” (for my Twitter followers, just throw on a #), I feel it appropriate to explain my definition.
I had a lot of conversations in New York City last week with designers whom I consider to be “sustainable.” Many of them, however, are hesitant to portray themselves in that light. Their hesitancy is both unfortunate and understandable. Unfortunate that “sustainable fashion” still comes with a stigma of clothes that look like this:
And understandable that designers whose clothing actually look like this:
want to avoid that stigma. Yet the pieces above were all designed and manufactured on West 35th street in New York City. That means that they were designed and produced by people paid a living wage, and were transported very short distances between the factory floor and the designer’s workshop, thus reducing their carbon footprints. To me, that’s sustainable.
I realize that designers are wary of the label. It’s a high standard to live up to, and opens them up to criticism. But the way forward for this industry is not crying sweatshop and pointing fingers. Rather, we’ve got to support companies that are producing fashion with a thought to the world around them. They don’t have to be organic, vegan, fair trade, and made locally. But if they are one of those things, GREAT!
The key is to be thoughtful about how, with what, and by whom your clothes are made. In today’s globalized consumer climate, we can’t reasonably expect perfection. But we can and should expect effort and awareness.
Sites like LovingEco have the right idea. Recognizing that there are many aspects to sustainability, they have a badge system that labels which categories a particular sale item falls into. The categories are: organic, vegan, fair trade, cruelty-free, recycled Made in USA, energy and resource efficient, handmade, biodegradable, and locally-produced. To that list I might add traditional crafts and upcycling (incorporating recycled materials and repurposing).
Consumers that have strict guidelines – perhaps they only buy vegan products – can find things that fit their requirements, and those of us with looser ways (in fashion) can be informed about the products we are buying. I like this. I talked to a lot of designers in New York last week who are working towards sustainability. They were all very honest about the difficult decisions and trade-offs they have to make. I appreciate that honesty, and am looking forward to those decisions getting less difficult and our clothes getting cleaner.