What Does Sustainable Fashion Actually Mean?

And how can we become responsible consumers?

Words by Qing Sum
August 6th, 2019

When it comes to fast fashion and shopping sustainably, we are more switched on than ever before. That’s according to a recent industry report, which found 50% of us prefer to buy from retailers who are trying to reduce their impact on the environment.

So it’s fair to say, sustainable fashion is definitely having its moment right now. But what does sustainable fashion really mean? And can the fashion industry ever really be sustainable?

Renowned fashion journalist and author Tamsin Blanchard and Cara Smyth of the Fair Fashion Centre recently came together to discuss the state of the global garment industry. Here are their thoughts on how we can decipher the truth behind the buzzwords, and how we can become responsible consumers.

Sustainable fashion has more than one meaning

‘Sustainable fashion’ might conjure up images of bohemian hippies in baggy clothes, but the term actually covers a wide range of environmentally, socially, and ethically conscious processes. However, Cara argues that this also brings its own problems, as the phrase becomes a buzzword and loses its meaning: “I find sustainable as a word is actually very lazy, and it’s become such a cliché. Nobody really knows what it means anymore.”

This means there is a lot of new vocabulary to learn – for example, how many people know the difference between slow fashion and ethical fashion? Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to brush up on the most common terms.

Sustainable fashion is about thinking outside the box

There is no denying that the fashion industry lives on making and selling more products. ‘Sustainable fashion’ sounds like an oxymoron, but this means brands and designers are finding innovative solutions and making better choices instead. Tamsin says, “We’re in an industry where we make money out of selling things so you can’t really ever be sustainable, but you can make better choices.”

Both high street and luxury brands are making changes to their businesses – for example, Burberry announced it would no longer use real fur, Converse launched a new and improved collection of Chuck Taylors that are made from recycled plastic bottles, and Nike signed a UN pledge to meet climate change targets. These are just some of the actions brands are taking to support a more sustainable fashion industry, without compromising the core business model.



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Sustainable fashion is a collaborative process

As consumers become increasingly aware of their fashion footprint, clothing companies are transforming their business models to match public opinion. “There’s been a lot of shifts in the way we think and interact with our clothes that have forced a sustainable conversation…”

At the same time, changing business practices and policies are also encouraging consumers to rethink their shopping habits. Cara has an optimistic vision for fashion in the future, where every item of clothing is sustainable by default: “…sustainable fashion should be and will be every single piece that’s made.”

Ultimately, open and honest communication is the way forward if the fashion industry is to become more sustainable, and Tamsin and Cara emphasise that it is up to us as consumers to drive that conversation forward.