What is the Definition of Sustainable Fashion?

Sustainable fashion aims to reinvent the destructive practices of the ready-to-wear fashion industry entirely. There’s a hidden cost to fashion. With global fashion consuming 93 billion metric tons of water annually -- which is significantly more than most countries’ populations drink over the same amount of time -- it’s time to rethink how we wear and what we wear.

Some companies tend to use the language of sustainability to talk about their fashion products, which is why it’s essential to understand exactly what sustainable fashion is not. Sustainable fashion is not just about recycling old clothes or purchasing clothing articles built to last. Sustainable fashion means striving for net-zero carbon emissions in every stage of sourcing, manufacturing, selling, and recycling apparel. Here are some ways sustainable fashion turns the page on outdated fashion industry practices.


Sustainably Sourced Materials

Materials like traditional cotton are disastrous for the environment. The cost of traditional cotton production isn’t just in water but in agricultural space, emissions, and pesticides. Luckily, many fashion brands are using alternatives. Some natural fibers, like castor yarn, hemp and more progressively grown organic cotton, are much less wasteful. Synthetic fibers like lyocell fabric are also sustainable options.


Recycling and Recycled Materials

Recycling has been a buzzword for decades, and we know that true sustainability encompasses so much more than putting plastic bottles into the blue bin instead of the trash can. But this doesn’t mean that recycling isn’t essential. Of the 25 billion pairs of shoes sold each year, 95% will find their way to the trash. Manufacturing more minimalist apparel with fewer components that can be efficiently broken down and wholly recycled, instead of partially processed for recycling or simply discarded, is an essential tool in fighting the impact of production on the environment. And the recyclability of clothing itself isn’t the only factor to consider; in the era of online shopping, packaging and shipping need also be made from recyclable material. The essence of circularity is accounting for a product’s lifespan rather than a single link in the supply-demand loop.


On-demand Fashion Production

Some fashion industry members are using on-demand production to meet the high standards of true sustainability. Fast-changing fashion trends can be met in two ways. The first is the torrential stream of production and consumption dictated by seasons, cycles, and consumptive whims, which was popularized in the early 2000s. The verdict? Clothing and apparel account for nearly 10% of the global carbon emissions. The second is on-demand production, a method made possible by smaller, ethical companies that deftly meet customers' needs through data analysis and versatility. Instead of sitting in warehouses, on-demand production means that apparel is produced precisely when it’s needed.


Eco-Subscription Services

Eco-subscriptions, like the services offered by innovative new companies emerging on the fashion scene, provide another dimension for circularity and on-demand production. By utilizing technology to keep customers in the loop about when it’s time for a new pair of shoes or a new jacket, eco-subscription services find ways to respond ethically to climate change without becoming too expensive or limiting customer personalization.


Circularity as a Fashion Movement

Circularity is sustainability put into action at scale. What we make and buy doesn’t just disappear. At every juncture in the vast network we call supply and demand, we leave behind waste, whether in the form of carbon emissions in our atmosphere or plastic blockage in our oceans. Every stage in a product’s lifespan needs to be accounted for to be truly sustainable. This is why circularity is becoming essential to fashion, currently one of the most pollutive industries on the planet.

Progressive new companies like Baliston have used innovative and simple design to evolve this approach. Baliston shoes uses only five materials so that components can be separated and recycled in the most efficient way.

Baliston's technology alerts the wearers to when the cushioning of their shoes is wearing down, at which point the company collects the old pair and sends subscribers a fresh one. The shoes are then deconstructed down to their raw materials at Baliston's recycling facility in Denver. At that point, the raw material manufacturers collect the used materials, much of which will be repurposed for the next collection of Baliston shoes, the rest recycled for other uses.

Just as Baliston is doing, the call for circularity in fashion needs to be a movement embraced by consumers, critics, and the industry itself.


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