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Can Fashion Ever Be Sustainable?

It’s more important than ever to be conscious of what we buy and how it effects the planet. 

Many of us now know that the current fast-fashion model has detrimental consequences for our environment and the workers who produce these garments. Brands, online and on the high street, are offering us new products daily. It seems as if we blink and the top we bought last week is no longer deemed ‘in fashion’. It’s crazy! Long gone are the days where we bought something with the intention of wearing it more than once.   

In terms of fashion, the majority of us are recovering hypocrites. For many years, I answered fast-fashion‘s siren like calls to buy the latest trends. I loved the feeling of having something new to wear. It was excitingeasy and all so cheap. I fell so in love with fashion that I even went on to study Fashion Marketing at university. For whatever reason, I didn’t seem to see past fashions glamorous exterior and think about what it took to actually make my clothes. Although everything happens for a reason. It was unfortunate that it did take £27,000 of university fees for me to realise that fashion, as it stands, is the enemy. 

It was in my second year, after studying a module in ‘Green Design’ that was the turning point for me. I finally realised and understood how damaging the fashion industry is for our planet and so many of its workers. 20% of all the worlds water pollution is due to the process of textile dyeing and rinsing of fabrics. Something as simple as water pollution has many knock-on effects for people’s livelihoods, health and biodiversity of the planet. I was hurt that my meaningless purchases had fuelled such disasters. It is also important to remember that everything is interconnected and so what happens on the other side of the world still has an effect on us. We cannot brush it off. For my remaining years at university, I stuck to my course, through gritted teeth, and tried to make the best of a bad situation. I focused all of my remaining projects on sustainability and green practices. Yet, through hours of research, I was still unsure if fashion could ever really be sustainable.   

Sustainability is commonly defined as ‘meeting current needs in a way that does not undermine future welfare.’ This means that our actions must take into consideration long term global impacts. Therefore, it is imperative we learn to use natural resources less wastefully. We should enforce a circular economy, so that nothing is wasted and everything is reused. We can not, and should not, just keep taking from the planet. So just because something is marketed as being made from all-natural fibers and ‘organic’, this does not mean it hasn’t negatively impacted the environment. ‘Natural’ and ‘organic’ do not automatically equal good or sustainable.  

Eco-fashion is tricky to navigate and there is one thought in particular that keeps jumping into my head. There are more than enough clothes already on our planet – in our wardrobes and in secondhand shops. Even if we buy a truly ‘sustainable’ piece of clothing and we do not need it, then is that almost as bad? I believe that our most sustainable piece of clothing is the one we chose not to buy. Of course, I want the industry to not have detrimental impacts for the planet. I do not want people’s lives to be ruined by the pollution and unfair wages of fashion. However, we need to change our mindsets too. We can’t keep buying, even if it is from sustainable brands, because that too produces waste. It should not be the quantity of what we have which defines our style, but the quality. A few great staple pieces the basis for a great outfit. 

A circular fashion system and buying solely for ‘need’ should go hand in hand. I mean an actual need, not a ‘want’ disguised as a need. The fashion industry still needs to change: an estimated ‘£140 million (350,000 tonnes) worth of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year,’ which is truly horrifying. However, the change can start with us. So, it’s about time we start cherishing what we already own and if we’re about to buy something new, asking ourselves 3 things:  

  1. How sustainable is this product?   
  1. Do I really need it/ do I own something similar?   
  1. Will I wear it for years to come? 

The rise in popularity of clothes sharing apps, such as Retell and NUW, are a great start in reducing what we buy and limiting waste. Buying from local secondhand shops or using apps like Depop and Ebay are great alternatives too.  

Let’s redefine what it means to be ‘fashionable’ and change our shopping habits. I don’t know about you, but I want what I wear to be timeless and personal. Following trends is so last year. 

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