How Sustainable are Sustainable Fashion Brands, Really?
These days, “sustainability” has become such a popular term, it’s impossible to avoid hearing it in any conversation. According to VogueBusiness.com, high-end fashion companies used the words “sustainable”or “sustainability” at least once every four pages in their 2018 annual reports. But what does this term really mean? Ok, we know that technically it means “durable” and “long-lasting”, but when it’s used together with “fashion”, does it really mean “long-lasting fashion”? Not exactly. At least that’s not the message fashion companies are promoting. They are promoting products that leave behind a negative footprint. Sounds good, right? Yet, here’s the catch: to be truly sustainable, it would require companies to avoid producing anything new, and instead re-use and recycle what’s already out there.
Companies that inform and inspire conscious consumption, such as Shop Tomorrows, encourage second-hand shopping, which is the only true definition of “sustainable fashion”. And yes, we understand that the struggle to wear something new for every Instagram post you’re featured in is very real, which is why sharing, trading, borrowing, or buying second-hand is so great. Imagine if we could return to the bartering system, where the currency is clothing: there certainly is enough inventory out there. Heck, the Kardashian closets alone could most likely clothe the entire country! But seriously, think about how much easier it would be to have a revolving set of outfits for your kids that outgrow their clothing in one week- without having to buy anything new. Well, we are HERE FOR THAT. Literally.
In an age of “fake news” the challenge is in sifting through all the talk about sustainability, and cutting down to the actual facts. Fact: no production equals no waste. Fact: the US generates on average 25 billion pounds of textiles per year (including clothing, footwear, accessories, towels). Fact: 85% of that 25 billion ends up in our landfills. That’s why the Council for Textile Recycling has set the goal for ZERO waste by 2037. Greta Thunberg would say that the goal should be for 2020, not 17 years from now, but the challenge is in permanently influencing mass consumption. Ideally, this will happen immediately through the spread of information. The reality however, is that we still like new stuff. Well, we can have new things without generating new, virgin textiles.
We love our sneakers just as much as the next person, and are excited that established brands like Nike and Adidas are taking actions towards sustainable practices. The Parley x Adidas partnership is especially exciting: their initiative converts ocean plastics into 100% recycled sneakers, converting 5 million pairs this year out of Parley Ocean Plastic. However, while they’re selling those shoes, which sold out immediately, they continue to sell other products which are not made from recycled materials. Their goal is to use only recycled polyester in all their products by 2024. Greta Thunberg would say, how about now? Not in 4 years! Notice, though, that while they vow to use 100% recycled polyester in all their clothing, they did not say that 100% of their clothing will be made entirely of recycled material. There’s a difference!
ADIDAS X PARLEY Collection. Image Credit: Business Insider
Everlane is also a great company that we like, especially because of its initiative to be transparent about their manufacturing practices. Yet, just like Adidas, it can’t be considered entirely sustainable, when only part of their product line is carrying the weight of that concept. Their denim is manufactured in partnership with innovative Saitex, which uses recycled materials to re-purpose as new textiles. (Key word here: “new textiles”). What about the rest of their products though? We don’t see much effort being put into using sustainable materials there.
Everlane Wide Leg Crop Jean. Image Credit: Shape
On the other hand, we commend companies such as Reformation and Veja that are making conscious efforts towards considering every part of the supply chain: people, planet, and animals.
Little kid's sustainable sneakers, Veja. Image Credit: LDN Fashion
While we recognize that keeping the fashion industry from manufacturing new products is idealistic, it is important to continue spreading information about the consequences of fast fashion. It is still possible to generate healthy profits and continue growing our economy while reducing our textile waste. Or better yet, while removing our textile waste! This will just take more innovation and shifting of our priorities. And that, is entirely realistic.
(By the way, this article mentioned the word “sustainable” 7 times!)