sustainable fashion brands versus fast fashion
Sustainable fashion brands and fast fashion- the opposite ends of the fashion spectrum. Where sustainable brands hope to provide long lasting, quality, core pieces, fast fashion is built on low-quality, fast turnaround and the ever-shifting styles. Sustainable brands approach sourcing, manufacturing, and end of life with thoughtfulness; Fast fashion with speed and manic energy and little time for their consequences. Slow fashion treats workers and communities with dignity; fast fashion treats them as slaves and dumping grounds.
But there is a quiet movement happening. Sustainable fashion brands are becoming more widely available, and small brands are popping up, serving local communities, and going digitally global.
Before we begin, let’s take a look at why fast fashion has enjoyed such popularity. It comes down to three main elements:
We can get new clothes easily, cheaply, and frequently, to keep up with what the (fast) fashion industry tells us is the trend of the season, and even worse, the month. Fast fashion can do this because it exploits resources, people, and communities, and passes health and environmental corner-cutting onto its lucky customers in the form of cheap garments. You likely know how bad fast turnover of product is; how planned obsolescence turns valuable resources into landfill trash. But just in case, here are some quick facts to turn that general awareness into a more specific disappointment:
fast fashion facts
- Fast fashion is the second largest polluter, trumped only by Oil, responsible for 10% of carbon emissions and 20% of wastewater
- It produces 1.2 billion tons of CO2 annually
- 85% of textiles end up in the landfill as trash
- Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of garments is burned or dumped in the landfill.
- Much of fast fashion is made of synthetic materials, releasing half a million tons of synthetic microfibers into the ocean every year through washing.
- Those microplastics are estimated to make up over 30% of plastic pollution in the ocean. And their tiny size means they end up being mistaken for food, entering the food chain.
- Cotton is a thirsty plant. It takes 700 gallons of water to produce a cotton shirt, from growth through manufacture. If cotton is not grown in a water rich location, this water use can drain local aquatic ecosystems, rely heavily on energy to pump it from distant sources, and deplete drinking sources. If it is not captured, cleaned and recycled after chemical processes, it will pollute local waterways during disposal.
- The industry is expected to be responsible for the majority of the 170 million children estimated to be engaged in child labor globally. They are confined to unsanitary and polluted factories with low wages and poor living conditions. They are away from their poverty-stricken families who’ve been manipulated into sending their children to work through false promises of safety and payment.
There’s your dose of fashion trend disappointment.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Just ask these small, sustainable brands. They deliver those three desired elements -accessibility, affordability and style. Yet somehow they manage to not defile our environment, exploit human labor and violate health standards.
Below I am going to share three characteristics of sustainable fashion, and highlight a small, growing brand based on that characteristic. These brands place sustainability at the core of their business plans, their fashion products, origin, manufacturing, and value system, to create quality products for the masses.
By the end of this, you’ll wonder why big fast fashion brands just can’t seem to quit immorality. And why we all don’t quit fast fashion.
sustainable fashion through culture preservation
I’m starting with culture because I think it is overlooked in sustainability. When we think of sustainability, we often think first of the environment. Secondly, we might consider human and wildlife impacts. But rarely do we discuss cultural preservation.
Cultural commitment is such a unique characteristic for clothing brands to prioritize, because honestly, it is likely to their detriment. The fashion industry is so heavily reliant on replicability and technological processes. As we plunged into the industrial era, we found methods of production that greatly sped up product creation and skyrocketed accessibility. Although the industrial revolution has changed the world and pulled us forward in many ways, it has a way of leaving tradition behind.
That was its purpose, after all. To replace the slow, custom efforts of hands with the replicable, fast intricacies of tools.
So much of communal identities are lost when traditions are replaced by technology. But when they survive; when members of communities commit to carrying traditions into the future- alongside but separate from- technological replacements, these cultural methods become art forms. And in some cases, these art forms become clothing.
Hamaji clothing is one of these cases. Hamaji does not rely on factory technology. Instead Hamaji (a coastal Swahilian word for Nomad) supports local communities in Kenya by employing talented local artisans to produce high quality pieces hand-woven with traditional techniques and culture. It is a clothing line founded on the preservation of “ancient textile traditions and nomadic craftsmanship”, and its investment in these methods gives local artisans reason and financial support to keep these traditions alive. Hamaji may very well be playing a role in preventing tradition extinction through their clothing lines.
Hamaji’s other sustainable considerations: female empowerment; employing and supporting local artisan families of Kenya; natural and sustainably sourced fibers and upcycled vintage where possible.
sustainable fashion using a closed loop system
A closed loop means less raw materials are needed for input and results in less waste as an output. Inputs become outputs which become inputs again. Earth is a closed system- what we have now is what’s available. Within this closed system, however, we take raw materials along a linear path that leads to waste. For instance, in the fashion industry, plant materials- like cotton- are grown, mixed with toxins and chemicals, turned into clothing then tossed into a landfill. Raw material to waste. In a closed system, if you can’t turn the end of life materials into new inputs, then you run out of inputs.
Sustainable fashion brands are figuring out how to turn those raw-materials-turned-clothing back into raw materials. Or other inputs, like water, from a waste product, back into a usable input.
Kano’s Organic Clothing line does exactly that. Kano uses a closed loop system for water capture to ensure that 95% of their water is reused during production. And they have a return system that allows worn out clothing to be turned back into new clothing- which is possible because of their organic approach to growing raw materials. From their sustainability page directly: “Our products can be returned and remade again and again and again.”
Other notable sustainability practices employed by Kano: use of renewable energy; human-friendly manufacturing; plastic free packaging; all parts of the organically grown cotton plants are used, producing different products and leading to no waste; high-tech, real-time printing process for made to order product means no waste or excess product, keeping pricing to end users reasonable.
Kano is affordable, sustainable, accessible and trendy, not to mention, they create super soft t-shirts with environmental messaging. Why select a different brand that is clearly inferior in quality and ethics, and even price? If Kano can prioritize sustainability in all these varying ways, surely, large fashion brands can do the same.
sustainable fashion through waste as a raw input
Textiles require a vast amount of land, water, and pesticide and chemical application to serve as the raw materials for fabrics. Synthetic materials are often petroleum-based and are responsible for hundreds of thousands of tiny microfibers making their way into the water system each time you wash a load of clothes. Responsible fashion designers are recognizing that this is not the way forward and are pursuing various methods to move away from harmful raw materials.
A few pioneering fashion brands are looking at using waste, material that otherwise would serve its end of life sentence in a landfill, as inputs for new fabric.
Have you ever thought “what a lovely silk you’ll make!” after peeling an orange? Well, somebody did. Someone also thought “pineapple leaf fiber, sugar cane linen, banana fiber, palm tree leaf leather, corn fabric and coconut shoes…” and then, went ahead and made them into that.
These brands were tired of the fashion industry creating products that ended up as trash. They decided to turn it around and use trash to create their products.
Arete D’Oro is one of these brands.
They turn 100% organic food waste into affordable fashion, creating timeless “environmentally neutral garments”. This diverts waste from the landfill and reduces reliance on land and water for growing raw materials. This Australian brand, launching soon, has a focused mission to create sustainable, trendy clothing that is also affordable, turning the ‘sustainable fashion is a luxury” myth on its head.
I highly suggest you check these brands out, follow them on social media and see the great new things they are doing in the world of fashion. If these small brands can create sustainable, accessible, affordable, trendy, quality clothing, there are no more excuses for us to continue supporting fast fashion.
What more could you want from a clothing brand? Because I prefer my garments without human slavery, health negligence, environmental degradation and guilt.
Buy sustainable, folks. No more excuses.
To follow these brands on Instagram:
Kano Organic Clothing: @kano.organic.clothing
Arete d’Oro: @aretedoro
If you are looking for more ways to get sustainable fashion, check out “Where Can I Get Sustainable Clothing?”