Sustainability! A word we’re reading on all clothing tags and advertisements. Everyone these days wants their brand to be sustainable, organic, cruelty-free and so on. The concept of sustainability has taken the fashion industry by a storm. However, does a garment become sustainable if a manufacturer is using 100% organic cotton or natural dyes? Well, not really. In today’s day and age, the term is being misused to such an extent that the true meaning is almost lost. It has become such a trend that consumers are actually questioning if sustainable products really exist or is it a sheer marketing gimmick. 

According to a survey conducted by Blue Yonder, 69 percent consumers in the US are willing to pay more for eco-friendly and sustainable products. Although apparel manufacturers have taken the plunge into sustainable fashion, are the products they manufacture truly sustainable? Overusing the term just to win the game will take a brand nowhere. 

What is Sustainable Fashion?

Beyond a buzzword and a temporary trend, sustainable fashion is a concept that is all about materials and manufacturing processes. It is a collective practice that ensures fashion articles and apparel are created keeping in mind animal welfare, carbon footprint, ecological practices, equality and social responsibility. There are no two thoughts about the fact that today’s consumers are eco-conscious. And, to cater to their demands, you need to ensure you’re adding value to the clothing tag. 

What Constitutes Sustainable Fashion?

When we talk about sustainability in fashion, it goes beyond textile or material. It constitutes the entire product lifecycle. It is a broad term that encompasses how clothing is produced, consumed and disposed of. 

A fashion brand is considered sustainable if it adheres to the following:

  • Organic materials: The primary focus of sustainable fashion is what kind of materials are used in production. Organic and natural materials are those which are grown without harmful pesticides and chemicals. For example, organic cotton is grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilisers or genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Other natural materials which are also renewable and biodegradable include wool, linen, mushroom leather and hemp. 
  • Ethical and fair trade: As mentioned earlier, a brand is considered sustainable if they follow fair trade practices. This involves the various activities conducted to maintain the welfare of the workers in the garment industry. Equality rights, prevention of child labour, fair wages and safe working conditions come under ethical practices. 
  • Upcycling: As the name implies, upcycling is all about reusing and repurposing materials to create new fashion. A lot of fashion brands these days are upcycling existing materials instead of throwing them away. By doing so, the waste generation is comparatively less, and creativity and innovation is at its peak. 
  • Slow fashion: These days, consumers are pretty mindful about the fashion choices they make. They are choosing slow fashion over fast fashion. Slow fashion is another aspect of sustainable fashion. It is a design and production approach that focuses on quality over quantity. Contrary to producing inexpensive clothing at a rapid pace and following trends, slow fashion is all about creating mindful collections that ensure the quality and longevity of clothing. Zara, H&M, SHEIN and Forever 21 are a few examples of fast-fashion brands. Indian homegrown labels that are advocates of the slow fashion movement are The Summer House, Nicobar, JODI Life, Doodlage and so on. 
  • Use of natural dyes: Using natural dyes is another important component of sustainable fashion. Synthetic dyes are not just harmful to the environment but also to human health. Dyes derived from plants are non-toxic, biodegradable and non-allergenic. 
  • Ethical production practices: Beyond the product, how it is manufactured also matters. If a brand calls itself sustainable, they should incorporate ethical practices at their production unit too. Some of the common ones include transparent supply chains, reduced water and energy consumption, and responsible sourcing. 
  • Cruelty-free fashion: Not all sustainable clothing brands follow this. However, there are several premium brands that deem themselves 100% vegan and cruelty-free. This means, their products are manufactured without using any raw materials derived from animal origin. 

The Way Forward 

When a brand diligently follows the above-mentioned points, they can be called sustainable. It’s high time brands realise that sustainable fashion is a multifaceted approach. 

If you want to position yourself as a responsible fashion brand, embracing sustainability is key. As of 2024, Gen Z and millennials are more concerned about reducing waste and lowering the carbon footprint. In fact, studies suggest that they are even willing to pay more if the garment is ethically sourced and made. To give consumers a better understanding of what they’re supporting, it’s best to include all your process and product details on the tag/label. As an eco-conscious brand, providing clear and transparent information is vital. 

Upskill your Knowledge of Sustainability with Vogue Institute of Art & Design 

When students pursue a BSc in Fashion & Apparel Design from Vogue, they will get to learn more about inclusive and sustainable fashion. They get a chance to participate in live projects and meet garment manufacturers to learn more about their production and processes they undertake.  

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