By. Stephanie Lam
Whether you're a fashion diva or a throw-on-whatever kind of gal, there are two fundamental truths regarding fashion: No one should die while making your clothes, and there shouldn’t be poisonous chemicals flooding our environment during the manufacturing process. Many clothing items that people see in stores like Macy, JCPenny, or Target are considered “fast fashion.” The term refers to shirts, pants, or dresses that are designed to be sold at a cheap price, and then disposed of when trendier clothing comes along. It is the main culprit in the fashion industry for harming the environment, factory workers, and, ultimately, you, the consumer. The negative impact of fast fashion has led to social and environmental advocacy and the popularization of sustainable fashion.
What does the term “sustainable fashion” mean?
According to Green Dreamer, an online holistic healing and ecological regeneration journal, sustainable fashion refers to clothing that is “designed, manufactured, and distributed” in an environmentally friendly way. Sustainable fashion items include any clothes made from natural materials, like cotton, hemp, or recycled fibers. These materials don’t require the same high level of processing as fast fashion fabrics like nylon and polyester.
While sustainable fashion makes people more environmentally conscious, the harsh truth is that it’s impossible to be 100% sustainable with fashion. Let’s analyze four common myths about being sustainable and find the areas where we can correct our habits to do our part for the planet.
1. Buying from “sustainable” brands will help the environment
Verdict: Partly true
While buying clothes from more eco-friendly brands is a step in the right direction, it is not the cure-all for helping the environment. Advocates for sustainable fashion encourage people to buy fewer items and wear or restyle clothes for as long as possible. A more sustainable alternative to buying clothes is to upcycle or mend your old clothes. You can also give old clothes that are in decent condition to family members, friends, or anyone you know will continue to wear them.
2. Donating your old clothes is sustainable
According to CNN Style’s September 2020 article about sustainable fashion, people believe that it is more sustainable to donate their old and unused clothes rather than recycle them. While charities and thrift stores, like Goodwill and the Salvation Army, can give away or sell the clothes they receive, most of the clothes will eventually end up in overseas landfills.
3. Fast and Sustainable fashion fabrics can be recycled/composed
Verdict: Not always
According to an April 2017 article from the sustainable fashion website EcoCult, not all fast fashion fabrics are recyclable, and rarely are sustainable fashion fabrics composable. Many fabrics are made from multiple materials, such as polyester and cotton or nylon and cotton. These materials need to be separated for clothes to be properly recycled. Even natural fibers like silk and linen are mixed with chemicals and dyes that are toxic to the environment. They, too, will eventually need to be thrown out.
4. Sustainable fashion clothing items aren’t as aesthetically pleasing or as comfortable as fast fashion
Verdict: Totally false
Although this last myth is subjective, it is a common association people make with sustainable fashion. People equate sustainable fashion items with clothes in pastel shades and simple designs. Sustainable shirts, pants, or dresses don’t have the same variety of colors and patterns as fast fashion ones. However, this is not the case! There are plenty of sustainable clothing websites like GoodTrade that compile uniquely designed clothes in their collections.
With so many websites and articles writing about eco-friendly brands and fabrics, it can be difficult to separate the facts about sustainable fashion from the misconceptions.
Being sustainable is about more than just avoiding fast-fashion. To advocate for social and environmental change in the industry, we must all reduce our consumption. You as a consumer can do your part by 1. Not selling or donating your old clothes 2. Reviving your clothes with a few alterations, 3. Not recycling clothes thinking it is environmentally friendly. If you do feel tempted to shop, steer clear of chain stores like Macy, JCPenny, or Target and instead celebrate the quality and fabulous designs that eco-friendly brands have to offer.
Stephanie Lam is an editorial intern who likes finding unique ways to write about culture, fashion and lifestyle.