What Is Sustainable Fashion?
December 29, 2020
December 29, 2020
What We Considered
In the age of information, we want you to walk into our space with all of the facts that help you find a more conscious and impactful purchase. That’s why we caught up with Tabea Soriano who has been an independent sustainability consultant for five years. Tabea started her career in brand operations and quickly discovered her passion for spreading the word about sustainability to everyone who can hear it. After hours you’ll find her enjoying the upstate life with Isa her tuxedo kitty— both adventuring outdoors and snuggling on the couch binging the Queen’s Gambit.
We know that the New Year is quickly approaching and there is no question that understanding the truth about shopping sustainably is top of mind for us. With all of this time at home, we have been scouring the internet to learn more about which brands are truly sustainable (not the greenwashing fast fashion brands that are “supposedly” doing better). Luckily, Tabea is here to help.
Q: Let’s talk about sustainable fashion. There’s an overload of information about eco-friendly materials out there, and conflicting information about what’s actually good for the environment. What are 3 things we should be looking for as consumers of sustainable fashion?
We could spend many many hours on this topic. Generally, ‘sustainable’ includes both social and environmental considerations. However, let’s focus on the environmental aspect for this answer. The best thing for the environment is to wear the clothes you already own. Environmental degradation is a problem of misuse and overconsumption. After that, I’d say if you’re purchasing something, vintage or second-hand is the next preferable thing. Finally, if you’re buying new items, focus on quality and longevity in your closet (i.e. am I going to wear this for years to come).
In terms of materials themselves, we could spend more hours on this topic as well! Individual fibers have good, better, best classifications, but a general rule of thumb is: organic and/or regenerative natural materials (eg organic linen, organic cotton etc ) and/or recycled natural materials (eg recycled cotton, recycled wool, recycled cashmere, but also deadstock fabrics) are preferable, recycled synthetics (eg recycled polyester, recycled nylon etc) only when necessary in terms of product integrity, conventional fibers (virgin polyester, conventional wool/cotton/silk etc) are to be avoided.
And don’t throw your clothes away! In order of preference: give to a friend/family member or sell on any of the numerous resale platforms. Donations should be a last resort in most cases.
Talk to us about recycled plastics and the controversy surrounding the impacts of these materials. What are the pros and cons of recycled vs. plant-based materials?
The problem with all recycled synthetics is that they are still synthetics and take hundreds of years to degrade. Ultimately polyester, recycled or not, sheds microfibers into our water streams when we wash them. They have already contaminated the food chain. We literally ingest microscopic bits of plastic by drinking water and eating seafood. There are some ways to minimize this: wash your synthetics sparingly, using a GuppyFriend bag while washing or attaching a microfiber filter to your washing machine hose.
At a systemic level, the problem with the current ‘trend’ toward recycled polyester is that it makes us, the consumer, believe that we’re solving a problem. Unfortunately, our systems aren’t currently set up to make recycling a holistic, commercially viable solution. “Making new plastic out of oil is cheaper and easier than making it out of plastic trash.”
Plant-based materials include fibers such as cotton, linen, hemp and man-made cellulosics such as viscose, Tencel and modal. Other natural materials that biodegrade include animal-based fibers such as wool, cashmere, silk, alpaca. You can find these materials in Graceful District and Everybody & Everyone.
Sustainable packaging and reducing carbon footprints seem to be all the rage, but how are these elements truly affecting the impacts of our purchases?
Like most answers in this space: it depends. It’s great to get around plastic (see above), but not if the paper and cardboard are coming from unregulated forests. Airing in products from your manufacturing site overseas is always going to be much worse in terms of carbon footprint than putting it on a boat, no matter how much you offset. Still, they’re steps in the right direction. If the industry can start working together at a systemic level to innovate and find practical solutions that would minimize emissions at scale as well as single-use materials, we could have a greater impact.
Tell us about greenwashing. We want to know that we’re buying from brands that are working toward protecting Mother Earth. How can we tell the imposters from the well-intentioned brands?
I tend to avoid brands that are splashy about one ‘big sustainable thing,’ but don’t have the overall brand sustainability commitments, material certifications and supply chain transparency to back it up. And no brand is perfect! But I think the consumer is getting more savvy with this: does it seem like this brand is riding a trend (all the money went to photography and digital marketing), or does it seem like this brand has asked the tough questions and is humbly telling its story about it (money was spent on research, engaging with experts, and building out an arguably unsexy part of the website: sustainability commitments, etc).
What does a truly sustainable future look like, and do you think the industry will conform to sustainability practices all-around?
This excellent and thought-provoking article by Elizabeth Cline, “The Twilight of the Ethical Consumer,” sums up what I’ve been thinking about lately, as it shatters the notion of an ‘ethical consumer’ and puts the onus for a truly sustainable future on civil society.
What are some sustainable fashion brands that you recommend and that are setting a good example?
Holistically, I always return to Patagonia. For Days is doing good work in terms of circularity. And I’m biased, but Another Tomorrow is doing the most in terms of supply chain. In terms of an all-around good product and with a great founder story, I love Knickey. But I usually shop my closet…
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