Whoever said to me, ‘don’t use bags made from real leather, instead invest in bags that are made from vegan leather’, did not do their research. The leather used by the fashion industry comes as a by-product of the meat industry and to be fair, vegan leather is not always ‘environmentally friendly’.
Most vegan leather products in the industry are manufactured using synthetic fibers like polyurethane and PVC . These are not biodegradable as their manufacturing process releases a number of toxic chemicals that cause harm to the environment. Cases that involve the use of exotic skins however, are clearly unethical. These are a number of issues that we can categorize as ‘myths’ when it comes to defining ‘sustainable fashion’.
Sustainable vs Ethical
Let’s begin by defining what some important terms mean and why they can not be used interchangeably. Dr. Brismar of Green Strategy states, “Sustainable fashion can be defined as clothing, shoes and accessories that are manufactured, marketed and used in the most sustainable manner possible, taking into account both environmental and socio-economic aspects.”
In our day-to-day conversations, we often use the terms ethical and sustainable interchangeably. It is important to understand the difference between these terms. We can define ethical fashion as fashion that takes into account the morals of manufacturing. Ethical fashion encompasses monitoring and avoiding the use of forced or child labour and cruelty free and vegan practices.
In simple terms, we can say that ‘sustainable fashion’ focuses on the production of fashion and apparel that will last, whilst keeping in mind the environmental costs of production. The idea is to recognize and eliminate the pollution caused from the manufacturing process. Noticeably, most ‘sustainable fashion brands’ offer a limited choice of merchandise, as they lay more emphasis on quality over quantity.
These business models use organic fabrics that have biodegradable properties which are easily disposed of. This is also known as ‘Slow Fashion’. Ethical fashion, however, is more focused on the practices involved in the making process of what may or may not be sustainable clothing, i.e. the social impact of the fashion industry.
‘Slow fashion’ refers to buying less, in order to mitigate high consumption and focusing on durability as an important characteristic. Circular fashion means “clothes that are designed, produced and sold to design out waste and pollution, keep the product and the materials that constitute it in use (while maintaining their quality), and to dispose of it in a way that regenerates the natural systems. Circular fashion moves away from the traditional take-make-dispose business model.” (Rauturier, 2019)
Myths about Sustainable Fashion
Now that we have understood in detail what the different terms mean, let’s talk about some myths that exist about sustainable and ethical fashion. Several debates about these issues have continued over the decade and it is important that people are aware of what the facts really are.
- Sustainable fashion is ugly: This perception that sustainable fashion is not trendy is false. Most brands like Everlane and Eileen Fisher produce high quality sustainable and ethical clothing. While they may not have the widest range of merchandise, they certainly have enough pieces that are very sophisticated and minimal yet making a bold statement.
- Sustainable fashion is expensive: This myth exists because we as consumers have become conditioned to think that anything that has a higher price than fast fashion is expensive. It is important to understand that the fast fashion prices are abnormally cheap and indicate unethical practices like unpaid labour.
- Fashion made in China is low quality and cheap: While this was true in the past, in the current scenario, China has seen an uprise in the wages resulting in mid-range and luxury items being produced. Hence, concluding that a ‘Made in China’ label does not mean that it is a low quality garment.
- Donating clothes to charity is sustainable: The donation of clothing on an annual basis to charities is not sustainable as the supply of these clothes is quadruple of the demand from charities. The idea is to reduce consumption, not buy more and donate thinking it will help someone less fortunate.
- Sustainable fashion is not for fashion enthusiasts: people considered at adopters often believe that sustainable fashion isn’t for them. However, some popular examples like Stella McCartney prove that sustainable fashion can be high end and luxury.
In conclusion, we can say that people need to understand what sustainability really is. While they are aware of these terms on the surface it is important that the consumer is well read about these factors. This is important in order to make wiser purchase decisions and help drive ‘slow fashion’ which remains the end goal at this point.