I spent the first lockdown compiling a list of sustainable clothing brands after seeing some Instagram posts on the environmental impact of the fashion industry. I was shocked to learn that clothing is responsible for approximately 10% of global carbon emissions and 20% of wastewater. In fact, the fashion industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industries combined and by 2030, we can expect a 50% increase in the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. As a budding environmentalist, I was guilt-ridden by the thought that my love of clothing was so harmful.
Much of the damage done by the industry is heightened by ‘fast fashion,’ a buzzword that is thrown around a lot but is nonetheless a very harmful concept. Fast fashion describes a model of consumption that rapidly introduces clothing trends to drive “premature product replacement and fashion obsolescence.” So we’re encouraged to constantly purchase cheap clothing only to be told that it’s out of style before we send it to landfills.
The UN World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This industry and all of its consequences are hardly sustainable. Fast fashion functions at the expense of a safe and healthy future. While looking for more sustainable clothing brands, I read about plenty of women seeking to address this issue, seeking to make the fashion industry both ethical and environmentally friendly.
Eileen Fisher is a prominent leader in the sustainable clothing space. In addition to using organic and sustainable materials in production, her company started the RENEW program, an excellent example of a buy-back service that aims to decrease clothing waste by upcycling clothes. These services can be expanded across the industry to mend clothing when it needs fixing and repurpose materials when they are beyond repair instead of producing new clothing each season. Eileen Fisher is helping to carve a path for other companies that want to make their production line more sustainable.
An alternative to repair, recycling, and take-back programs is leasing services where the onus is on retailers to upkeep and maintain their clothing in order to earn a profit. Eshita Kabra founded By Rotation, one of the largest rental apps in the UK. By Rotation provides a platform to a community of users eager to rent clothes and lend their own. This app makes clothing easily accessible while eliminating the need for production, a notable improvement to today’s fast fashion.
Clothing production can also be reduced by following a pre-order model. Ngoni Chikwenengere started her company, WE ARE KIN, to meet the need for affordable and tailored clothing pieces for women. It’s important to be intentional in what the company produces and what consumers purchase. A pre-order model ensures that Chikwenengere’s label meets consumer demand without producing any excess waste. WE ARE KIN only creates what is guaranteed to be purchased and valued.
On a global scale, Tamsin Lejeune has worked to promote sustainable fashion and is credited with many successes in this sphere. In addition to founding the Ethical Fashion Forum, she has published work on ethical fashion and has informed college-level curricula in the UK. Her dedication to improving this industry is truly inspiring. She is currently the founder and CEO of Common Objective, an online platform that provides personalized support and services to fashion businesses with the aim of growing their sustainability initiatives. Lejeune’s work has been central to sustainable fashion internationally.
Ayesha Barenblat is an example of another woman who has committed herself and her work to improving this industry globally. Remake.World, founded by Barenblat, is an incredible platform that offers its users both educational resources and guides on how to act. Barenblat has cultivated an international movement that prioritizes accountability and storytelling in its campaigns to make fashion ethical and sustainable. The movement’s work fights to reduce waste and improve the rights and lives of workers in production, core components of sustainable fashion.
We cannot continue to treat clothing and our planet as if they’re disposable. Each of these women is tirelessly leading the way in making fashion sustainable and revolutionizing the industry. They are role models to budding environmentalists like myself and point to a way forward that is more empowering than the reality I’ve described above.