The modern age calls for sustainable solutions. With the recent waves of awareness in the general public regarding environmental conditions, we all are trying our best to apply them in our daily lives too. A change starts from an individual; our fashion choices influence a major fraction of our impact on nature. So, have you ever considered how sustainable your wardrobe is? Do you know which fabrics and materials are eco-friendly?
In this era, shopping for sustainable products, especially in the apparel industry, isn’t easy. We are provided so many different options with only partial information given to us, often through misleading advertisements. The disparity between reality and what we’re fed by the media can lead to damaging choices, suspicion, and even distrust towards our favourite companies. However, it is hard to comprehend which fabrics are actually sustainable and better than the others. With the constant debate about true sustainability of these “environmentally-conscious” fashion brands and ranges, we have to understand that not all natural fabrics are “good”, and not all synthetic ones are “bad” either.
As mentioned in the Brundtland Report, 1987 presented in the United Nations General Assembly, “Sustainable Development is development that meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet their own needs.” Sustainability doesn’t just depend on whether the fabric is made from natural materials, but also on factors like reusability, supply chain compositions, environmental impact, etc. But sustainability doesn’t stop at this either. Ethics are just as important parts of sustainable development, and fair fashion industry and market. We should also look out for companies which promote unfair trade practices, child labour and exploitation of lower-class employees. Fashion choices should be about intentions, more so than just perfection.
When looking for sustainable fabrics, make sure that the company does not exploit natural or human resources. A lot of brands claim that they use eco-friendly raw materials, especially in the production of fabric. Fabrics which are especially environmentally-oriented require lesser water and energy consumption. They are essentially made out of natural resources or waste by-products and use renewable resources during manufacturing. They should not be treated with toxic chemicals as it can lead to water pollution in regions near the factories, and soil erosion in landfills.
Above all, it is preferable if the fabric is either recyclable or biodegradable. However, certain natural fibres use up a lot of resources and are still harmful due to the chemical processes. For example, conventional cotton has half the amount of most carcinogenic chemicals known to man i.e., 7 out of 15. Thus, it’s important to realise that not all natural fibres are biodegradable unlike how the industries portray them.
The fabrics that we should avoid have one or several of the aforementioned negative impacts on the environment. Other than the excessive need for water and energy resources, chemical treatments and non-biodegradability of such fabrics, they also cause rainforest destruction and are often sourced through animal cruelty as well.
We can try to understand some of these aspects through the guides and care labels provided by companies, though as a consumer, most of the terms and symbols used look more or less like gibberish. To help you out, there are various platforms that provide detailed explanations as well as the pros and cons of all types of fabrics, like sustainyourstyle.org . Many lifestyle magazines are also working towards compiling guides for sustainable living. When it comes to fashion and lifestyle choices there is no inherently right or wrong answer. Even if we can’t source affordable and desirable designs made from sustainable raw materials, our negative impact on nature can still be reduced by how we use the products. Thus buying excessive amounts of products should be reduced and reusing or recycling our clothes should be promoted over discarding them prematurely.
Therefore, the most important thing is to check in with your values, find brands and styles you really love and plan to keep whatever you do buy or acquire for as long as you possibly can. The most sustainable fabrics are the ones which are well-loved and kept long term.
Cover photo by Celia Spenard-Ko on Unsplash