What is sustainable fashion and why does it matter?

Author: Adela


What is sustainable fashion

Sustainable fashion is, first of all, a movement, born from the need of consumers to make more conscious choices when it comes to sourcing their clothes or accessories.
Unfortunately, the fashion industry is often associated with modern slavery and it’s believed over 40 million people are trapped in modern slavery around the world, most of which are women. Some of the biggest brands in fashion have been accused of producing their clothes in factories from third world countries, underpaying their employees or using child labourers. You can read more about this subject here.
Sustainable fashion is something that we hear about more and more often, which, needless to say, is a very good thing! Still, no brand will ever provide 100% sustainable fashion because that just isn’t possible. And that’s because of the environmental impact everyone in this industry has. Clothes need to be manufactured, washed, stored and transported and that implies the use of harmful chemicals sometimes (like laundry detergent), a lot of electricity and fossil fuels.
All hope is not lost, because there are ways for each of us to become more sustainable!

What it means for brands

A sustainable approach for brands means not only finding a way of being more environmental friendly but also being considerate towards people, employees particularly.

What it means for consumers

Sustainable fashion for us, as consumers is now a choice. It’s up to us to choose what and who we support. Are we OK with buying from non-ethical brands because we have a limited budget? Is it better maybe to invest in something we can wear for longer, rather than compulsively shopping?

There are 9 topics that we need to include here in order to understand ethical fashion better because there’s more than one approach to it.

Buying Second-hand

What it means Second-hand means pre-loved items, or vintage clothing and accessories. You can find these in charity shops or other dedicated stores.

Benefits The benefit of buying second hand is that they already exist and don’t have to use any resource to be manufactured again. Charity shop items are usually donated and the profits are going towards a good cause. Vintage clothing is different, and it can cost you quite a lot. There are stories of people who found a rare clothing items in thrift shops that belonged to celebrities and they made a fortune by selling them.

Downsides Second-hand fashion’s low prices are tempting people to buy more therefore it can be considered fast fashion.

Examples The best know examples for second-hand buying are charity shops like Oxfam and British Heart Foundation that you can find pretty much on every high street in the UK. But second-hand shopping has an online presence as well, including on Etsy.

Slow fashion

What it means Slow fashion involves buying clothes that are of a better quality and can last longer.

Benefits Are made to last and therefore more sustainable. That can include items that never go out of fashion, like „the little black dress” everyone should have in their wardrobes or a classic cut pair of jeans that you could wear for years instead of buying a new pair every 3 months. 

Downsides The downside of slow fashion is that it can cost more so it’s not accessible to everyone. Also, slow-fashion can be very limited in terms of style and brands struggle with spiking interest from consumers due to not changing their collections as often as fast-fashion more popular companies do. 

Examples  There are some big names out there you’ve probably heard of, like Stella McCartney or Rag and Bones but also brands that you haven’t heard of like MadeTrade

Fair trade fashion

What it means Fair trade fashion’s mission is centered towards improving workers quality of life, especially if they’re coming from developing countries in Asia or Africa. It’s also generally unique and of good quality.

Benefits Fair wages can support families and gives access to a better education which can lead to a better life for those who benefit from it. It also gives peace of mind to the consumer, knowing they're supporting this by buying from fair-trade fashion brands. 

Downsides There are very high fees associated with this type of business for companies which makes the amount of product choice to be slightly limited.

Examples   We discovered recently this awesomely colourful brand on Etsy that sources and produces everything in West Africa - providing over 30 full-time jobs for the local community.

Every week, we like to send our subscribers a SUSTAINABLE CHALLENGE. Are you ready to take real actions into living life sustainably? Sign up or have a look at one example! 

Vegan Materials

What it means Vegan in fashion means clothing or accessories that are cruelty-free and not made from animal products. Materials like vegan leather are used to replace leather for bags, accessories and shoes. 

Benefits The biggest benefit of vegan fashion is that no animal was harmed in the name of fashion. 

Downsides Not all vegan clothes or accessories are free of harmful chemicals. You might find the "vegan" sign on the label but that can also mean plastic. Yes, it's cruelty-free, vegan but no one mentions eco-friendly.

Examples This brand makes amazing quality clothes out of bamboo fibres.

Organic fibres

What it means Organic fibres come from organic farms and have a low environmental impact by using no harmful pesticides.  Organic fibres include hemp, flax (linen), jute, silk and organic cotton, which is the most popular material in fashion.

Benefits Organic natural fibres look and feel good. They are made without toxins and are biodegradable and renewable.

Downsides Athough grown naturally, organic fibres are sometimes dyed with harmful chemicals. There’s a high demand for organic cotton which means using more resources to grow it.

Examples  Our personal favourite is Primitive because they are so different and beautiful.  Made Trade make their clothes from hemp fibres.

Clothing swaps

What it means Swapping clothes is so much fun and we’ve probably all done it at some point or another. If you’re tired of wearing the same clothes, you can swap them with a friend, find a Facebook group or use an app to swap with other people (because yes, there’s an app for everything these days!)

Benefits You save the world and money! Giving your clothes a second life is great for the environment and for your wallet.

Downsides It can be difficult to find the right size and it takes time to organise a clothes swap. Also, hygiene might be an issue when swapping clothes with strangers.

Examples   Swopped and Vinted are just a few of the most used apps for this purpose. The handiest clothes swap is always with your besties!


What it means ​Minimalism means living with as little as possible and only with the things you absolutely need. It’s similar to Zero Waste in a way, but much drastic.

Benefits You learn how to live with just the basics and when it comes to clothing you’ll only buy what you really need. It’s sustainable because it’s the opposite of consumerism.

Downsides Minimalism is not easy, particularly if you’re used to having different outfits for different occasions. Only one pair of each essential clothing item is not for everyone, but possible.

Examples Style Bee is a website that came up with a challenge of choosing only 10 clothing items you can wear an entire month! Another similar challenge comes from Project 33 but with 33 items for 3 months.

Recycled materials

What it means Clothing and accessories made of recycled materials have gained a lot of popularity lately. These materials can come from used clothes but also from other recycled products. More and more shops on the high street have a collection point for used clothes that they either donate or recycle.

Benefits Recycling reduces waste, as we all know and limits pollution. Also, lessens the need for expanding landfill spaces.

Downsides The process of recycling sometimes means there is more energy and more chemicals being used.

Examples  Eco-Warrior makes sports clothing out of all kinds of recycled materials and Uncaptive is an Etsy shop making clothing from recycled plastic bottles and bottle caps.

Custom made

What it means Custom made clothes can be manufactured on demand or by yourself.  There is no better way of being fashinably sustainable than making your own clothes. You have all the power in choosing where you source your materials from and how you use them. Also, the quality is not an issue anymore. When it comes to having custom made apparel is exactly the same things minus skilled required from your side.  

Benefits ​An unlimited creativeness, first of all. You dream it, you design it, you make it! Custom made fashion is made to last! 

Downsides Custom made means paying a higher price than shopping on the highstreet. But think of it as an investment. It requires skills, patience and time from the manufacturer. 

Examples  Again, Etsy comes to the rescue with a great range of manufacturers that can make anything from t-shirts to wedding dresses!

Why is sustainable fashion important?

It’s good for the environment

Did you know the Fashion Industry is considered by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), to be the second most polluting industry in the world? Sustainable fashion, on the other hand, is all about reducing carbon footprint by using less chemicals in the production process. It also sources materials from organic farms or recycling.

Fair to people

Through fair trade, people from developing countries are being helped to provide for their families properly. Also, it offers workers a good and safe working environment and aims to end modern slavery, a practice that generally fashion industry can take the blame for.

Good for animals

Sustainable fashion is also against animal cruelty. Clothing items that use animal-sourced materials such as leather, fur, wool are replaced with other stuff that don’t imply harming animals. Plant-based and vegan fashion is all the rage right now and it comes as a solution to centuries of cruelty towards animals.   

It saves you money

Sustainable fashion can save you money in the long run, although it might not seem like it when you’re actually paying a higher price upfront. Remember you’re in fact buying something that will last you for years, not just a few months. It doesn’t mean your style will take a hit, because there are a lot of timeless options. A classic pair of jeans will never go out of fashion, for example.

What is your contribution to sustainable fashion? Do you believe you have a say? Comment below and share your opinion!

**Some of the links provided in this article may contain affiliate links, which means we might earn a small comission when you click on any of them. However, we only suggest the products or brands that we absolutely like and share values similar to ours. 

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