Sustainable fashion

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Sustainable fashion, also called eco fashion, is a part of the growing design philosophy and trend of sustainability, the goal of which is to create a system which can be supported indefinitely in terms of human impact on the environment and social responsibility.

Origin and purpose[edit]

Sustainable fashion is part of the larger trend of sustainable design where a product is created and produced with consideration to the environmental and social impact it may have throughout its total life span, including its "carbon footprint". According to the May 2007 Vogue, sustainable fashion "does not appear to be a short-term trend but one that could last multiple seasons, the very word season being up for grabs in a climate-affected world".[1]

While environmentalism used to manifest itself in the fashion world through a donation of percentage of sales of a product to a charitable cause, fashion designers are now re-introducing eco-conscious methods at the source through the use of environmentally friendly materials and socially responsible methods of production.

According to Earth Pledge, a non-profit organization committed to promoting and supporting sustainable development, "At least 8,000 chemicals are used to turn raw materials into textiles and 25% of the world's pesticides are used to grow non-organic cotton. This causes irreversible damage to people and the environment, and still two thirds of a garment's carbon footprint will occur after it is purchased."[2]


There are many factors when considering the sustainability of a material. The renewability and source of a fiber, the process of how a raw fiber is turned into a textile, the working conditions of the people producing the materials, and the material's total carbon footprint.

Natural fibers[edit]

Natural fibers are fibers which are found in nature and are not petroleum-based. Natural fibres can be categorized into two main groups, cellulose or plant fiber and protein or animal fiber. Uses of these fibers can be anything from buttons to eyewear like sunglasses.[3]


Cotton is one of the most widely grown and chemical-intensive crops in the world.[4] Conventionally grown cotton uses approximately 25% of the world's insecticides and more than 10% of the world's pesticides.[5] Other cellulose fibers include: jute, flax, hemp, ramie, abaca, bamboo (used for viscose), soy, corn, banana, pineapple, beechwood (used for rayon).


Natural protein fibers include: wool, silk, angora, camel, alpaca, llama, vicuna, cashmere, and mohair.


Fibers manufactured from natural materials include: Lyocell and polylactic acid (PLA).

Recycled fibers[edit]

Recycled or reclaimed fibers are made from scraps of fabrics collected from clothing factories, which are processed back into short fibers for spinning into a new yarn. There are only a few facilities globally that are able to process the clippings.[citation needed] Variations range from a blend of recycled cotton fibers with added RePET yarns for strength to recycled cotton fibres with virgin acrylic fibers which are added for color consistency and strength.

Upcycled fibers[edit]

Upcycled fibers are made from materials that are not originally used to make fibers, or they were thrown away being considered trash from origin. This includes fibers made of plastic and gillnets. An example of the use of this type of fiber can be seen in the shoe Adidas made with Parley for the Oceans.[6]

Another example is fish leather made from fish skins that are a by-product of the food industry.[7] Fish leather tanning is less harmful on the environment due to no hair-removal being required, leading to less solid waste and organic pollutants in the wastewater from the process.[citation needed] Also, no poisonous, explosive hydrogen sulfide gas is released in the process.[8]


The Golden Book Gown made of recycled book pages.

Designers say that they are trying to incorporate these sustainable practices into modern clothing, rather than producing "hippie clothes".[1] Due to the efforts taken to minimize harm in the growth, manufacturing, and shipping of the products, sustainable fashion is typically more expensive than clothing produced by conventional methods.[1]

Celebrities, models, and designers such as Lucy Tammam, Stella McCartney, Frock Los Angeles, Amour Vert, Edun, Stewart+Brown, Shalom Harlow and Summer Rayne Oakes have recently drawn attention to socially conscious and environmentally friendly fashion.[citation needed] Portland Fashion Week, which has featured sustainable designers and apparel since 2005, has also attracted international press for its efforts to sustainably produce a fashion week that showcases 100% eco-friendly designs.[9]

In Europe renowned trademarks are Re-Bello from Italy, Armedangels from Cologne, Germany, Ajna-Organic fashion from Germany, Nudie Jeans from Sweden, Pelechecoco From Denmark, KamiOrganic from Paris, Green Shirts from Germany, Pants to Poverty or Po-Zu shoes from London, room to roam (reversible clothes) from Munich, Royal Blush accessories from Switzerland, Wabi Sabi Eco Fashion Concept from Spain or the Bio Shirt Company Berlin. In Greece, DaRousso designs complete zero-waste fashion collections under the line called ArtWear, offering a pre production approach to sustainability and adding extraordinary benefits beyond just eco friendly, fair trade and nontoxic fashion. In Costa Rica and Italy, Generation Pacifique is an active player in a new holistic movement aimed to raise human consciousness and eco-conscious clothing.[citation needed]

Eastern European prisoners are designing sustainable prison fashion in Latvia and Estonia under the Heavy Eco label,[10] part of a trend called "prison couture".[11]

Considered[by whom?] the Prince Charming of green designers, Ryan Jude Novelline created a ballroom gown constructed entirely from the pages of recycled and discarded children's books known as The Golden Book Gown that "prove[d] that green fashion can provide as rich a fantasia as can be imagined."[12][13]

Eco-couture designer Lucy Tammam uses eri silk (ahimsa/peace silk) and organic cotton to create her eco friendly couture evening and bridal wear collections.[14][15]

Other sustainable clothing and footwear labels include Elena Garcia, Nancy Dee, By Stamo, Outsider Fashion, Beyond Skin, Hetty Rose, DaRousso and Eva Cassis.[16][17][18][19][20][21]

The sustainable fashion movement has begun to make significant in-roads in the bedding segment of the home fashion category. Brands such as Boll & Branch make all of their products from organic cotton and have been certified by Fair Trade USA.[22][23]


There are some organizations working to increase opportunities for sustainable designers and increase the visibility of the movement. The National Association of Sustainable Fashion Designers is one of those organizations. Its purpose is to assist entrepreneurs with growing fashion related businesses that create social change and respect the environment.

Sustainable Designers provides specialized triple bottom line education, training, and access to tools and industry resources that advance creative, innovative and high impact businesses. The organization's mission is to create social change through design and fashion related businesses by providing education, training and programs that are transformative to the industry and to cultivate collaboration, sustainability and economic growth.

Red Carpet Green Dress, founded by Suzy Amis Cameron, is a global initiative showcasing sustainable fashion on the red carpet at the Oscars.[24] Talent supporting the project includes Naomie Harris, Missi Pyle, Kellan Lutz and Olga Kurylenko. Undress Brisbane is an Australian fashion show that sheds light on sustainable designers in Australia.[25]

Eco Age, a consultancy company specializing in enabling businesses to achieve growth and add value through sustainability is one of the most recognizable organizations that promote sustainable fashion. Its creative director, Livia Firth, is also the founder of the Green Carpet Challenge which aims to promote ethically made outfits from fashion designers.[26]

Ecoluxe London, a not-for-profit platform, supports luxury with ethos through hosting a biannual exhibition during London Fashion Week and showcasing eco-sustainable and ethical designers.[16][27]

The Ethical Fashion Initiative, a flagship programme of the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and World Trade Organization, enables artisans living in urban and rural poverty to connect with the global fashion chain.[28][29] The Initiative also works with the rising generation of fashion talent from Africa, encouraging the forging sustainabfdle and fulfilling creative collaborations with artisans on the continent.[30][31] The Ethical Fashion Initiative is headed by Simone Cipriani.

The advent of technology has opened an avenue of apps and websites to streamline ethical fashion experience for customers such as the Higg Index, Free2Workd and FairTrace Tool. [32]


Though all cotton has a large carbon footprint for its cultivation and production, organic cotton is considered a more sustainable choice for fabric, as it is completely free of destructive toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Many designers have begun experimenting with bamboo fiber, which absorbs greenhouse gases during its life cycle and grows quickly and plentifully without pesticides.[33] Even with this, bamboo fabric can cause environmental harm in production due to the chemicals used to create a soft viscose from hard bamboo.[34] Some believe that stalk fibres and particularly hemp is one of the best choice for eco fabrics due to its ease of growth, though it remains illegal to grow in some countries.[citation needed] These facts regarding production of new materials make recycled, reclaimed, surplus, and vintage fabric arguably the most sustainable choice, as the raw material requires no agriculture and no manufacturing to produce.[citation needed]

Future of fashion sustainability[edit]

On May 3, 2012, the world's largest summit on fashion sustainability was held in Copenhagen, gathering more than 1,000 key stakeholders in the industry to discuss the importance of making the fashion industry sustainable. Copenhagen Fashion Summit has since then gathered thousands of people from the fashion industry in their effort to create a movement within the industry.[35]

In July 2012, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition launched the Higg Index, a self-assessment standard designed to measure and promote sustainable supply chains in the apparel and footwear industries.[36][37] Founded in 2011, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition is a nonprofit organization whose members include brands producing apparel or footwear, retailers, industry affiliates and trade associations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, academic institutions and environmental nonprofits.[38][39][40]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]