When it comes to fashion, the term “sustainable” gets thrown around a lot. But what does it really mean? Here’s a quick and easy guide to understanding sustainable fashion.
Sustainable fashion can be defined as clothing, shoes, and accessories that are manufactured, sourced, and distributed in ways that are not harmful to people or the planet. In other words, sustainable fashion takes into account the entire lifecycle of a product—from the way it’s made (including the use of resources and pollution generation) to the way it’s used (including its impact on wearer health) and disposed of (including its end-of-life waste management).
The goal of sustainable fashion is to move away from the traditional linear model of “take-make-waste” in favor of a more circular model in which products are designed for durability and repeated use, repaired and reused when possible, and recycled or composted at the end of their usable life.
Sustainable fashion is often thought of as slow fashion—a response to fast fashion, which is characterized by mass production of cheap, trend-driven garments that are designed to be worn for only a few months before being discarded. In contrast, sustainable fashion is about quality over quantity. It values longevity over short-term gain, and seeks to democratize both the industry and the consumer experience by making good design accessible to everyone.
A truly sustainable fashion industry would promote environmental regeneration and social equity simultaneously. It would operate within safe planet boundaries—meaning that it would use renewable resources and eliminate toxics throughout its product lifecycles—and also ensure decent working conditions, fair wages, zero exploitation, and career opportunities for all. We still have a long way to go before we get there, but thankfully, the conversation has started. And as more and more consumers demand greater transparency and sustainability from brands, change will come—slowly but surely.