What is really sustainable fashion?

Ethical fashion, eco fashion,  sustainable fashion… I completely understand the confusion when these terms are being used. And I’ve come across several articles recently that confound sustainable fashion with eco/eco-friendly/environmetally friendly fashion. The latter terms have been less used in recent times as sustainability seems now to apply only to concerns about the environment.

As I am working with sustainable fashion, researching it, hoping to improve on the industry, it is important to me that this narrow uderstanding is corrected (it makes my work just a little bit easier!), and therefore I’ve made ths blog post that I can refer to whenever the issue comes up.

So what is sustainable fashion, really?

It is an umbrella term, concerned with what is called a tripple bottom line: Social and environmental and also economic sustainability, for the fashion industry.

One of the most commonly used definition for sustainable development was coined at the Earth Summit in 1987: “Development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

In short, for the fashion industry it means this:

Social sustainability

Ethical fashion’s main goal is to tackle social unjustice, through fair trade, good working conditions, living wages, and increasingly through environmental measures as eliminating hazardous chemicals, as these also harm workers in manufacture.

Environmental sustainability

Eco-fashion aims to limit the environmental impacts of fashion through eliminating hazardous chemicals, using less harmfull materials (i.e. substituting conventional cotton for organic cotton), creating non-toxic processes that use less energy and water etc. Ulitmately it aims to decrease resource consumption through reducing, reusing and recycling.

Economic sustainability

To be able to make a difference in this world, you are, unfortunately some would say, going to have to make some money. Therefore, economical sustainability is also a concern when you create a sustainable fashion business – it has to be able to sustain itself. It is just not necessarily based on extreme growth and certainly not on economic exploitation and unfair trade deals.

And so  …. 

When you put these three together, you get sustainable fashion. And it is an immense job to try to cover it all when you’re setting up a business, or whatever you’re doing to make a difference. You just can’t manage it all at once. Therefore businesses tend to focus on a key area that they are interested in while they ensure their economic sustainability, hoping to improve on other areas of their business as they go along.

A term that often comes up in the sustainability discussion is “slow fashion”. This was coined by Professor Kate Fletcher of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion. At its core are the deas of opposing the fast fashion system and the infinite growth that is the basis for our current economic system.

A good way of  gettign an insight into various aspects of fashion that can and should be tackled is looking at the work of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion. It is a research centre based at London College of Fashion and it is dedicated to research into ways of making fashion sustainable as both the industry and our personal practices as consumers cause a lot of harm. The centre approaches this from a multitude of angles,  with the idea of better lives at the core of their ethos, because…

Ultimately, it’s about creating a world where we can all be happy!


This blog post speaks for sustainability in fashion, so if you want to look at the definition of sustainability slightly more broadly, this link is useful.


— Post imported from the SLOWMATERIALISM research blog. —

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