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What is sustainable fashion and how can I make sustainable fashion choices?

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

The most sustainable fashion brand is the one that doesn’t exist. In this post, we’ll break down the different types of “fashion” that are out there so you can make informed, conscious, and sustainable fashion choices going forward.

I used to shop tirelessly and my first part-time job as a student was at H&M. Every wait...every week I bought new clothes. Never did I think of where it came from or the impact it had on the environment or the people involved in the process (we’re talking 1999). Sustainable fashion was not a thing, let alone making conscious, sustainable choices.

Until I became a designer myself. I mean, I still had many years as a designer where I collected and bought more clothes than necessary, without considering if I needed them and if I really liked them. And, on top of that, a lot of stuff came for free, so bring it on!

My design journey brought me to China, to a fast fashion brand, and that changed everything. The treatment of clothes, fabrics, and purchases was mind-boggling to me. The number of clothes per drop (drops are multiple deliveries within a month, not in seasons) was ridiculous, not to mention the money and resources wasted on discontinued samples.

It changed my whole perspective. My main design value has always been quality, and I guess you can only really appreciate that once you’ve been part of the other side.

What is sustainable fashion now really?

Let’s get real, to begin with - sustainable fashion does not exist. It’s an oxymoron (contradictory terms). The most sustainable fashion brand is one that does not exist. But: you can make more conscious choices. And that’s where we make the change.

My philosophy is that the most sustainable choice you can make is to wear the clothes in your closet until they fall apart. I am not necessarily against Zara or H&M, because when you go there with the mindset of a Confident Closet, you know exactly what you need, which fabrics you like, and how to take care of them. And this helps in making informed, sustainable decisions. This, to me, is a sustainable fashion mindset.

Sustainable, ethical, and slow fashion

On the world wide web and on “the socials” you get bombarded with terms like sustainable, ethical, and slow fashion. And damn it, the F word (Fashion) is still used in these terms. And I think that is so misleading. The word Fashion (with a capital F) stands for change - quick, seasonal, fast, temporary. The word is problematic.

The fashion industry is complex and confusing. There are so many people, suppliers, and hands involved - and this is making it hard to regulate. Let alone what you can find out and understand as a consumer. It’s an ongoing debate and an evolving concept - as it is for each of us.

Let’s first break these words down so we know what we’re talking about. There are a lot of brands just throwing these terms out there to collect customers, but having the right words in an Instagram bio is just not going to cut it for making sustainable clothing choices.

Sustainable fashion

Sustainable fashion should think about the bigger picture - from design to manufacturing and consumption, whilst keeping people and the environment in mind. It should be driven by making conscious choices, both from the design point of view and by you, the consumer.

Brands that have sustainability as their core drive will also share that on their website, as it involves a lot of research, certifications, and partnerships. There is a lot of greenwashing going on, which means that a lot of brands use words that are linked to sustainability but show no transparency or links to the actual steps they’re taking.

Ethical fashion

Ethical and sustainable are often used interchangeably, but the word ethical focus more on what’s “morally right” about the treatment of everyone who lives on planet earth. Brands often mention long-term partnerships with factories - sometimes including pictures. Fair wages, organic fabrics, and farming are other things that you will see included in their core values.

The most ethical fashion brand of all is the one with a guaranteed zero carbon footprint, the one that doesn’t exploit a single person or thing, and the one that is good to nature. This is a brand that does not exist.

Slow fashion

Slow fashion is a term used as a counterpoint to fast fashion. It advocates buying higher-quality items that will last longer, valuing sustainable and ethical circumstances. Another word that is often used is conscious. These are brands that go for timeless, high-quality design and often use certificated organic fabrics.

How can you make sustainable fashion choices?

Brands and designers have the responsibility to think about the bigger picture from raw materials to the finished garment in the store. But you, as a consumer, can be part of the solution by making conscious and informed decisions about your purchases and taking care of the clothes you already own. You vote with your wallet. You can decide to buy your clothes from mindful brands, to invest in items of quality, that last a long time in your wardrobe. That is an empowering thought, don’t you think?

6 Things you can do to make a sustainable fashion impact

Here’s a checklist of what you can do to make a sustainable fashion impact:

  1. Wear the clothes in your closet. The most sustainable fashion choice is to wear what you have. Does your wardrobe feel cluttered? Be aware of what you wear most and why. Your whole wardrobe should be aligned with the things you love to wear, and the things you need.

  2. Rent your clothes. Maybe you’ve been disappointed with (online) purchases, you don’t like shopping, or you like an ever-changing wardrobe without wasting too much money and resources. Renting could be a good option! This way, you can try some different styles and fits, but you’re not stuck with them. It’s also a great option for one-off events like weddings or big nights out. Check out websites like StyleTheory or Rentadella for one-time events.

  3. Swap clothes with friends. Talking about hosting a fun event! Friends often have a similar style of dress and what a fun way to exchange stories and clothes! Set up some rules about the level of clothes (price points) and the number of clothes, just so it’s an honest swap. Make some fun drinks and snacks and there’s your girls’ night out! You could also look into shops like The Fashion Pulpit and Swapaholic.

  4. Buy second-hand and pre-loved. There are already SO many clothes out there that are unloved by one but could be very loved by others. A classic one woman’s loss is another woman’s treasure. With all that online purchases and the countless temptations, a lot of clothes are still unworn with tags on! It’s always a good idea to focus on quality and good brands and One Soul Many Stories has a wonderfully curated collection at their pop-ups.

  5. Read, read, read about conscious brands and their promises and align that with your values. Are you really tempted to browse online? Do some research! Stop purchasing mindlessly and read the information on websites. What are your values for buying new clothes? Let that be your guide.

  6. Make a wishlist of clothes. STOP buying immediately. If there is no clothing emergency, take a little breather and add your items to a wishlist. You can easily create a Pinterest board, or save items on Instagram and set a time in the month that you have a look at it again. Really consider if you need it, or love it.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting new clothes. It’s nice to have something new looking back at you from your wardrobe every now and then and to feel differently in a new outfit. But if you really want to make a sustainable change in your wardrobe and for the world? Be aware, pause, think, reflect - then act.

Written by Biek Speijk | Wardrobe Curator & Artist at Biekaleidoscope

Biek empowers you to curate clothing for your wardrobe that makes you look and feel like a work of art. With her experience as a designer and fit specialist, she guarantees your closet will only contain items that will last a lifetime. You deserve only the best choices, and she settles for nothing less than helping you make the right clothing choices for you; to have a wardrobe of items you love and enjoy wearing forever.

Biek also turns your old but cherished articles of clothing into pieces of art that you will continue to love and appreciate. She offers a way to keep the story alive by cutting away at the fabric so that recognizable features create a new art context that can become a showcase on your wall. This allows you to safely reduce clutter from your life without having to say goodbye to those precious memories attached to particular articles of clothing.

And follow her on Instagram

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