Sustainability in the Fashion Industry


The fashion industry is constantly evolving. Trends, patterns, and seasons are the primary changes that gain attention in the industry. However, a current change in the fashion industry is the movement toward sustainability.

Sustainability in fashion can be seen in various ways — shopping secondhand, repurposing old clothing, reduction of textile waste, ethically sourced fabrics, and purchasing from brands that create sustainable pieces.

Sustainability and slow fashion blogger Emily Lightly sheds light on what sustainable fashion means to her. “To me it means checking our consumption — basically, shopping for clothes, shoes, and accessories with more intention, mindfulness, and ethics.”

“The core principles are quality over quantity (clothes that last), timeless style (style that lasts), sustainability (less clothing waste and eco-friendly production), and ethicality (fair living wages and conditions for garment workers.),” she said.

One of the biggest issues within the fashion industry is textile waste. According to a report published by the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 15 million tons of textile waste are generated each year in the United States alone. Of this 15 million tons, 10.46 million tons of the waste are sent to landfills. The clothing items made of synthetic fabric can take hundreds of years to decompose.

There are many actions that can be taken to combat the vast amount of textile waste. These actions — while some may seem small — have the ability to create change and improve consumer awareness of how to develop a better fashion industry. Obtaining the knowledge of fabrics, repurposing old items, recycling or donating used clothing, shopping secondhand, or hosting a clothing swap in your area instead of purchasing brand new are all simple ways to contribute to eliminating waste.

Former fabric-store owner Marsha Hyder hopes to see new fabrics used and consumers educating themselves on the various materials in the near future.

“Understanding how to take care of the different fabrics is crucial in terms of washing and ironing,” she said. “Currently in retail, we are seeing a cheaper cotton being used that easily wrinkles and feels stiff compared to higher quality cotton. I think the fabric of the future is hemp because it can be made into beautiful pieces and there are so many other benefits aside from retail.”

As consumers, there is a responsibility to make conscious decisions when purchasing clothes. “Do I need or want this item?” “How many wears can I get out this particular piece?” “Is this brand creating good quality clothing?” These questions, as well as many others, should be asked during every retail therapy session. Also, as consumers, there is a responsibility to keep brands accountable for the products distributed to the world. Transparency is key, and many brands today are making this a top priority.

Emily Lightly has the opportunity to work with many brands that are focused on sustainability, and she recommends those brands to her 13.2K followers on Instagram.

“A couple that come to mind are Vetta Capsule, a company that releases small 5-piece, versatile wardrobes that can be mixed and matched for up to 30 outfits. Another is Elizabeth Suzann, which produces timeless, quality clothing sustainably, ethically, and quite literally slowly  — they are made-to-order, and I think their lead time is around 2-3 weeks,” she said.

“While there are a lot of great brands, I also don’t think it’s up to them  — as long as consumers out there are buying fast fashion, it’s profitable and companies will continue to do it. It’s our responsibility as consumers to break that cycle and turn to better alternatives or shop less frequently,” Lightly said.

Accountability, transparency, and responsibility are three words that are very important when shopping sustainably or making conscious efforts to live a more sustainable lifestyle. These words apply to not only brands, but also the consumers. Brands have a responsibility to be transparent when designing, manufacturing, and selling clothing. Consumers have a responsibility to hold those brands — and primarily fast fashion brands — accountable when distributing their products into the world.

Joan Pepper studied fashion merchandising in college and has worked in the fashion industry for 30 years.

“I am sure the younger generation wants more fashion-forward pieces, but overall most people want good quality and lasting items in their wardrobe,” she said. “I think it is better to invest in basic items that won’t go in and out of style too quickly.”

The evolution of fashion is constant and as consumers, we have the ability to create change toward ethicality and sustainability. Together we can create a better fashion industry.


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