Future of Sustainable Fashion

Background Information to Sustainable Fashion

Today, an increased number of companies are being observed to transform their models of business and also improving their supply chains aiming at minimising overall impacts on the environment and improving factories` social conditions (Fletcher, 2013). There has also been an increasing awareness among consumers.


Sustainable fashion could be defined as manufacture, marketing and use of clothes, accessories, and shoes in ways that are sustainable that take into account both socio-economic and environmental aspects (Shen, 2014). Practically, that implies continuous work for improvement of all the stages of the life cycle of a product, from design, production of raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, storage, marketing, and final sale. The end goal should be minimisation of environmental effects that are not desirable of the life cycle of the product (Gwilt, Rissanen, 2012). That is achieved through; 1) Ensuring that natural resources are efficiently and carefully used, that is, energy, water, soil, land, animals, biodiversity, plants, and ecosystems. 2) Selecting energy sources that are renewable at every stage of production, including solar and wind among others. 3) Maximising repair, remake, and reuse and recycling of products and their components. All stakeholders involved should in a socio-economic perspective work towards improvement of the present working conditions of the workers in the fields, in the chain of transportation, in the factories where manufacturing happens, and in the stores (Henninger, Alevizou & Oates, 2016). This paper seeks to establish whether fashion will ever be 100% sustainable.

Walking the Talk

Leading fashion designers and even top celebrities have been observed to increasingly raise awareness of environmental issues and some of the fashion industries' less desirable realities like animal cruelty, environmental damage, waste, and exploitative labour. Livia Firth, the founder and creative director of Eco-Age`s ‘Green Carpet Challenge’ walked the walk in a bid to highlight issues of sustainability by wearing a custom floral caftan ("A Heavenly Green Carpet Challenge", 2018). The caftan was upcycled with Swarovski crystal stones that were designed by Richard Quinn.

Zara, a leading fashion retailer in Spain, has plans to use fabrics that are 100% sustainable come 2025. In a statement from the company, it was reported that the company would only use polyester, linen, and cotton that is “organic, recycled, or more sustainable.” Together with the plans to only use sustainable fabrics, Inditex, which is owned by Zara, has also announced that its head offices are in a drive to obtain the highest certificates for green buildings. They also plan to make 1005 of their stores eco-efficient (Hittih, 2019). With that in mind, the company has plans to utilise 80% renewable energy across all its activities that include its stores, offices and logistics centres. Pablo Isla, the chairman, and CEO of Inditex says that sustainability is a never-ending task that involves each one in Inditex and which also requires them to engage all their suppliers successfully.


Data Collection Methods

This research made use both primary and secondary research methods for the collection of data. In secondary research, data was collected from already existing sources, collated and synthesised from which conclusions were drawn. Websites, books, and journals were used as sources of data. The collection of secondary research is relatively easy in comparison to the collection of primary research, and that is because, in primary research, the data is collected from studies that were already carried out in the past (Walliman, 2017). Secondary research was found to be the most suitable for this study as a result of the limited time available. However, there is always the risk that the data being used in secondary research could be out-dated. To cushion against this, only the latest sources are used, not older than six years.

In terms of primary research, case studies of different sustainable fashion items were used and presented in form of images.

Literature Review

Gibson & Stanes (2011) state that all fashion companies should also make contributions towards the encouragement of patterns of consumption, practices of caring, and washing that are more sustainable. From this, it is evident that partly, sustainable fashion is about production of accessories, clothes, and shoes in ways that are sustainable environmentally and socio-economically and also about sustainable use and consumption patterns. According to Henniger et al (2017), sustainable use and consumption patterns necessitate changes in the behaviours and attitudes of individuals.

In all this, fashion companies' responsibilities would involve changing their practices of production, distribution, marketing and general strategies to make them more sustainable. Companies, however, have more possibilities of contributing to more sustainable patterns of consumption.

Forms of Sustainable Fashion

Sustainable fashion has many forms. According to Payne (2017), there are those individuals and actors of the viewpoint that it is better to make clothes in ways that are friendly to the environment, and there are others who hold that borrowing of clothes, renting and swapping has more benefits than buying clothes that have been produced newly. Every other strategy that promotes production that is ethically, socially and environmentally conscious is an essential step towards increasingly sustainable industries. Bly, Gwodz & Reisch outline seven primary forms of sustainable fashion production and consumption, and these are; Secondhand & Vintage, On-Demand & Custom Made, Green & Clean, High Quality & Timeless Design, Fair & Ethical, Repair, Redesign & Upcycle, and Rent, Lease & Swap. In essence, for every other garment produced, all these aspects should be combined. That is, garments should first be manufactured on demand or custom-made, in a manner that is friendly to the environment, with consideration to different ethical aspects, used long and well through good care after production (Iran & Schrader, 2017). And when a time comes when a product is not desired any longer, it should then be handed over to swap-shops, second-hand shops, relatives, and friends or donated to charity, to prolong its active life. Finally, when a time comes when the product is worn out completely, it should be returned to recycling collection points where it is recycled and reused in manufacture of other textile products and new clothes.

Considerations for creating Fashion Brands that are Ethical and Sustainable

The fashion industry is among the worst polluters in the world today, coming only after the oil and gas industry. The majority of the brands manufacture throw-away fashions that are cheap and whose design is such that they do not last for more than a season. Other brands utilise fabrics that are exclusively made from non-renewable petroleum-based products. While these petroleum-based products are quick to wear out, they go for centuries without biodegrading. Other brands employ cost-cutting manufacturers who outsource production to sweatshops whose wages are poverty-level and that have awful working conditions. In perfect setups, the highest-quality natural fabrics that are responsibly sourced and that still compete with the cut-rate competition for low prices would be provided. However, there are numerous trade-offs attached to ethical branding, and enormous shifts in perspectives are required.

Higher Prices or Investments in the Future?

The basic economics in high-volume manufacturing is not compatible with practices that are ethical and environmentally sustainable. If these were turned into priorities, more would have to be spend and it would also be necessary to charge more. There exist several ways through which to partly compensate for the high costs by making changes in innovations to the standard models of business, for instance, direct selling to consumers. However, that would still leave the underlying costs and, as such selling prices high. These should be considered as fantastic opportunities to educate customers about the different investments they get to make in the protection of the global environment. While not everyone is in a position to alter government policies, every other person can decide to only invest in products that stand for those changes they would want to witness in the world.

Fast Fashion

According to Wilson (2019), the majority of the fast fashion garments are produced from single fabric materials that are not recyclable and that generate waste in excess. The fast-fashion market has been experiencing a growth spurt driven to a large extent by the success of low-value end online retailers. When relations are secured between influencers and online fashion companies, consumers could get to know the prices of a worn product just through tapping on a picture on Instagram (Joy et al., 2012). They then get links to purchase, which to no small extent, increases the time to market.

The business model of fast fashion is, however, not sustainable, and that is mainly with the ever-growing consumption levels across the world and also with the developing nation's ever-growing demand. McNeill & Moore (2015), posit that the new goal is creating a circular fashion system. That necessitates the consideration of a product's entire life cycle at the design and sourcing stages. With no doubt, that poses serious problems for brands and even designers as they struggle with the tension between the demands of consumers for sustainability and novelty.

Examples of Fashion Items that are Sustainable

Chiara Tommencioni makes use of moths to transform clothing that is unwanted to bop-waste material that is precious.

 use of moths to transform unwanted clothing into bop-waste material adapted from (

Luisa Kahlfeldt designed new sustainable diapers than all other cloth nappies that are reusable made of Sumo seaweed. The innovation won her the Swiss James Dyson Award.

 sustainable diapers made from sumo seaweed adapted from (

Sustainable design duo Vin + Omi made use of stinging nettles obtained from Price Charle`s Highgrove estate and transformed them into a collection of sustainable garments.

 sustainable garments made from stinging nettles adapted from (

Challenges of Sustainable Fashion

One of the most significant contributors to climate change is textile production. With the increased concerns on climate change and water scarcity, the enormous environmental footprint of the industry has also been moving centre stage. According to Harris, Roby, and Dibb (2016), the fashion industry makes up for 10% of the global emissions of CO2, 20% of the world1s industrial wastewater, 11% of use of pesticides, and 24% of insecticides.

Todeschini et al (2017) posit that our clothing's environmental impacts are always during the phases of design and production. Large quantities of water are required to grow fibre. Large amounts of water are also necessary when rips and tears have to be added to jeans through chemical application. For quite some time now, there has been a raging debate about synthetic versus natural fibre even though there are environmental and ethical problems associated with both. Water, land, animal products, and also chemicals are required in the production of natural fibres like leather, wool, and cotton. Hethorn, J., & Ulasewicz (2015), argue that while the most used natural fibre across the globe today is cotton, shifts towards organic cotton from conventional cotton would help minimise the negative impacts on the environment.

On the other hand, ocean microfiber pollution is enhanced by the use of synthetic fibres. For instance, an energy-intensive production process is required for polyester. According to Moreno-Gavara, & Jiménez-Zarco (2018), while an increment in the use of natural fibres would seem like the most obvious option, the welfare of animals has been grown to become a significant concern to consumers. In the UK, the manufacturing of fur has been banned. There are several leading luxury retailers that are fur-free, like Chanel, Gucci, Farfetch, Versace, and Burberry (Penrose, 2018). The answer could be in recycled fabrics. There are several companies using recycled products like Natural Fiber Welding which came up with ways of producing fabrics and yarns that were sustainable using closed-loop systems that recycles those materials that are thought to be waste products. Pedersen & Andersen (2015) however argue that there exists a challenge in developing technologies for recycling fibres that would have to be solved for the fashion industry to move to true circularity.

Fashion Waste

The human consumption of fashion goods that are disposable has been creating global waste problems. According to Binotto and Payne (2017), the fashion industry has been responding to this through the development of innovative business models, and that gives clothing longer shelf lives, including the repair of garments to minimise their environmental footprint, upcycling old and damaged goods, and reusing second-hand clothes.

Thrift+ sells the clothes of consumers` online and remits 33% of the earned revenues back to them. Thrift also facilitates the donation of clothes to charities.

Fashion`s Hidden Costs

The majority of the leading fashion retailers source their clothes from countries that have minimal laws governing the environment. These other countries have rampant poor working conditions, and the pay is also poor (Brooks, 2019). Often, workers are subjected to forced overtime and surroundings that are both unhygienic and cramped up. Child labour is also a significant problem in some countries, especially in Asia and Africa. According to Eco-Age, requirements that are not realistic are imposed on suppliers by retailers that compete to offer the shortest lead times and lowest prices. Often, that leads corner-cutting that impacts both the environment and the welfare of the workers. Burns, Mullet & Bryant (2016), sadly, there are companies that will spend more on advertising than they spend on wages for their workers. For businesses that seek to gain control over the conditions in their supply chains, shifting focus to traceability and transparency would be very important.

Saskia Hedrich of Mckinsey`s apparel, fashion, and luxury products, argues that the use of materials that are recycled, and even the making of pledges to become carbon neutral by brands does not make them sustainable (Magnin, 2019).

Often, customers struggle to make choices that are legitimately sustainable while the term remains so vague. There are some of the well-informed consumers who are well aware of the complex environmental and social issues that are associated with the fashion market and the contributions made by their shopping habits. However, sustainability has within it a broad range of items in the fashion supply chain that is very fragmented. There are those consumers who do not even get what sustainability means. Consumers have confessed to having difficulties with rating the brands and ratings that are genuinely sustainable.

As such, for a brand to be considered as being sustainable entirely and genuinely, they would need to transform the different aspects of their businesses. For instance, the cutting down on the use of single-use plastic would do very little for the 90% garment workers in the globe who lack the powers to even negotiate for better wages and better working conditions. Additionally, emphasising on organic cotton over synthetic fabrics does little to address the stress on water resources that is paced on regions that produce cotton in China and India. This red flag was raised by a report that was prepared by the Environmental Audit Committee of the British Parliament this year ("UK: Environmental Audit Committee investigates sustainability of fashion industry", 2019).

The term sustainability is as such, too broad, something that makes it quite problematic. Rejina Pyo, a designer, works with organic cotton and recycled polyester and still makes regular visits to her suppliers and factories in a bid to ensure that ethical standards are upheld. She, however, does not describe her brand as a sustainable brand, and that is because, looking at the bigger picture, there is always more that can be done (Marfil, 2018). Phoebe English, also a designer, argues that the term sustainability is too vague to be of any value. While English does not describe her brand as being sustainable, she describes it as one that aspires to sustainability to the best of its levels (Moss, 2019).

Batsheva Hay argues that whenever companies like H&M push large amounts of cheap clothing, they end up producing massive collections of waste. According to her, the focus should be on wearing what one owns over and over again instead of buying very cheap clothing that one disposes in a short period (Dixon, 2019). Hay`s point is that even if sustainable practices were implemented in all the different stages of business, roadblocks would eventually be encountered. Demand for increased consumption comes about from increased profits, while the current climatic crisis experienced in the globe requires that less is consumed. The UK environmental committee concluded that it would be necessary to reinvent fashion. That was based on the start of scientific warnings faced on biodiversity loss and climate change.

Steps to make Fashion more Sustainable

Careful design

It is possible to reduce the environmental impacts of fashion items through design and as such making them more sustainable. That could be achieved through use design of products in such ways that they could be used for multiple functions and purposes and as such increasing their versatility (Remy, Speelman & Swartz, 2016). The materials used should also be friendly to the environment, that is, materials that use less chemicals, energy and water.

One of the largest parts of apparel brands and collections is the materials used. Suppliers who are eco-friendly should be chosen over those suppliers who do not prioritise sustainability. It is also necessary to work with suppliers who are certified and who have goals of reducing carbon footprints. It is essential to learn the basics of materials so that the chances of picking the correct fabric are minimised for the purposes of products. It is very important to always work with suppliers who are trusted, certified and transparent who push sustainability and further work towards goals that are aggressive (Pal & Gander, 2018).

Ethical manufacturing

Setting on manufacturers who have prioritised sustainability is crucial. While working with factories that care for their workers, it is also right for the manufacturers of different products to also ensure they uphold the rights of their workers. Great products come about from workers who are happy and healthy (Leonas, 2017). It is also necessary to ensure that the processes of production are energy efficient, and also low in chemical and water usage.


When fashion items have been produced and ready for shipping, they should be transported in ways that are not harmful. That could be achieved through material sourcing and subsequent production within the same continents (Gordon & Hill, 2015). That would minimise the need for shipping. The warehouses where products are stored should also be energy efficient.

Product care & Life

When the product is in the hands of the customers, they should be educated on the best ways through which to take care of their products. All products should have eco-friendly instructional hangtags and care labels. Manufacturers should also have in place, repair, recycling and resale services in place. Customers should be adequately informed on how they should use their products so that they last longer (Lundblad & Davies, 2016).

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The re-invention of an industry that is built on cheap labour, growing consumption, free public goods like access to water and environmental pollution is not a very easy endeavour. Ideas, both the old sound and new ones are being floated. They include; the supply chain`s living wages, regenerative agriculture, reuse of fibres for the creation of circular material flow and the use of organic cotton.

From this paper, it is evident that achieving 100% sustainability in fashion is really not possible. The paper, however, provided means through which fashion could be made more sustainable in the long run. Long lasting products reduce the needs to consume. It is possible to use products over and over again and when a time comes when consumers no longer want products, it would be crucial to have in place systems and processes for closed circular loops.

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