Making Circular Fashion Sustainable

If we are to achieve a more sustainable future, we must change how we buy, use, and dispose of the clothes, shoes, and accessories we wear. I believe that a sustainable future is impossible to achieve until we address the enormous environmental and social costs of fashion.

We Must Transform the Unsustainable to the Sustainable

Our consumption of fashion materials is on an unsustainable path.
Consider the following statistics from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the United Nation’s Environment Programme:

  • Between 2000 and 2015, the production of clothing doubled but the number of times a single garment was worn declined by 36%
  • Every second there is an equivalent of an entire trash truck full of clothes being dumped in a landfill or burned
  • The fashion industry produces 20 percent of the world’s waste water and 10 percent of global CO2 emissions
  • It takes 3,781 liters / 998 gallons of water to make a single pair of jeans
  • Our laundry sends half a million tons of microfibers into the ocean every year (the equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles)

The social cost of the fashion industry are equally high. Most fashion products are made in low-wage countries where the minimum wage is not enough to live on. As Chloé Mikolajczak, founder of The Green Seeds Project noted:

Garment workers often have to endure heavy labour abuses. From sexual and verbal harassment, low wages and lack of union protection, these workers often do their jobs in a state of fear and uncertainty

Innovating to a Sustainable Future

Despite the enormous cost of fashion, we are seeing signs that the fashion industry is becoming more sustainable. Much of it driven by entrepreneurs and innovators such as Stephanie Benedetto of The Queen of Raw, Elias Stahl of HILOS, Jeremy Lang of Pela, and Robert Luo of Mi Terro.

Not only are these trailblazers creating markets for sustainable fashion products, but the technology that powers the design, manufacture, and distribution of their products can be applied to many different sectors of the fashion industry.

For example, Queen of Raw is on online marketplace where customers – be they designers, apparel manufacturers, or do-it-yourselfers – can purchase fabric and other materials generated by the fashion industry.

By creating an online market, Queen of Raw keeps fabrics and materials that otherwise would have been sent to landfills or burned. So that customers have a full picture of how the fabric moved through the global supply chain. Queen of Raw uses blockchain to track the key points in its journey. This includes information such as where the fabric came from, any sustainable certifications it may have earned, and where apparel companies originally sourced the fabric.

Global fashion and apparel companies also are stepping up their game to make the industry more sustainable. For example Adidas’ innovative Parley shoes are made from recycled fish nets and Patagonia is ramping up efforts to sell used clothing alongside its new clothing. And Stella McCartney has created an online consignment store to encourage customers to consign clothes rather than throw them away.

Transformational and Sustainable Change Starts with Each of Us

Despite these impressive efforts, the reality is that none of these sustainable fashion practices are operating at a scale necessary to quickly transform the entire industry into one that is sustainable in the next couple years. We are, at best, decades away from a sustainable fashion industry.

The only way that reality changes is if consumers – each of us – demands more of the fashion industry. Through our purchases, our presence on social media, and the investments we make in companies we have the ability to accelerate the shift to a sustainable fashion industry.

Four Easy Steps for You to go Sustainable

If you really want to drive change in the fashion industry so it becomes more sustainable, consider the following actions:

  1. Buy less. Only buy clothes, shoes, and accessories that you know you need and you know you will wear.
  2. Focus on quality rather than quantity. As I wrote in my previous article, there is a big difference between buying clothing that stands the test of time versus something that is cheap and will soon be thrown away.
  3. Find an entrepreneur and support them. While it is true many entrepreneurs need financial capital to scale their work, there are other ways to help them grow the business. Many startups have small, often over stretched teams. If you are a marketing, sales, or social media guru your talents can be put to good use.
  4. Demand more and make your voice heard. Retailers only will expand their offerings of sustainable fashion when customers make their voices heard and demand that sustainable products be made available.

While there is a lot to be excited about in the steps being taken to make the fashion industry more sustainable, change that truly transforms the industry into one that better respects the environment and people will not happen unless all of us demand it.

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