“Sustainable fashion” is quite a broad concept, covering many different forms of more sustainable fashion. How can we guide everyday consumers in becoming more sustainable in relation to fashion?
In general, people have different relationships to fashion, both in terms of how ready they are to follow trends, and also how much they care about creating a special look, style and wardrobe. Thus, people’s attitudes to new street looks and high-end fashion styles vary widely. For some people, keeping up to date with the latest in fashion is a natural and highly important part of their everyday lives. For others, looks and trends play no role at all in their lives. Still, as modern human beings, we all need to wear clothes and shoes, and we all sometimes need to access new pieces, for example when our old shoes are worn out or when our clothes break or become unfit in size.
Yet, when it comes to choosing fashion in relation to sustainability, there are even more aspects involved. At a conscious level, choosing more sustainable fashion depends on our understanding and perception of the concept “sustainability” in relation to fashion. What does “sustainable fashion” mean to me? Can fashion really be sustainable in the true sense? Moreover, our behavior in relation to fashion and sustainability also depends on our deeper concern for sustainable development and social or environmental challenges at hand. Also it depends on how strongly we believe in our own abilities to influence the state of the world. In other words, do we care about making a difference in the world? And do we believe in our ability to make a change? Or do we think that our own actions are just drops in the ocean, with no significant impact on the larger picture and our own future?
Despite such variations among people, we here assume that people today are generally quite informed, concerned and willing to make a positive difference in society – and thus ready to make some conscious, more sustainable, choices in relation to fashion too.
Based on this assumption, what forms of sustainable fashion would a person most likely prefer? Is it possible that certain forms of sustainable fashion appeal stronger to some people, while other forms are more attractive to others? Assuming there can be significant differences in personal motives, here are four potential “blueprints” that can guide us in making more sustainable choices in relation to accessing and using fashion.
Sharing for Sustainability
Some people may believe in sharing as a central strategy to achieving sustainable development, feeling overall comfortable in sharing things with others, such as clothes and accessories. These persons would be likely to advocate leasing, renting, swapping, sharing closets and borrowing fashion pieces as important forms of more sustainable consumption. Passing on clothes to others through second hand and vintage would also be natural choices for this group. Here, we can expect younger people to be well represented, as they tend to experiment more freely with different looks, often by borrowing clothes from friends and relatives or buying clothes second hand. Ethical fashion would also rhyme well with the notion of sharing, as part of solidarity values.
Creating for Sustainability
Some people believe strongly in “creative actions” as a central strategy to contribute to a more sustainable society. Such persons are likely to create new fashion items, either from pre-existing materials (such as fabrics at home) or from second hand garments, vintage pieces and/or recycled materials in stores, or by using new virgin material, perhaps organic or fair-trade certified fabrics. It could be upcycling of an old garment, for example transforming an old men’s shirt into a children’s dress. Or it could be the design and making of a new original piece, for example a unique tailored dress, which has been custom-made according to personal taste and fit. Participatory design (“fashion on demand”) is another creative action, whereby the consumer is part of the last design phase and allowed to choose his/her preferred combination of fabric, style and fit. Repair work is yet another creative choice to prolong a garment’s lifetime and sustain our wardrobes.
High quality for Sustainability
Still other people tend to advocate the design and manufacturing of high quality products that are long lasting in both quality and style. Sustainable fashion here becomes synonymous with “High Quality & Timeless Design”, but could also be equivalent to “Green & Clean” fashion (that is, organic, non-toxic or overall environmentally friendly products). Here, we would expect to find more mature fashion consumers who have found and settled for a preferred style and who are not so eager to experiment with new looks. Ordering clothes on-demand (custom-made or tailor-made) for the sake of quality would be another feature of this group.
Innovating for Sustainability
The last group of consumers are the “innovation advocates”. These persons tend to put their hope for sustainability into new and advanced technologies, such as laser-cutting techniques, digital printing, and water-less dyeing (e.g. DyeCoo), as well as more innovative materials, such as milk fibers and Monocel, or to new production methods (such as new textile recycling methods). Finding the preferred form(s) of sustainable fashion is here not as obvious as for the other three groups above. Yet, choosing clothes made from innovative yarns or colored with new dyeing techniques could here be natural options for this group.
In sum, the above four general blueprints for more sustainable fashion consumption are identified based on the assumption that people have different views on sustainability and how it may most effectively and successfully be achieved in society. Individually or in combination, these four sustainability blueprints may help guide consumers in finding their most preferred form of sustainable fashion consumption or use.
Note: This article was first written and published for Make it last on August 18th, 2015. Republished here with permission.