What Is Sustainable Fashion?
Sustainable fashion is the shift towards purchasing and wearing clothing that has a low environmental impact. Many designers and brands (especially fast fashion companies) have reputations for being wasteful, using environmentally damaging processes, sourcing unethical animal-based fabrics, and unjust labor practices, making fashion an overall unsustainable industry that also poses issues of social justice.
All clothes have some sort of environmental impact, since resources — and regular washing — are required for even the lowest impact garment. That said, there are so many ways to lower the environmental footprint of your fashion consumption.
Why Is the Fashion Industry Unsustainable?
As a whole, the fashion industry is incredibly wasteful. The clothing and textile industry is the second largest polluter globally, after oil, according to Forbes. Where does all that pollution come from? For one thing, a ton of pesticides are used to grow cotton, a common natural fabric. In fact, 25 percent of the U.S.’s pesticides are used to grow cotton, according to a study published on NCBI. The chemicals in pesticides can pollute soil and waterways in the communities where the plants are grown.
Fashion also uses a lot more water than you’d think. Every year, China’s fashion industry discharges more than 2.5 billion tons of wastewater, according to Edge. Not to mention, 20,000 liters of water are needed to grow the amount of cotton required for one T-shirt and one pair of jeans. That said, clothing made from cotton (and other natural fabrics like linen, bamboo, and lyocell) can be composted when it is no longer wearable, meaning the garment will never go to landfill.
And when non-natural fabrics are used, the environmental impact can be even higher. All synthetic fabrics, from polyester to nylon to rayon to spandex, are essentially forms of plastic, made from fossil fuels including coal and petroleum. Plus, when clothing made from those fabrics is no longer wearable, it either goes to landfill, or is “downcycled” into new materials such as insulation.
Furthermore, a lot of that fabric actually never makes it into the final garment. Most major fashion companies — from fast fashion brands to designer labels — design patterns that do not use entire rectangles of fabric, leaving a ton of scraps, deadstock, and offcuts to be sent to landfill. And some companies take that level of waste a step further by incinerating perfectly good clothing that they were unable to sell. For example, Burberry made headlines for incinerating $36.5 million worth of new clothing in the year 2017, which the brand reportedly did to avoid the clothing hitting the market at discounted prices, according to the NY Post.
How Does Sustainable Fashion Help the Environment?
When brands take steps to make their clothes ethically, with eco-friendly materials, and without sending clothes or fabric scraps to landfill or incineration, they lessen their footprint on planet Earth. With so many fast fashion brands dominating the industry, every purchase made from a sustainable company increases the demand for slow, eco-friendly fashion. Plus, because there is already a significant surplus of clothes in existence, humans don't actually need that many new clothes to be produced — meaning the standards for fashion brands to be considered sustainable keep rising.
What Is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is cheap clothing that large companies design, manufacture, and put in stores or online extremely quickly, often to keep up with new trends. To achieve such a quick turnaround and low price tag, these companies often disregard things like eco-friendly business practices and healthy working conditions.
Even though fast fashion’s price tags are usually low, the cost on the environment and on the people making the clothing is often high. Not to mention, the low price tag isn’t actually as low as you think. A $5 T-shirt most likely will not last very long, making it essentially a disposable item in the eyes of many consumers, keeping them coming back to the store for replacements.
Which Stores Sell Fast Fashion?
Common fast fashion shops and online stores include Forever 21, Nasty Gal, Zara, Gap, Primark, Uniqlo, Topshop, Urban Outfitters, and H&M. Basically, stay away from any shop where the prices seem way too good to be true, or where new styles are constantly appearing on shelves.
Sustainable Fashion Brands and Designers
Even though fast fashion is having a moment right now, there are also so many designers combating that with ethical, sustainable, and slow fashion practices. Smaller fashion labels including Tonlé and Zero Waste Daniel both use deadstock fabric or pre-consumer fabric waste to make their clothes, meaning they do not produce any waste.
There are also plenty of larger fashion designers and brands who have dedicated their businesses to low-waste, ethical, and sustainable practices — for example, Eileen Fisher, Stella McCartney, and Reformation.
Why Is Sustainable Fashion Expensive?
Brands with sustainable business practices do not cut the same corners that fast fashion brands do — and unfortunately, the price of fair labor practices and sustainability initiatives is often higher than outsourcing to sweatshops that underpay their employees. So even though some sustainable fashion brands are pricey, you can think of buying a responsibly-made garment as an upfront investment, since the item could last you for years and years.
Affordable Sustainable Fashion
The most sustainable and affordable option when it comes to fashion is purchasing items secondhand, and ideally ones made from all-natural materials, like cotton, linen, and bamboo.
Why Is Secondhand Shopping Eco-Friendly?
Shopping secondhand is sustainable because you are only buying things that are already in the waste stream, meaning you’re essentially saving an item from going to landfill. Additionally, you’re not creating demand for new items to be produced. Not to mention, shopping secondhand can help you save money — buying a garment secondhand is always cheaper than buying that same garment brand new, it allows you to spend fast fashion prices on slow-made clothing, and it allows you to participate in trends without shopping at stores that do not align with your ethics.
Where Can I Buy Sustainable Secondhand Clothes?
You can buy secondhand clothes in person at thrift stores like Goodwill, consignment stores, and vintage shops. If you prefer to shop online, or if you are looking for a specific item, you may be interested in apps like Poshmark, Depop, and thredUP, or websites like eBay.
You can also get new low-impact clothing for free by attending or organizing a clothing swap, or scoring hand-me-downs from friends or family.
Sustainable Fashion Documentaries
A documentary called The True Cost has helped open many eyes to the pitfalls of the fashion industry. As The True Cost’s website explains, the price of clothing keeps getting cheaper; meanwhile, the human and environmental costs have only gotten higher. The film gets into the heartbreaking details of fashion’s environmental impact and on the unethical labor practices that are far too common in fashion factories, and it’s a must-watch for any fashion lover.
Celebrities Who Wear Sustainable Fashion
Many famous people have used their platforms to promote sustainable fashion, everywhere from social media to the streets to the red carpet. One example is Suzy Amis Cameron, who founded Red Carpet Green Dress, a campaign that helps designers make sustainable outfits for celebs to wear to public events.
Sustainable Fashion Bloggers
If you still want to learn more about sustainable fashion (and there is so much to learn), there are tons of bloggers and YouTubers you can use as resources for brand recommendations, tips, donation advice, and more. Some knowledgeable ethical fashion bloggers include: Eco Cult, The Un-Material Girl, Old World New, Adimay, and Sutton + Grove.
Photo source: iStock
Latest Sustainable Fashion News and Updates
Rihanna's Savage X Fenty Is Apparently Even Less Ethical Than Shein, According to ReportContent creator Ready to Glare discussed an enlightening brand assessment in a video, highlighting the ethical flops of Rihanna's Savage X Fenty.
On-Trend Sustainable Fashion That Doesn't Break the Bank? Yes, It Exists!Let's face it, most people aren't looking to thrift every item in their wardrobe. Because of this, lifting up affordable sustainable fashion brands is vital.
Temu Is a Social Media Sensation, but Why Is It so Cheap? An InvestigationTemu is known for its cheap prices. However, like Shein, the low prices mean a greater cost for laborers and the environment.
These Artists Are Making Clothing With Dog Hair, but Not Everyone Is a FanFrom history to ethics, there's a lot to discuss when it comes to the lost art of chiengora — aka spinning dog hair into yarn and creating textiles.
Uganda-Based Company Is Transforming Banana Stems From Waste Into Sustainable FabricTEXFAD, a company based in Uganda, is using banana leaves and stems to make sustainable fabric, which can then be used to make various everyday goods.
With Help From Billie Eilish, Gucci Launches Its First Vegan HandbagMusician Billie Eilish, who is also vegan, is using her influence to promote Gucci's new plant-based handbag, made from a new material.
Goodwill's Triumphs and Controversies: What to Know Before You Go Poppin' TagsWe're exploring Goodwill's charitable nature and list of controversies, which allegedly include low wages, executive greed, and discrimination.
Chatting With the Talented Darlings of the Reworked Vintage Clothing Movement (Exclusive)In an exclusive interview with 'Green Matters,' reworked vintage clothing designers Maddie West and Brooke Karasack got candid about their sustainable fashion journeys.
10 Things You Can Do With Those Old Jeans in the Back of Your ClosetFound some old jeans in your closet? Try a few DIYs, consider upcycling, or see if you can recycle them.
Our Favorite Sustainable Bras and Bralettes for Under $50Here’s a look at eight brands making affordable, sustainable bras, bralettes, and more — all of which offer bras under $50.
Don't Throw Away Your Old Bras — Donate Them to These OrganizationsAlthough giving away used bras feels awkward, don't trash them — instead, these organizations will properly reuse and recycle them.
How to Get Rid of Your Old Underwear, SustainablyUnfortunately, textile waste makes up a large portion of landfill trash. So, what should you do with old underwear? Here's how to donate old pairs.
Cupro Fabric is Gaining Popularity as Vegan Silk — but Is It a Sustainable Material?Cupro fabric is made from cotton, and is a vegan alternative to fabrics made from nonrenewable resources — but it also uses toxic chemicals.
Latinx-Owned and Hispanic-Owned Sustainable Companies to Support During National Hispanic Heritage MonthNational Hispanic Heritage Month is the perfect time to support small Latinx-owned and Hispanic-owned companies — especially ones with sustainable practices and products.
Why Ere Perez Uses Avocados, Beets, and Carrots to Create Her Award-Winning Makeup (Exclusive)Founder Ere Perez tells us about her namesake, nontoxic cosmetics company, which harnesses the power of science, nature, and botanicals.
Thousands of Mink Are Loose in Pennsylvania After Being Freed From a Fur FarmOver 6,000 mink were illicitly freed from a fur farm in Sunbury, Penn., on Sept. 19, 2023. Here's what to know about the furry situation.
Comfort Without Cruelty: The Best Vegan UGG Boot AlternativesThese vegan boots look and feel just like UGGs, but they're made without the animal cruelty.
Is Wool Actually Sustainable? Sheep Are Second to Cows for Methane EmissionsWool, made from the coat of sheep, is not as eco-friendly as it seems.
Our Best Thrifting Tips, In Honor of National Thrift Shop DayIf you’re into thrifting, get ready for the holiday of your dreams: National Thrift Shop Day.
"Just Do It," but at What Cost? Exploring the Complex History of Nike's EthicsIs Nike ethical? From years of disturbing sweatshop rumors to a 2023 greenwashing lawsuit, the brand is no stranger to controversy.
Princess Polly Is Gen-Z’s Ultra Fast Fashion Brand — And One You Should AvoidPrincess Polly has risen in the ranks of fashion, but its environmental practices are nothing to brag about. Here's what you need to know.
Calvin Klein Takes Strides Towards Sustainability: A Bold Move to Transform Fashion IndustryDiscover how Calvin Klein is leading the charge towards sustainability in the fashion world, with eco-friendly materials, carbon neutrality, and circular fashion practices.
These Are the Best Thrift Stores in San Francisco, CaliforniaShopping secondhand in San Francisco, California? Check out 10 of the best thrift stores in the Bay Area.
People Are Having Fun Dressing up for 'Barbie' — but Are They Being Sustainable?People are loving dressing up for 2023's 'Barbie' — but there is a sustainable way to have fun and be fashionable! Here are our tips.
Shein May Charge You Low Prices — but the Fast Fashion Brand's Laborers Are PayingWhy is Shein so cheap? Investigations into Shein make it clear that the fast fashion giant doesn't care about its laborers or the environment.
Why Anti-Fast Fashion Activists Protested the PrettyLittleThing Fashion ShowPretty Little Thing has been put on blast for greenwashing and its lack of transparency surrounding factory labor.
If You're Planning a Shopping Trip in Nashville, Check out These Thrift StoresIf you're traveling to Nashville or call it home, thrifting is sustainable alternative to buying new items. Here are Nashville's best thrift stores.
Don't Believe Everything on Social Media: Shein Influencer Trip Causes ControversyShein influencer trips are one way that the Chinese fast fashion company is trying to revamp its image, but can you trust influencers?
The Compostable Underwear Brand KENT Got Four Offers on 'Shark Tank'The compostable underwear brand KENT landed a $200,000 Shark Tank deal. Keep reading to learn more about this cool compostable underwear brand.
Social Media Users Are Becoming Personal Stylists With "Thrift Bundles"Social media users are embracing a new form of thrifting known as a "thrift bundle," in which thrifters also serve as personal stylists.
Head to These Atlanta Thrift Stores to Find Some New-to-You GoodsThere’s nothing better than finding the perfect clothing item at a thrift store. Check out a few of the best thrift stores in Atlanta to find your next favorite piece.
Put Your Sustainable Shopping Skills to the Test at Houston's Best Thrift StoresThere are a ton of great thrift stores in Houston. You’ll have no problem finding exactly what you need and more at these shops.
10 Thrift Stores You Should Check Out In Springfield, MissouriLooking for a bargain? Check out these 10 thrift stores in Springfield, Missouri, where you can find everything from clothing to baby accessories.
Going to the Taylor Swift Concert? Get Inspired by These Sustainable Eras Tour Outfit IdeasYou fought hard for those Taylor Swift tickets — "The Great War" is over. Now, it’s time to check out some sustainable Eras Tour outfit ideas.
7 of Boulder's Best Thrifting Hot SpotsThrift stores in Boulder offer the chance to shop sustainably or enjoy an inexpensive hobby. Check out these great Boulder thrifting locations.
Shop Till Ya Drop at the Best Thrift Stores in Dallas, TexasThrifting is an eco-friendly way to shop, discover unique pieces, and save money, too. Here are some of the best thrift stores in Dallas, Texas.
Find Something New-to-You at These Awesome Thrift Stores in Des MoinesCheck out these great thrift stores in Des Moines, Iowa.
Here’s Where to Thrift in Jacksonville, FloridaWhether you live in Jacksonville, Fla., or are just down for a visit, you have to check out these thrift stores.
6 Thrift Stores in San Jose That You Have to VisitThe next time you are headed to San Jose, Calif., consider shopping sustainably and heading to one of these thrift stores.
The Human Cost of Fast Fashion: Low Wages, Dangerous Work Conditions, and MoreWe already know the environmental impacts, but now it’s time to learn about the human cost of fast fashion.
Sustainable Pride Apparel and Outfits to Help You Celebrate Pride MonthIf you plan on celebrating Pride this month, you need to dress the part! We've rounded up our favorite sustainable brands for your Pride outfits.
Show Support for the LGBTQ+ Community With Eco-Conscious Pride ShoesTo celebrate Pride Month, sport some eco-conscious Pride shoes made with sustainable materials. We found stylish footwear from 5 top brands.
Need a Break From Sightseeing? Check Out These Thrift Stores in Colorado SpringsShopping at thrift stores can be a great way to save money, and also put the planet first. Here are some of the best in Colorado Springs, Colo.
There's Finally a Truly Plastic-Free Vegan Leather, and Luxury Brands Are Embracing It (Exclusive)We spoke with the founders of two vegan leather goods brands that are using Natural Fiber Welding's Mirum.
8 of The Best Thrift Stores in Asheville for All StylesHeaded to the North Carolina mountains? Check out these Asheville thrift stores to sustainably spice up your wardrobe.
Stopping Fast Fashion: How Consumers Can Break the Addiction to Cheap ClothesFast fashion brands are difficult to avoid, but are detrimental to the environment. This article explores ways to stop fast fashion.
Here’s a Step-by-Step Guide to Keeping Those Cowboy Boots Sparkling CleanNot only will learning how to clean your cowboy boots make them last longer, but it will also make them look better.
Hiking Sustainably: 7 of the Best Vegan Hiking Boots + How to Keep Them CleanThese vegan hiking boots are stylish and sustainable. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Thrift Shopping in Bethesda: Best Places to Find Secondhand ItemsThrifting is a sustainable way to score an amazing deal on hard-to-find pieces and preloved goods. So, check out the best Bethesda thrift shops.
Coach's Circular Sub-Brand, Coachtopia, Is the Future of Luxury Gen-Z Fashion (Exclusive)With the rise of circularity and radical sub-brands like Coachtopia in the luxury fashion realm, the concept of "luxury" has no choice but to pivot.