What is Sustainable Fashion?

REES Africa
4 min readJul 19, 2022


Do you know you may be one outfit away from saving the earth?

Okay, maybe we’re exaggerating (a lot), let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Let’s find out the facts first. To give you a better background, we’ll begin by describing everything that isn’t sustainable fashion.

Fast Fashion

Fast fashion is the direct opposite of sustainable fashion.

It involves the rapid design, production, distribution, and marketing of fashion items. This means that retailers can pull large quantities of greater product variety and allow consumers to get more fashion and product differentiation at a low price fueled by celebrity culture.

Fast fashion production leverages trends, replication and low-quality materials (like synthetic fabrics) to bring inexpensive styles to the end consumer. The three main components are its trendiness, ease of disposal and low cost.

According to the UN Alliance for sustainable fashion, the fashion industry is the second biggest consumer of water and is also responsible for close to 10% of global carbon emissions; which is as much as the European Union for comparison and second to the oil sector. So, imagine all of that pollution not just simply occurring but at a much faster rate. Products get churned out (design, production and delivery) in about 15 days, not to mention the amount of human labour needed. The part that makes it all bleak; all your favourite brands are doing this. Plus, it isn’t limited to already bought clothes.

Now that we have a bit of a background, let’s move to the other end of the spectrum.

What is sustainable fashion?

It seems that recently, the word sustainable has become sort of a buzzword slapped on anything people want to market as good. However, “being sustainable” according to Merriam Webster means;

“of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged”.

Companies are in a rush to show this better and more Eco-conscious side of themselves- even if they are sometimes fake.

Fashion on its own is using clothing, footwear, lifestyle, accessories, makeup, hairstyle, and body posture for self-expression and/or autonomy.

The most popular definition of sustainable fashion is that it is

“an all-inclusive term describing products, processes, activities, and actors (policymakers, brands, consumers) aiming to achieve a carbon-neutral fashion industry, built on equality, social justice, animal welfare, and ecological integrity”.

Sustainable fashion is also known as Eco-fashion. In totality, it addresses the entire way clothing is produced; who produced it, how it was produced and the lifespan of the product before it ends up as a landfill. Though there is a debate on if fashion can ever be sustainable we have to try our best as fashion isn’t going anywhere, it would always be a part of us.

How can we make our fashion sustainable?

Buy less

There’s no better way to encourage sustainable fashion than the basic law of demand and supply. The more people buy from fast fashion brands, the higher they churn. However, there is no simple answer to solving fashion’s role in climate change. Even though it is seemingly obvious, not producing, buying, or throwing away old stuff has negative implications on employment, know-how and self-definition. So we encourage consuming less of these unsustainable fast fashion wears as a more realistic solution.

Second-hand/ thrift shopping

There is nothing shameful or poor about shopping thrift or second-hand. The fashion possibilities are endless; some of these brands and styles are not usually available on a large commercial scale and this is also a way of reducing the manufacturing of new items and preventing pollution. You should patronise those thrift vendors today, they are helping to maintain our sustainability goals.

Swapping and Sharing clothes

Not only is this fun, but it is also very low cost. It could be done on a large scale or with friends and family. Swapping and sharing clothes helps reduce the number of clothes that are being disposed of. There’s indeed no need to feel off about swapping or sharing your clothes with your homies. You just read this; swapping and sharing clothes is an environmentally sustainable practice!

Renting and Donating

Decluttering helps let go of emotional attachments according to various studies. Goodwill and The Salvation Army are quite popular sites for donations. If you look around, you’ll find additional ways to donate your old clothes. Once in a lifetime, clothes like wedding dresses, red carpet outfits and costumes can be put up for rent.

Reworking/ Recycling

Everything can be recycled or reused in some way or another. If you have a ton of old clothes that you can’t reuse in any way, you can try to recycle them. People turn their old clothes into rags or make other clothes from them. Artworks can also be made from clothing and accessories.

Shopping from sustainable brands

There are specific sustainable fashion brands which have devoted their whole process to doing fashion the right way. They are aware of the struggle for the future and are invested in helping to make a change. There’s no better way to offer your complete support than to patronise them!

So, the next time you want to make an over-the-top dress that you’ll never wear again for a wedding, or buy clothes that you know you’ll never wear at all just because they are trendy, stop and think about the environment. In the long run, we all really could be a few clothes away from saving the earth!

Author: Anosime Imoagene

Photo: Geneva business news



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