Sustainable and Ethical Fashion 101: What is Sustainable and Ethical Fashion?

If you keep up, even a little bit, with the Fashion Industry, then you have probably hard the terms “sustainable fashion,” “ethical fashion,” or both. Especially during this time of Covid-19 where the global pandemic is exposing many of the Fashion Industry’s issues. At this point, everything in fashion, from fair wage practices to ethical supply chains to over-the-top runway presentations, is up for review and re-evaluation.

Personally, I’ve dabbled with sustainable and ethical fashion. But it was really the birth of my son and my focus on also intentionally shopping Black businesses that led me down the path to really digging into sustainable and ethical fashion. I know, from experience, that the world of sustainable fashion can feel overwhelming, scary, expensive, and expansive. Once you start down the rabbit whole it is easy to feel like the problem is huge and that you, as only one person, can’t do anything about it. After talking with some of YCS’ social media followers about sustainable and ethical fashion, I realized that there was a real opportunity to share valuable information and help others feel like embracing sustainable and ethical fashion is something achievable and manageable.

That’s how this series, Sustainable and Ethical Fashion 101, was born. Over the next few weeks, every Friday, I’m going to share a post about sustainable and ethical fashion. We’ll talk about:

  • What is sustainable and ethical fashion
  • Ditching feelings of guilt around not embracing sustainable fashion sooner
  • How to incorporate sustainable fashion into our lives
  • Sustainable and ethical brands to shop
  • What’s next

I’m so very excited to share this information with you and continue to learn more about sustainable and ethical fashion. This is a journey that we are on together. I’m not an expert; just a style educator sharing what she’s learned along her own personal journey.

Now, let’s dive in!

What is “Sustainable and Ethical Fashion?”

One of the most confusing things about “sustainable and ethical fashion” is that there is no universal definition. It often feels like a big, broad topic because the definition of it can be big and broad. And, to make matters worse, if you ask 10 different people to define it, you’ll probably get 10 different answers. For the sake of our series, here’s how we will define sustainable fashion and ethical fashion.

Sustainable Fashion: Refers to clothing, shoes and accessories that are produced, manufactured, marketed and used in the most environmentally responsible manner possible.

Ethical Fashion: Refers to clothing, shoes and accessories that are produced in a human manner with regards to work conditions, fair wages, fair trade, sustainable production, human welfare and animal welfare.

It is important to note that there is economic impact in both sustainable and ethical fashion.

It’s easy to see and understand WHY these terms are used interchangeably, even though they are not quite the same. It’s also easy to see why, making sustainability a part of your lifestyle can feel overwhelming. You suddenly go from ordering a t-shirt from your favorite retailer to researching the designers supply chain and labor practices. It can feel like a LOT. That’s why it’s really important for me to write this series, because I don’t want it to feel like a LOT.

Why is “Sustainable and Ethical Fashion” Important?

Simply put, whether we know it (or believe it) or not, fashion has a HUGE impact on the environment. Like, massive. Approximately 20% of the world’s wastewater comes from fabric dying and 10% of annual global carbon emissions is due to the fashion industry (Source). For context, that’s more global carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. These are just a few examples of the amounts of waste and emissions that are a direct result of the fashion industry. And, fast fashion doesn’t help. The pace of design and production only exacerbates these environmental issues.

On the back-end, we, as consumers, do not help. We do not upcycle or recycle our old garments, we simply toss them in favor of newer, shinier pieces. This is partly driven by the rapid-fire rate at which fast fashion is produced and partly driven by the fact that its so cheap to replace our clothing. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that every year some USD 500 billion in value is lost due to clothing that is barely worn, not donated, recycled, or ends up in a landfill. (Source)

Simply put, at this pace, we are on the fast track to destroying our air quality, oceans, clean water sources, and land. That is why “sustainable and ethical fashion” matter.

From an ethics standpoint, ethical fashion generally means that the garments produced are both eco- and people-friendly. Purchasing Fair Trade clothing, for example, means that your clothing was not produced using unethical practices like slave-, sweatshop- or child-labor. Ethical fashion provides opportunities for fair, dignified, and empowering employment for people (Source), covering everything from fair wages to safe work environments. In many countries where our clothing is produced, this is simply not the case. It’s time for that to change.

Well, What Can I Do?

That’s such a great question and something we are going to dig into deeply over the next few weeks. For now, just pay attention to your shopping and wardrobe habits. Do you always purchase when your favorite brand has a new drop? Find yourself browsing your favorite retailers app in the wee hours of the morning? Are you a full-blown Amazon addict like I am? Do you simply toss a garment that has a slight imperfection before checking to see if it can be repaired, upcycled or recycled?

I bet, like me, you’ll learn a ton about yourself. As you learn new things come back here and share them in the comments. Like I said, we’re on this journey together.

16 thoughts on “Sustainable and Ethical Fashion 101: What is Sustainable and Ethical Fashion?

    1. Hi! Thanks for stopping by. I will definitely check out your site and your journey. Thank you for educating us and sharing such valuable information.

    1. Yes!!!! Totally agree. When I talk about incorporating it into life, shopping local is one of the ways! Thanks for sharing your post!

  1. Great to see so many people talking about sustainable fashion, this is so the future. The global pandemic has really shone a light on the damage that fast fashion and consumerism is having on developing countries, women, and the wider environment. In the famous words of Vivienne Westwood, Buy less wear longer! 🙂

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