What is sustainable fashion?

by: Emma Wilder 24 May 2019

Between the news articles, scientific reports and developments in sustainability in various industries, there’s enough to keep us talking about sustainable fashion for a very long time. What seems to be forgotten in all of these conversations is one very basic question: what is sustainable fashion? I’m here to answer that question.

Put simply, sustainable fashion means any garment, collection, accessory etc that is made using eco-friendly and/ or ethical means. Since there’s still a lot of work to be done to make sustainable fashion mainstream, it’s more of a concept or philosophy than it is a clear-cut, tangible category at this point. It is this philosophy that guides the design and manufacture of collections, in the aim of moving towards environmental and social sustainability.

Clear definition or not, there are some categories that can help when it comes to identifying just which fashion is sustainable: ethical fashion, low carbon footprint, sustainable materials, slow fashion and recycled, upcycled and recyclable. There are pros and cons to each of these and many conscious brands fall under more than one of these headings. That being said, there are a few defining features of these categories that you should be able to identify in most conscious brands.

Ethical fashion

Ethical fashion occupies a more social side of the sustainability conversation. Usually, when talking about ethical fashion, we think of the people who manufacture the garments or provide the raw materials. Brands that trade fairly and ensure good working conditions for their staff come under the ethical heading.

It’s not just about the people though. Ethical fashion also applies where animal products are concerned. Are the animals properly cared for? Do they have suitable living conditions? Are they put under unnecessary stress? Many leather brands ensure that their practices are ethical by using the by-products of the meat industry, thereby preventing waste and ensuring less animals are harmed. Meanwhile, there are wool companies that will wait for the wool to naturally fall off of a sheep, rather than shearing, to save the animal from stress.

Low carbon footprint

As a rule, fashion that has a low carbon footprint tends to have a short supply chain and collections are manufactured using non-polluting means. Collections that are designed, sourced, manufactured and sold within a shorter distance naturally have a lower carbon-footprint than collections that have travelled between cities or countries.

Sustainable materials

There are exciting things going on in the world of sustainable materials. Generally, these fall under two categories: natural materials and sustainable synthetics. Natural and untreated materials, like cotton, linen and silk don’t release harmful chemicals or microfibres into the environment, but do require a lot of water – something that is particularly problematic as they tend to grow in water-scarce countries.

Sustainable synthetics are manmade but often make use of natural materials. Piñatex has become a well-known sustainable synthetic. This is natural leather alternative made from the fibres contained in pineapple leaves. Again, this makes use of the inedible part of the fruit, preventing waste and offering a bio-degradable alternative to leather and plastic-based synthetics.

Slow fashion

Slow fashion is the industry’s answer to clothes that are produced quickly and disposed of even quicker. Slow fashion is based on the concept that fashion should be made with care and last a lifetime. This approach is designed to create high-quality, durable clothes that won’t end up in landfill or the ocean.

Upcycled, recycled and recyclable

Three concepts for the price of one, upcycled, recycled and recyclable fashion is another way to ensure fashion doesn’t contribute to landfill. Upcycling encourages people to make use of old garments in new ways, whilst recycling takes old pieces and makes new ones out of them. Recyclable fabrics lend themselves to be used again, helping to cut down the amount of raw resources that the fashion industry consumes.

To sum it up, sustainable fashion is a broad category and we’re only scratching the surface of the possibilities. What it boils down to, though, is making conscious decisions to benefit either people, planet or both. With so many brands already making a start and advocates in the industry making people aware of fashion’s impact on the planet, we’re pretty optimistic about the future for sustainable fashion here at Pure London.

Join us at Pure London SS20 at Olympia London from 21st – 23rd July to discover a world of sustainable fashion in our dedicated Pure Conscious sector and learn more from some of the industry’s leading names.

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About Pure London and Pure Origin


We are the UK’s number one leading fashion trade event that brings together the entire fashion supply chain, right the way from fibre through to finished ready to wear garments.

No other UK show offers sourcing and brands together, making Pure London and Pure Origin the only event to cater to all your fashion buying needs under one central London roof.

Location & Opening times:

Olympia London

Hammersmith Road,

Kensington,

London W14 8UX

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