What is Sustainable Fashion, Really?

According to Wikipedia, everyone’s online resource they love to hate, sustainable fashion is “a movement and process of fostering change to fashion products and the fashion system towards greater ecological integrity and social justice. Sustainable fashion concerns more than addressing fashion textiles or products. It comprises addressing the whole system of fashion.”

But what does that really mean? What does sustainable fashion look like for the everyday person who wants to make a difference for the environment and for those who are unjustly impacted by the practices of conventional fashion?

Well, as it turns out, there’s no one way to practice sustainable fashion. Sustainable fashion is a spectrum. It can range from purchasing new items through transparent and sustainable companies to shopping exclusively secondhand. The best part about sustainable fashion is that it’s a journey, and you get to decide for yourself what works for you and your lifestyle.

For me, sustainable fashion mostly looks like decreasing consumption and increasing the number of wears that I get out of my current closet. I almost exclusively purchase secondhand and find that restyling my current wardrobe in new and creative ways both benefits the Earth and pushes me to be more innovative.

The fashion industry has become so unsustainable because we treat our clothes as disposable goods and cycle through them at a rapid pace. According to a case study performed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, on average, a garment was only worn seven  to 10 times before it was tossed. By wearing the same garments often and for a longer period of time, you can decrease your environmental impact.

However, this is just my personal take on sustainable fashion. Again, the lifestyle is a spectrum and each individual gets to experiment with what works for them. Here are some unique ways that our team, and community advocates, have defined sustainable fashion.

For Alexis McDonell, sustainable fashion is about analyzing your shopping habits and changing those habits in a way that cuts down your environmental impact. “I personally have cut out fast fashion. About 75% of my shopping is secondhand, and the rest is done at a smaller retail store or department store. I have also tried to cut down the number of items I buy in general. Overconsumption and viewing clothing as disposable are two of the biggest reasons for our clothing waste problem, and I hope in trying to buy and get rid of less myself I can make some sort of impact,” she says.

Anjuli Ramos Busot has a similar viewpoint. Whenever she shops she considers two things: the environmental impact of what she is buying; and buying consciously—no overconsumption. “I ask myself, do I really need this, can I use it often, what is it made of, and who made it?” she explains. “I shop sustainably in different ways—it really depends on what I am looking for. When I look for a specific piece or a specific fit, like a swimsuit or a sexy dress, I go with a new piece from a sustainable brand. When it is not so specific, or I am splurging on a luxury item, I go secondhand.”

Shopping secondhand is one of the easiest ways to shop sustainably, and one of our team’s favorites. And, obviously, buying used clothing significantly cuts down on the fashion industry’s carbon footprint as it extends the lifespan of existing garments and eliminates the carbon costs associated with the production of new clothing.

“I used to be so into buying new clothes—I previously worked at Anthropologie, and am still very much hooked on that aesthetic—but in recent years have turned down my spending almost completely in favor of secondhand shopping,” notes Helena Madden. “I live in Bushwick, so there’s a ton of amazing thrift/consignment stores in my area—L Train, Urban Jungle, Chess & the Sphinx, Flamingo Vintage Pound, the list goes on. The thrill of discovering something really amazing and cleverly styling it is far superior to anything the Anthro checkout line ever offered me. It’s like this weird little treasure hunt.”

Another common thread for our team: buying with intention. For Despina Parthemos, sustainable fashion is an unwavering necessity. “I never buy something I don’t intend to keep for years,” she states. “Whether it’s a thrift store purchase, from a sustainable brand, or even in the rare case not from a sustainable brand, it is always something of ever-lasting quality. I never, and I repeat, never buy fast fashion. Quality over quantity is important to me and that is how I ensure I only buy what I love and what I know I can use for years to come.”

Sustainable fashion is such a personal journey. While for many there may be common threads, it looks different for everyone. One of the best parts about this practice is the community of dedicated individuals that comes with it. Join us on our journey to make the world a better place as we explore different aspects of this industry!

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