What is sustainable fashion?

Most actors today agree that our modern society has to develop in more sustainable ways. This includes how we produce and consume clothing, shoes, accessories, and other textiles. Virtually all major clothing companies in Sweden today have a work in progress in the area of sustainability, particularly in the production phase, but also increasingly at the user level to encourage increased reuse and recycling. At major clothing companies, CSR managers and sustainabilty heads today openly discuss how they work to realign their business models, production processes and store concepts towards improved sustainability.

But despite the growing interest in sustainability issues within the fashion industry, currently there is no common definition of what sustainable fashion actually means. As a starting point, Green Strategy has developed the following definition of “more sustainable fashion”:

More sustainable fashion can be defined as clothing, shoes and accessories that are manufactured, marketed and used in the most sustainable manner possible, taking into account both environmental and socio-economic aspects. In practice, this implies continuous work to improve all stages of the product’s life cycle, from design, raw material production, manufacturing, transport, storage, marketing and final sale, to use, reuse, repair, remake and recycling of the product and its components. From an environmental perspective, the aim should be to minimize any undesirable environmental effect of the product’s life cycle by: (a) ensuring efficient and careful use of natural resources (water, energy, land, soil, animals, plants, biodiversity, ecosystems, etc); (b) selecting renewable energy sources (wind, solar, etc) at every stage, and (c) maximizing repair, remake, reuse, and recycling of the product and its components. From a socio-economic perspective, all stakeholders should work to improve present working conditions for workers on the field, in the factories, transportation chain, and stores, by aligning with good ethics, best practice and international codes of conduct. In addition, fashion companies should contribute to encourage more sustainable consumption patterns, caring and washing practices, and overall attitudes to fashion. (Dr. Brismar, Green Strategy, 2014)

Sustainable fashion is thus partly about producing clothes, shoes and accessories in environmentally and socio-economically sustainable manners, but also about more sustainable patterns of consumption and use, which necessitate shifts in individual attitudes and behavior. However, there are many ways for fashion companies to offer a more sustainable fashion, and for consumers to consume more sustainably. Green Strategy has identified seven forms of more sustainable fashion from both a producer and consumer perspective.

The main responsibility of fashion companies is obviously to change their production, distribution and marketing practices and strategies towards greater sustainability. But companies also have the possibility to contribute to more sustainable consumption patterns. Some Swedish fashion companies provide fashion as second hand or have initiated rental systems for leasing clothes and accessories. Other companies focus mainly on creating fashion that is of high quality and timeless design, i.e. of long-lasting style and durability. Other companies (e.g. H&M) have set up collection and recycling systems that supports increased textile recycling. Some companies choose to partner with I:CO, for example H&M, Adidas, Jack&Jones, Puma and the North Face. To manufacture clothes with certified textiles (according to environmental labels and Fair trade) is another strategy to promote more conscious consumption patterns.

Suggested further reading

Please consider purchasing the following articles via our Articles for Sale page. These indepth articles will deepen and expand your understanding of sustainable and circular fashion even further. All articles have been written by Anna Brismar during the period 2013-2020.

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  • Brismar, Anna. 2014. What is Sustainable Fashion? Accessed via: https://greenstrategy.se/sustainable-fashion-definition/. Accessed on [date].