How We Can Act Responsibly: A Guide to Fashion Sustainability

A lot has been said about taking responsibility in terms of being a consumer of fashion. Though it is true that, of late, the word “sustainability” has become something of a buzzword in many circles, from the world of finance to the clothing and food and beverage industries, this is hardly a negative idea. Even if the notion of acting in the right way in order to preserve the environment and safeguard the rights of workers comes wrapped up in a package which makes it seem faddish, it is still, in the end, going to produce at least some positive effects.

This blog post is, therefore, about providing some more concrete solutions to the matter which has come into the limelight recently. A very useful tool in this regard is the Fashion Transparency Index provided by the wonderful Fashion Revolution organisation website, which I have already referenced a number of times in previous blog posts. The index can be examined in its entirety here:-

An important source of information in the quest to act sustainably as a fashion consumer – the Fashion Transparency Index, courtesy of the Fashion Revolution organisation

The index should be consulted in order to establish or at least gain awareness of fashion producers who have no qualms about revealing details of their manufacturing process to the customer. Whether these concern the wages paid to workers, the company’s dedication to the adherence of environmentally-friendly policies and regulations, making available the names of suppliers used or tackling of any impacts of, for instance, waste, the consumer has a right to be informed of these many and varying elements. There are so many issues to be considered if you are truly concerned about fashion sustainability in all its forms, and the Fashion Transparency Index goes a long way to exploring different questions on the matter.

Most significantly, the 2019 edition of this report ends with a list of the brands who were invited to participate in the quest for transparency. As it explains, the companies were chosen on the basis of their exceedingly high turnover, global distribution and product type and range, and hence potential for the contribution of damage, be it ecological or social. The index then goes on to indicate the brands that were ready to contribute to the questions put to them as opposed to those who declined to be involved. For example, ASOS, a fashion website used extensively by customers the world over and especially by Maltese consumers, figures positively on this list, which should be reassuring for local fans of this online retail powerhouse.

It is worth noting that some international designer brands, as discussed in the previous blog posts, have taken measured steps towards fashion sustainability. For example, the Katharine Hamnett brand has been one of the first to champion the use of organic cotton. The designer has also alluded to plans to establish a centre for sustainable manufacture in Italy. Then there is London-based Ninety Percent, which is sufficiently conscientious to have declared that it will be dividing ninety percent of its profits between charitable causes and its workers in Bangladesh and Turkey. Even more significantly, upmarket fashion site Net-a-porter has awarded this brand a prominent position in its list of products offered.

Another venture which merits a mention here is Identity Party. Available on the website Depop, it was the brainchild of Sarah Fewell, who was enamoured both of fashion and the idea of not settling for a traditional job. The notion of Identity Party occurred to her when she came across some items which she did not deem conversant with her style, but thought could sell well. From that point onwards, Fewell determined to set up a shop to offer customers the opportunity to trade clothes, in the style of eBay. The rest, as they say, is history, and Identity Party now has thousands of regular customers, based as it is on Depop, which boasts over ten million users.

Of course, the problem with shopping for goods online is the lack of ecological consideration in the frequent usage of plastic packaging, as well as the carbon print implicit in the items being shipped across the world. Also, even though the buying of second-hand or vintage clothing contributes a great deal to the question of fashion sustainability, it has its limits, hence the importance of the promotion and refinement of fibre-to-fibre recycling, when this is available. 

 Finally, it must be said that, in this day and age, there is no excuse in terms of not being well informed of the advantages pertaining to the participation in the road towards fashion sustainability. Ultimately, savvy consumers are now well-aware of the fact that it IS possible to display enthusiasm for fashion but still adopt a degree of restraint when it comes to consuming clothing items. A careful consideration of companies and brands, an implementation of the four rs – reuse, reduce, recycle and repair (there are always those craftspeople who will do the last for you if, like me, you cannot sew to save your life!) and the decision to patronise local or locally-based designers who upcycle will go a long way towards joining in the pursuit of fashion sustainability.