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Home Blog Sustainable Fashion: Exploring Eco-Friendly Practices in the Industry

Sustainable Fashion: Exploring Eco-Friendly Practices in the Industry

May 31, 2024

Contributing Author: Alley Bardon

8 mins read

There's no denying the impact the so-called “fast fashion” industry has had on the environment. In fact, some studies suggest that fashion production is responsible for up to 10 percent of total carbon emissions across the globe. This has created environmental concerns that have become impossible to overlook. 

Thankfully, the fashion industry has recently seen the rise of some more eco-friendly fashion trends, ranging from the use of recycled materials to more environmentally friendly production processes. 

Whether you're already working in the fashion industry or have plans to get involved in this field, understanding the link between fashion and sustainability (as well as common barriers to ethical fashion) is a must. 

Understanding Sustainable Fashion

Before diving into the latest trends in eco-friendly fashion, it's important to understand what sustainable fashion entails and what its key principles are. 

What Is Sustainable Fashion?

So, what exactly is sustainable fashion? Specifically, sustainable fashion refers to the production and distribution of apparel, footwear, and accessories in a way as environmentally conscious as possible. 

Core Principles of Sustainable Fashion

There are several core principles of sustainable fashion, including: 

  • Supply chain transparency 
  • Ethical labor practices for production/manufacturing workers 
  • Collaborative consumption 
  • Circularity, recycling, and upcycling 
  • Production methods with a minimal impact on the environment 

Growing Consumer Demand for Sustainable Clothing

If the concept of sustainable fashion still seems fairly novel to you, that's because it's a relatively new idea within the industry. For many years, the bulk of the fashion industry was focused on minimizing production costs. This often meant churning out low-quality apparel at very inexpensive prices, with minimal consideration for the environmental damage caused. 

In recent years, the industry has seen a growing demand for apparel designed with sustainability in mind. This includes the use of higher quality materials designed to last, as well as more eco-conscious production practices. More than ever, consumers are becoming more conscious of their buying decisions and the global impact these choices can have. As a result, they've begun to demand apparel and accessories that align more closely with their own values and beliefs. 

Eco-Friendly Materials and Production Processes

So, what are some of the environmentally conscious fashion trends we're beginning to see in the industry? These range from the use of more sustainable materials to production methods with a smaller carbon footprint. 

Organic Cotton, Recycled Polyester, and Hemp

More apparel companies are beginning to swap out some of their materials with more environmentally conscious ones. Organic cotton, recycled materials (such as recycled polyester), and even hemp have become popular options less damaging to the environment while still delivering the quality, soft material consumers expect in their clothing. 

Exploring Sustainable Production Methods

Of course, sustainability in fashion isn't just about the materials used; it's also about the specific methods used to produce apparel and accessories. Today, the industry is beginning to see a shift toward "zero-waste" manufacturing, in which every material and resource is used to the fullest extent possible. Likewise, manufacturing facilities are beginning to implement water-saving techniques and other energy-saving practices to minimize energy use during production. 

Ethical Supply Chains and Fair Labor Practices

In addition to more eco-friendly materials and production practices, there is also a shifting demand on the fashion industry to utilize more ethical supply chains and fair labor standards in the production and distribution of apparel. 

Importance of Transparency and Accountability in Supply Chains

More than ever, clothing and apparel manufacturers are expected (and sometimes required) to maintain transparency and accountability in their supply chains. This means being able to show exactly where their materials have been sourced from. In recent years, the industry has even seen the implementation of supply chain transparency tools to ensure that manufacturers are doing their part as well. 

Fair Labor Practices and Other Clothing Initiatives

Recent scrutiny of the fashion industry has also revealed a lot of unsettling labor practices that have been going on for decades. Today, there is a push for fair labor practices among fashion workers, including limits to the number of hours these workers can be on-the-clock, as well as minimum wage requirements. 

Standards for Ethical Sourcing and Production

Fashion companies are also facing heavier scrutiny when it comes to how they source the materials and resources needed to produce their apparel. What exactly is sustainable sourcing? This can vary slightly depending on who you ask, but the idea behind sustainable sourcing is that a fashion product should use biodegradable components with no chemical treatment. 

Circular Fashion: Reducing Waste and Promoting Recycling

Another trend that has been rising across the fashion industry in recent years is that of circular fashion. This is where clothing manufacturers are just as focused on the creation of a clothing item as they are the end of its usable life. The driving idea behind circular fashion is that apparel items should be made with products and materials that will be kept in use for as long as possible. 

Strategies for Extending the Lifespan of Clothing

The idea of circular fashion, of course, extends beyond designers and manufacturers. It is also a responsibility of the consumer. With this in mind, there are many things’ consumers can do to extend the usable lifespan of a piece of clothing while following the idea of circular fashion in their own lives. 

It is possible, for example, to prolong the life of an apparel garment by having it repaired in areas where it may be damaged. This could be something as simple as sewing a hole in a shirt to repair it. On the other hand, it could be more complex, such as taking a damaged shoe to a cobbler for a professional repair.

Reuse and recycling are always options to consider for worn clothing, too. Rather than throwing away older clothes when they're no longer "in style" (or to your preferred taste), you might consider donating them instead or even repurposing them in another way.

Innovations in Textile Recycling and Production Systems

Speaking of recycling, the technology behind textile recycling has also come a long way in recent years. In the past, it has been difficult to recycle clothing because many garments consist of a blend of many different materials that can be difficult to separate and sort. 

However, the industry is now beginning to see innovations that may make it possible to recycle any garment using a chemical solution that effectively separates blended materials for reuse. These kinds of innovations could absolutely change the world and minimize environmental damage from the fashion industry. 

Sustainable Fashion in Retail and Consumer Behavior

Consumers aren't just turning to clothing manufacturers to produce apparel more sustainably; they're also looking at fashion retailers and reflecting on their own behaviors as they look to the future. 

Role of Retailers in Promoting Sustainable Fashion

Retailers, such as clothing stores, are feeling the pressure from consumers to carry more sustainable brands. By partnering with eco-friendly suppliers and manufacturers, clothing retailers can make a difference. 

Consumer Attitudes and Behaviors Toward Sustainable Fashion

One of the main reasons for the rise of sustainability trends in fashion is shifting consumer attitudes and behaviors associated with eco-friendly fashion. In the past, consumers may not have put as much thought and consideration into the clothes they bought and their impact on the environment. Today, this is an issue at the front of many consumers' minds as they shop. As a result, this has led to a greater demand for eco-friendly fashion and ethical fashion. 

Collaborations and Partnerships Driving Sustainability

As the demand for sustainable and ethical fashion has risen, the industry has seen some incredible collaborations and partnerships form between fashion brands, NGOs, government agencies, and other industry leaders. 

Collaborative Efforts Between Fashion Brands, NGOs, and Government Agencies

According to a National Library of Medicine publication, "to mitigate the negative responses from environmentally conscious consumer groups, fashion merchandisers have sought to partner with non-governmental organizations (NGOs)." This is a trend only likely to continue in the coming years, especially as regulations change and evolve. 

Industry Initiatives and Partnerships for Sustainability

An exciting initiative, some fashion brands have even gone as far as to partner with non-profit organizations like Greenpeace and UNICEF to create new standards for sustainable fashion. 

Challenges and Opportunities in Sustainable Fashion

While we have certainly seen some progress when it comes to sustainability in fashion, there are still some challenges to overcome. This includes barriers to the adoption of more sustainable practices, as well as challenges in educating and advocating for change throughout the entire industry. 

Barriers to Adoption of Sustainable Fashion Practices

Some clothing brands continue to face barriers that prevent them from adopting sustainable fashion practices. Cost is the most common barrier, as the up-front investment required to replace equipment and shift production processes can be significant. Other brands may struggle with logistical challenges when it comes to obtaining materials from various sources or training existing employees on new practices. 

Opportunities for Innovation and Growth

Fortunately, there are still plenty of opportunities for innovation and growth throughout the industry. As the demand for eco-friendly fashion continues to increase, businesses are getting more creative and inventive with their sourcing, production, manufacturing, and distribution practices to operate more sustainably. 

Role of Education and Advocacy in Sustainability

At the end of the day, education and advocacy are among the most important aspects of creating a more sustainable future for the fashion industry. The more educated and informed those in the fashion industry become about sustainability issues, the more readily they can make a difference. 

Of course, it's not just about understanding the sustainability issues that face the industry. It's also about being willing and able to advocate for change. This is where the next generation of fashion leaders will need to be prepared to step forward, take a stance, and make real changes for the future of our planet. 

Interested in a Career in the Fashion Industry?

The fashion industry has come a long way with its production processes over the past decade or so, but many would agree that there's still plenty of work to be done. If you're interested in being part of the solution and working toward more sustainable development in the fashion industry, now is an exciting time to upskill with a degree from Lindenwood University Online. 

We're proud to offer both a bachelor's degree in fashion business and entrepreneurship, as well as a master's degree in fashion business entrepreneurship. These online programs explore important topics in the industry, ranging from marketing and apparel design to buying and sustainability. Get in touch today to learn more about our programs or get started with your online application here.  

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