You seem to hear it all the time; sustainable fashion. The term sustainable has been used and misused more and more in the past few years. In this blog we try to dive into this topic a bit more and give you our perspective on it.
What is sustainable fashion?
What does sustainable fashion entail? There are so many different approaches to it, that it is unclear how to pinpoint this topic. Is it about materials? Production Methods? End of life solutions? Recycling? Each and every company might have a different outlook and different standards for what they consider “sustainable”. We do have a definition that was brought into life by The Brundtland Commission “Sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”. But this definition can be too vague; we have little clue about our own needs and have even less of an idea what the future generations will need.
In our opinion, we will always have an impact as humans on this planet. This is not a bad thing, but there is no way around it. What we can do, however, is drop dead … Just kidding! We can also try to minimize the impact and in our opinion that is what sustainability is all about. Not a fancy utopian checklist, but a continuous and incremental change to have a more positive impact on the environment around us. This is a process and there is, in our opinion, no end to it. Which is fine, because there are always problems to solve, and we like solving problems :).
What are sustainable materials?
There are a few categories within the fashion industry where we can put these ‘incremental positive changes’ to the test. One of them, and the most visible are the materials that we use. New innovations and old materials can be combined to make great clothing. We have written some blogs already on our favorite materials like hemp, eucalyptus and organic cotton. And while we don’t live in a fairy world, where these materials have no impact, they give us a step in the right direction.
Besides this, there are also any innovations happening at the back end of clothing. Mainly in recycling, which is great! The less new raw materials we need, the better. It still has its limitations, but the direction we are moving in with this is awesome.
What is social sustainability?
Another way of looking at sustainability is from the perspective of humans. Whether we like it or not, we are still part of nature and thus the lives of humans also have to be taken into account when talking about this topic. In this blog, we already highlighted various ways that production standards are becoming better and better. Since fashion has become a global industry, global problems in regards to labor standards have also become something that the industry should be working on.
Luckily more and more awareness is coming to these serious problems and with the rise of more local production, we are very optimistic on this topic of social sustainability.
Washing something green
Without this clear definition, it has become the norm to paste the word onto everything companies do. This can be confusing and has led to a lot of so-called greenwashing. Greenwashing happens when things are portrayed as sustainable, but in reality they are not better and sometimes even worse than an alternative it claims to be better than.
We don’t want this to sound too negative, but we want to warn you that not everything is what it seems in this industry. Even for insiders like us, it is not always clear what is actually better and what can be called greenwashing.
So how can you spot greenwashing? If you see claims that are not backed by more information or sources, beware. Also, the classic “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” applies here. A 95% reduction in something related to production is massive so if you see numbers like that, make sure to do an extra check. Usually brands will put the things they do well on their website. This is a good starting point if you want to test them. Looking for things about materials, chemicals, production methods and recycling. If they do something well they’ll show it, if not they will probably (un)intentionally hide it.
Also, there are still a few well respected labels/certifications out there that have not been prone to industry influences (we’re looking at you HIGG). Some of these labels are GOTS and the Fair Wear Foundation.
Some last remarks
As mentioned earlier, it is more important than ever to stay skeptical of claims. Luckily some governmental bodies are doing a great job with this as well, as seen with the latest greenwashing act of Adidas in France.
Know that no brand is perfect and that sustainability is a continuous process, in which transparency and honesty are key. One major thing that we are still working on, for example, is creating natural/bacterial dyes for our products. After that we will definitely have other steps that we have to take as a brand and it will probably never be perfect. But that is fine, as long as we keep moving forwards as an industry.
If you have anything to add or ask, feel free to let us know below!
Erik & Team Iron Roots