Just being “fashion-forward” doesn't cut it any more. Keeping up with the trends and seasonal hits is not enough. Today’s buyer is conscious of the environmental and social impact of their clothes. However, there is a wave of myths and misconceptions about the whole process. So, grab a latte, sit back, and let's dive into the world of sustainable fashion – one thread at a time. Whether you're a fashionista looking to make more conscious choices or just curious about the sustainability movement, this post is for you.
10 Myths About Sustainable Fashion
Let's unravel these falsehoods:
You MUST clean out your closet to start your sustainability journey.
Out with the old, in with the new makes you sustainable, right? Not exactly. So don't be too quick to toss everything out! The average American throws away around 80 pounds of clothes per year, which is roughly equivalent to 4 full shopping bags of clothing. This contributes to the 11 million tons of textile waste that ends up in landfills each year in the US alone.
Sustainable fashion is all about making the most of what you have, and that includes the clothes you already own. While cleaning out your closet can be a good way to assess your style and plan future purchases, it's not necessary to get rid of everything you own. By focusing on buying high-quality, long-lasting pieces and being mindful of our fashion choices, we can reduce the amount of clothing waste we generate and contribute to a more sustainable fashion industry.
Are you a big fan of fast fashion? Don't be guilted to ditch your latest pieces to embrace ethical fashion either. The key is to take care of what you have, so your clothes last as long as possible. By washing on cold, washing less, air drying, and mending small issues like loose threads and missing buttons., you can extend the life of your fast fashion pieces.
If you can't live with less, you can't be sustainable.
Minimalism does not equal sustainability. You don’t have to restrict yourself to a capsule wardrobe or wear the same outfit every other day.
While sustainable fashion does encourage buying fewer clothes, it doesn't mean you have to limit the number of clothes you own. Some people prefer having a minimalist wardrobe with a capsule collection, and that's fantastic if it works for you. But it's not the only way to approach sustainable fashion. You don't have to give up clothes you love just because they don't fit a minimalist aesthetic.
Sustainable fashion is a personal journey, and it's about finding a balance that works for you. It's not about conforming to a certain aesthetic or sacrificing your personal style. You can still enjoy wearing trends and expressing yourself while being mindful of your purchases. It's not about depriving yourself, but rather making thoughtful choices.
Let's say you're someone who loves bright colors and bold prints, and you feel like having a minimalist wardrobe just wouldn't work for you. You also live in a place with four distinct seasons, so you need a variety of clothing to suit different weather conditions.
But you still want to be mindful and conscious about your fashion choices, so you decide to focus on buying high-quality pieces that you truly love and will wear for years to come. You also make an effort to take care of your clothes properly so they last longer, and when you do need to get rid of something, you donate it or sell it to someone who will appreciate it.
In this way, you're still participating in the sustainable fashion movement, even though you don't have a minimalist wardrobe or a certain aesthetic. You're just doing what works for you and your personal style, while being mindful of your impact on the planet.
And when you do decide to declutter your closet, it's important to consider where your clothes will end up. Donating or recycling them can help reduce waste and benefit others in need. But even that is not as clear cut as it seems…which brings us to the next myth:
Your donated clothes are just waiting to be snatched up by someone who needs them
Many people believe that when they donate their clothes to charity shops, the shops will sell them. However, just under 20% of the donated items are actually sold there due to oversupply. The rest of the clothes are down-cycled, incinerated, shipped to other nations or landfilled.
About 70% of the donated clothes end up in Africa, according to Oxfam, a British charity. Over a quarter of these are from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Unfortunately, a large percentage of secondhand clothing sent to other regions also ends up in landfills. Countries like Kenya are also pushing to ban importation of second hand clothes to protect their local textile industries.
It's tough to know where donated clothes end up due to the lack of transparency in the supply chain. However, you can still do something to help. You can swap your clothes with a friend, rent your clothes to a friend, or sell them online. You can also donate your clothes directly to organizations in need, like a nearby homeless shelter or refugee agency. It’s more transparent to donate directly to organizations that will use the items.
Thrifting = Sustainable shopping
While shopping for secondhand clothes can have benefits, it's important to recognize that it's not a perfect solution to fashion's sustainability issues. First, the popularity of thrift stores among more affluent shoppers has caused prices to increase, making it more difficult for those who rely on affordable clothing to find good deals. According to ThredUp's 2023 resale report, the secondhand industry continues to surge in popularity. More people are opting to purchase used clothing, leading to global sales of $177 billion in the preceding year.
Secondly, the global secondhand trade is not always equitable. A lot of clothes that people in rich Western countries don't want are sent to poorer countries. When people donate their clothes, they may believe that they are helping others. However, the reality is that these clothes are often subjected to a complicated reverse supply chain and are sold in bulk to secondhand sellers. Unfortunately, many items end up in landfills. In fact, according to the World Resources Institute, about 92 million tons of textile waste is generated each year, much of it in developing countries where there is inadequate infrastructure to handle it.
If you don't buy from sustainable fashion brands, you're not really part of the movement.
Participating in sustainable fashion isn't just about buying clothes from eco-friendly brands. You can make a difference by buying less, taking good care of your clothes, fixing them when they need it. Give your wardrobe a little extra love by wearing your clothes a bit longer. By extending their lifespan by only 9 months, you can help save the planet and cut down on your carbon, water, and waste footprints by a whopping 20-30% each. And when you do want something new, you can find amazing clothes in second hand stores, or swap them with friends
Another way to make an impact is by becoming a consumer activist. Use your power to ask brands the tough questions. Show your support to worker advocacy organizations, and channel some energy to urging representatives to create stronger regulations for the fashion industry. So, don't worry if you can't afford sustainable fashion brands. There are plenty of ways you can make a difference and be a part of the sustainable fashion movement.
If it's expensive, it must be sustainable.
Paying more for clothing doesn't guarantee that it was made ethically or sustainably. Expensive garments are not always made from responsible materials, and they may not support the people who made them. For instance, designer clothing made from synthetic materials like polyester or untraced viscose may not be any better for the environment than fast fashion. Even luxury labels often don't share much information about their supply chains.
You might find a designer jacket that's made of synthetic material, priced over $500, and marketed as "sustainable" and "ethical." However, it may have been produced in a factory with underpaid workers in questionable conditions, and the synthetic material used may not be recycled or biodegradable.
On the other hand, you could find a vintage jacket in a thrift store for $20, which was made from natural materials and has been worn and loved for years. By choosing the vintage jacket, you'll avoid contributing to the fast fashion cycle, reduce the demand for new clothing production, and lessen the environmental impact associated with the manufacturing process.
Sustainable Fashion is Not Affordable
There are many ways to make a difference without breaking the bank. We've already gone over channeling your inner fashion activist, borrowing or swapping clothes, and buying second hand. A sustainable approach to fashion means buying fewer clothes overall. Even if you pay more for eco-friendly brands like Vustra menswear, the cost of your wardrobe could still be lower than fast fashion.
Fast fashion may seem like a steal, but it can be misleading. Spending a couple of bucks on a few items here and there can add up quickly. Let's say you need a new shirt for an upcoming event and you see a cool one at a fast fashion store for only $20. You think it's a great deal and buy it without considering the quality or how often you'll wear it.
After wearing the shirt only a few times, you notice that the seams are starting to come apart and the fabric is pilling. You realize that you'll have to buy another one for the next event, and this time you spend $25 at the same store. You do this for around 10 events in one year.
At the end of the year, you've spent $200 on fast fashion shirts that have fallen apart or gone out of style, while if you had invested in a higher-quality shirt from a sustainable brand for $100, it would have lasted you multiple events and saved you money in the long run. The average American consumer actually buys 68 garments per year, an increase of 5X from the 80s!
Even though fast fashion seems like a bargain at first, it can actually end up costing you more money and contributing to environmental and ethical issues in the fashion industry. Also remember that many fast fashion companies rely on low wages and poor working conditions to keep their costs low. In Bangladesh, the minimum wage for garment workers is £73.85 per month, which is less than half the amount needed to live a decent life.
However, it's important to acknowledge that not everyone can afford to invest upfront in sustainable fashion, and shaming people who rely on fast fashion isn't helpful. We should be understanding of people's circumstances and work towards making sustainable fashion more accessible to all.
Fashion labels always tell the truth about their sustainability efforts
Here's the thing: Every brand is as honest about their sustainability claims as a used car salesman.
Just because a brand says they're sustainable, doesn't necessarily mean they are. Unfortunately, many fashion companies use "green" marketing tactics to make themselves appear more environmentally and socially conscious than they actually are. This is called greenwashing, and it's a widespread problem in the fashion industry. For example, Changing Markets Foundation reports that close to 60% of EU brands greenwash, misleading consumers.
The problem is that there are no universal standards or regulations that determine what qualifies as sustainable, ethical, conscious, or eco-friendly. This means you can't rely solely on these words to make informed purchasing decisions.
To determine whether a brand is truly sustainable, you need to look beyond their marketing claims and examine their actual practices. Some key factors to consider include the materials and dyes they use, their supply chain traceability, whether they pay living wages and ensure safe working conditions, and how they power their operations.
It's also essential to consider how a brand manages their waste and whether they overproduce or produce in small batches. While the use of words like sustainable and ethical can be helpful in identifying brands that align with your values, it's crucial to do your research and look into the brand's specific practices before making a purchase.
Consumers are moving away from companies that don't share their values. According to a recent study by Accenture, 63% of consumers worldwide prefer to buy products and services from companies that align with their personal values and beliefs. They are becoming more aware of sustainability issues and are increasingly demanding that brands prioritize sustainability.
Sweatshops only exist in developing countries.
That "Made in the US" tag doesn’t mean that the clothing item is eco-friendly. Just because it's "Made in the UK" doesn't mean it's ethical.
Even in countries with stronger labor laws, sweatshop conditions still exist. The issue is not just limited to a few bad factories or poor conditions in some countries. Big fashion brands are focused on maximizing their profits and will negotiate prices with factories as low as possible, which results in factories paying workers very little and not prioritizing their safety. For instance, the Los Angeles garment industry has faced numerous reports of labor violations, including low pay, long hours, and unsafe working conditions.
In September 2016, the US Department of Labor found that 85% of the garment factories they inspected in Los Angeles were violating wage and hour laws. Workers in the industry are often immigrants, many of whom are undocumented and may be reluctant to speak out against their employers for fear of losing their jobs or facing deportation. This led to 865 workers getting paid $1.3 million in money they were owed. These conditions have led to a push for better regulation and enforcement in the industry.
Regardless of a factory's location, there will always be a vulnerable population that can be exploited. For instance, sweatshop-like factories in the US often employ immigrant women of color, which is not a coincidence. Unfortunately, the fashion industry is highly profitable because it relies on exploitation, racism, and sexism.
Another example of sweatshop-like conditions in the US was revealed in 2019. Workers making clothes for the fast-fashion brand Fashion Nova in Los Angeles reported earning as little as $2.77 an hour. According to the report by the Labor Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, many of the workers were paid through a complex web of intermediaries and piece-rate wages, which made it difficult to determine how much they were earning. Some workers reported working over 60 hours a week without overtime pay, and some were denied basic workplace protections like access to clean water and bathrooms. The report also found that some factories were located in buildings without proper permits and with hazardous electrical wiring.
In 2020, UK-based fast-fashion brand Boohoo was investigated for allegations of labor abuse in its supply chain. The investigation revealed that some workers in Boohoo's supply chain were being paid less than the minimum wage and were working in unsafe conditions. The investigation found that workers in a factory in Leicester, UK, were paid as little as £3.50 ($4.60) an hour, far below the UK minimum wage of £8.72 ($11.48) for workers over the age of 25. The investigation also found that workers in the factory were working in cramped conditions with no social distancing measures, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The investigation led to calls for greater regulation of the fast-fashion industry in the UK.
These are just two examples of the ongoing issue of exploitation in the fashion industry, regardless of the location of the factories.
Sweatshops are a necessary evil.
"People in developing countries are grateful for any job they can get."
"We can't afford to pay workers a living wage."
All statements are false. Many people believe that sweatshops are necessary because they provide employment for people who otherwise would not have any job. However, this is not the case.
Firstly, big fashion brands do not directly employ garment workers; rather, garment workers are employed by factories that supply these brands. Brands select factories based on the lowest costs and quickest turnaround times. The Fashion Revolution Transparency Index, which ranks 250 of the world's largest fashion brands on their social and environmental practices, revealed that just 48% of brands disclosed the names of factories that produce their garments, while a mere 8% disclosed the names of the farms that provide raw materials such as cotton. This makes it difficult to get complete information about the wages paid to workers in their supply chains. Such lack of transparency makes it difficult for consumers to know whether the clothes they are buying were made under fair labor conditions.
Secondly, fast fashion brands do not invest in garment workers or their communities. As soon as wages increase or labor standards are enforced, brands leave for the next country. 90% of workers in Bangladeshi garment factories suffer from anxiety or depression as a result of their working conditions. Many also reported physical ailments such as back pain and headaches, which are caused by long hours of standing and repetitive motions.
Lastly, automation is threatening garment worker jobs. In fact, a recent report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) titled "ASEAN in transformation: How technology is changing jobs and enterprises" found that as many as 90% of garment and footwear workers in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam may lose their jobs to automation. According to the report, automation is most likely to affect labor-intensive industries such as textiles, clothing, and footwear, where jobs are highly repetitive and routine, making them prime targets for automation.
Sweatshops and fast fashion brands are not heroes for providing jobs. They exploit and endanger garment workers, and keep women in a cycle of poverty. Let's put garment workers at the heart of the future of fashion and build one that centers on their rights.
We must recognize the harmful narrative that fast fashion brands are doing a favor by providing oppressive and dehumanizing jobs. If we wouldn't want to spend a day working in those sweatshops ourselves or have our loved ones trapped in such conditions, why do we pretend that it's okay for others to suffer? It's time to wake up and take a stand for human rights in the fashion industry.
Sweatshops exist solely because big brands are more concerned with widening their profit margins than with treating their workers like actual human beings. These brands, some of which are worth billions of dollars and led by billionaire CEOs, have the financial resources to provide better wages for their workers. Is it really too much to ask that they pay their workers a decent wage?
Choose sustainable fashion for a greener future
Let’s create a better future for fashion by supporting ethical and sustainable brands that prioritize the well-being of their workers and the planet. You can do that with Vustra. Start your journey here.