With the fashion industry accounting for almost 10% of global carbon emissions, and nearly 20% of wastewater, it’s time that we as consumers start to lead the way with our dollars. Clothing and fashion, in general, have such complex supply chains that it can be difficult to understand whether a brand is in fact sustainable or it is only one component of the total chain.
We spoke with Jacinta FitzGerald of Mindful Fashion NZ to get a no-bullshit guide to sustainability in the fashion industry.
What kind of buzzwords should shoppers be wary of?
The word sustainable is perhaps the most overused, so much so that it’s become meaningless. ‘Ethical’, ‘eco’ and ‘recycled’ are in the same category.
The fashion industry’s impacts are complex and immense, and so it pays to be wary of any brand of initiative that tries to wrap up a solution into one or two words.
Always look beyond the marketing language, and dig deeper into what is really happening, how the company operates and what values they have. Are they walking the talk?
How can you tell if a brand’s sustainability claims are legitimate?
Fashion brands across all levels of the marketplace are releasing ‘sustainable’ collections and this is dangerous territory for the conscious shopper.
Greenwashing is rife with many brands leveraging green credentials through one-off ‘eco’ initiatives or carefully placed ‘green’ marketing language to cast themselves in a positive light. Or designed to divert attention away from poor labour practices or environmentally damaging behaviour.
It’s a real challenge to discern between brands that are actually reducing their impact, and those that are highlighting a single project or change to spark sales.
Are these companies committed to investing widely in sustainable practices? Are they partnering with others to increase their positive impact. Or is their effort, and dollars, going into carefully chosen words for marketing campaigns around a single sustainability initiative?
It’s important to do your research, and find out what’s behind the claims – especially if you are going to make a purchase. Sustainability challenges are complex and interconnected, spanning social, environmental and animal welfare issues. Is the brand addressing its impacts across the spectrum in a holistic way? How transparent are they about their factories, their materials, and their progress? If they don’t say, ask!
Certifications can be a good sign, but its also important to understand what these stand for as some are far more rigorous than others. Good on You is a good place to start with this.
How can you find great, reliable sustainable brands?
The number one thing we can do is be mindful in our choices. We all need to buy things. I always think of spending money as a vote. It sounds cliche, but every dollar you spend supports that business.
Being mindful means buying intentionally. Research and question before making a purchase. Make active decisions not to overconsume, and when you do make a purchase support businesses who are actively addressing known industry issues either collectively, as is the case with Mindful Fashion NZ, or individually.
Look at a brand’s social and labour rights policies, and how it’s working to ensure fair work in its supply chain. Has it made commitments to social justice, is it committed to a living wage? Who does it partner with to support its work, what solid action is being taken and how transparent is it?
Then look at materials, is it working with regenerative, renewable, recycled or organic materials, are there certifications to support this? How is it working to minimise the impact of textile production and create circular systems?
Review clothing labels, websites, NGO’s and ethical marketplaces to gain knowledge of a brands commitments & actions towards sustainability. And don’t be afraid to ask them, to challenge them and to give your feedback.
Regardless of what level of the market we are buying in, demand responsibility from the brands you love, and be informed about who and what you are supporting.
Why is sustainability important?
The fashion industry is well known for its extractive and exploitative behaviour. As production and consumption has increased with globalisation, so too have the pressures on the fashion system.
Environmentally, raw material extraction degrades land and reduces biodiversity, while production is chemically intensive and polluting, there’s high water use and emissions, and vast quantities of waste generated from rising production and a decrease in utilisation. There are also enormous negative impacts on people – over 60 million are employed in the industry, less than 10% earn a living wage and the industry is 2nd globally most at risk for modern slavery.
These impacts are not costed into the economic model of the industry. The environment is paying the cost, as are the people in our supply chains. This has to change, our planet cannot sustain or support this current system. We can’t continue to use resources as we have been, to consume at the rate we have been, and or to throw away clothes as we have been.
As consumers we play an active role in changing this through our decisions! Be mindful in your choices. Choose brands that are honest and open about their challenges and are working to address them. Consider the full lifecycle of your purchase. Favour brands that offer take-back or resale programs to ensure that your pieces have a journey beyond their time with you.
Mindful Fashion NZ are one of 18 New Zealand brands that have come to Australian shores for Discover New, a retail residency made possible by New Zealand Trade & Enterprise. The store is a showcase of the best luxury New Zealand fashion, beauty and homewares, in Australia’s premium shopping destination, Chadstone. The space is open May 6 – 23.