Fashion for me has been one of the most visible forms of expression and identity. It endows wearers an outer layer that is completely modifiable and within one’s control. Nature is inherently fashionable. I am always fascinated by a vain male peacock’s fanned-out tail feathers, and the characteristic stripes and spots of big felines. It is no mystery then why we resort to marking ourselves in our ritualistic ways with makeup, jewelry, accessories, and clothing.
While fashion is a birthright, the world of “fast fashion” today has brought to attention the negative environmental impacts of the industry, with some estimates suggesting the resulting carbon footprint to be eight to 10 per cent of the global output. Luckily, people have taken note, and everyone is fired up about the pursuit of sustainability. The everything-environmental aficionado that I am, I lauded myself on not being a hoarder, on wearing pieces from my wardrobe to their figurative death and buying only from brands built on the tenets of sustainability.
While everything seemed so perfect about my practices, a conversation with a friend led me on a quest for how all of us could embrace sustainability. I stumbled upon some revelations in the process that helped shatter some myths I, and many others, held on to about sustainable fashion.
For one, I realized a capsule wardrobe or sparse closet containing pieces from environmentally sustainable brands was not the only way to go. While there is significant value in having some staple pieces that are perennially stylish, there is every reason to buy a few trendy clothes every season as long as you treat them as long-lasting purchases. Moreover, one’s appetite for fashion can be satiated by second-hand purchases too, combined with clothing rentals, so you never are a dress short of any occasion.
Secondly, I found out that sustainable fashion is not always exorbitantly expensive. There are quite a few brands offering mid-range prices such as KNOWN SUPPLY, ASOS, Patagonia, Petite Studio, Aday, and United by Blue. Conversely, the effect of overconsumption carries larger expenses in terms of the costs of undoing the wrongs. For instance, the cost of bringing an end to climate change worldwide is estimated to be between $300 billion and $50 trillion until the 2040s.
Thirdly, a lot of brands seem to be founded on environmental sustainability, but their marketing campaigns may serve the purpose to only “greenwash” the hidden realities. Lack of transparency is a mechanism that definitely harms the cause. A lot of brands are unaware themselves of where their suppliers source materials from, for instance.
Then, recycling materials isn’t really a process benevolent to the environment. Upcycling a pair of jeans is estimated to cost the same as buying, wearing, and then throwing away a new pair of jeans. Furthermore, creating the so-called environmentally friendlier versions of natural materials, such as vegan leather, still produces synthetic byproducts such as polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride that take an exorbitantly long time to decompose and carry environmental risks.
Lastly, upon inspecting a few fashion hoarders’ motivations for not buying from sustainable fashion brands, I discovered that sustainable brands produced loose-fitting, unflattering clothes that were anything but fashionable. ASKET, tentree, OMNES, Sézane, and Thought are some of the brands that are serving multiple helpings of style to fashion-savvy buyers. Now, there is also a conscious wave to offer more inclusive sizes.
My exploration led to the conclusion that sustainability requires consuming less, which can be a direct result of producing less — finding so-called substitutes does not really translate to sustainability. Moreover, as consumers, we must treat our fashion choices as investments —willing to pay higher for our fashion purchases and measuring out the returns in terms of the number of times an item is worn. If the rate of production needs to be slowed down, one way to do that is to focus on high-fashion and customizable wear requiring smaller production that relies on organic materials. Another way is for governments to heavily tax carbon footprints and water use.
Arslan Ahmed | Contributing Writer