Sustainability is a crucial topic to be discussed within the fashion and textile industry. However, we tend to see it is as a green concept only, relating only to the environment. Not polluting, not wasting resources, recycling. We see it in trade shows such as Milano Unica and Première Vision.
Even though sustainability does combine those items, it expands to so much more. True sustainability is holistic: the fragile balance between 3 different pillars - environmental, social, and economic. Only in their delicate interception, can we achieve it; if one pillar is weak, there is no sustainable industry. Need help? Understand more about the topics below:
Usually, the highest priority when we are talking about sustainability. The reason is simple: the lower the impact we have on the environment, the easier we can transfer that impact to the social system, thereby also improving the economy. Environmental sustainability means we are consuming resources -- materials, energy, land, water, and more -- at a sustainable pace.
Here, the principals of a circular economy are a popular choice being applied to the fashion and textile industries in order to make it less damaging to the environment. We now have a wide range of vegetable leather-like materials, for instance, developed from different by-products of the food and beverage industry, including waste coffee grounds.
Pollution is another point to be considered here: what kind of chemicals are being used along the supply chain and/or a garment's production, in stages like washing, dyeing or finishing? Can they contaminate the soil or the water? Are they toxic to wildlife? Clean alternatives are already available -- including a digital printing alternative that is completely waterless.
Maintaining environmental sustainability ensures we are not drying up or contaminating our resources, making it possible to extend the life of businesses for longer.
Social well-being is the key element of this pillar. Movements like Fashion Revolution are one of the most important drivers of education and change when it comes to social sustainability in the fashion and textile industries. Who made your clothes?
Working conditions are a basic standard for social sustainability in the fashion and textile industries. Disasters like the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh back in 2013 remind us of how bad working conditions can be. Transparency and social responsibility certifications such as Fair Trade can help businesses show customers their commitment to holistic sustainability, and improve the social well-being of a country or a community for the long term.
Brands and companies should be responsible for defending fair wages, working conditions, and workers’ rights. Movements like Fashion Revolution help bring up the topic in the fashion and textile industries. Image: courtesy of Fashion Revolution
It can feel counterintuitive to mention the economy as part of sustainability, but it certainly forms part of this holistic process. A business should be profitable if it wants to be sustainable - however, we are not talking about profit as the main driver for business, and certainly not sacrificing social and environmental sustainability.
Economic sustainability is about generating consistent profit to keep functioning and maintaining activities, without a negative effect on the social, environmental, and cultural aspects of a country or community. And without social responsibility and effective use of resources, it is impossible to keep activities in the long term. Sustaining current and future jobs, maintaining a stable supply and demand (maybe even adapting to a made-to-order business model), and promoting cost structures that allow investment in new technologies are included here.
A successful business that is economically sustainable involves being profitable, but not at all costs, without sacrificing the long-term balance of resources and workers' well-being.
What About Sustainable Fashion?
Sustainable fashion, when we think about all 3 pillars of sustainability, is not about just using recycled textiles and saving water, but also thinking about the welfare of the workers and its impact on the community, not to mention keeping a healthy business plan that will ensure a company's stability. The whole supply and processing chain is involved -- from the yarn manufacturer to the consumption of products by customers.
Consumption, here, is a key term to understanding sustainable fashion, since sustainability implies that there would be no over-consumption (or over-production), keeping everything to the level of necessity, and also thinking about a garment's care and its afterlife.
Is it contradictory?
This is far from an easy dialogue, but one that needs having if we are to really change the fashion and textile industries for the better. It's a difficult balance that could be developed, but it also needs to include consumers in the conversation -- part of the economic sustainability and responsibility of fashion brands and businesses.
Ready to apply more of the 3 sustainability pillars into your business? Sign up to Digifair for free and start requesting sustainable fabrics, materials, and trims right away!