What Is Sustainable Fashion?

Do an internet search for “sustainable fashion definition” and you’ll get at least five articles titled What is Sustainable Fashion? If you look through each one they all ask the same question, though don’t always have the same answer. We’re in a unique period of change within the fashion industry and we can’t quite define what is even happening.

Fashion history books are full of detailed descriptions of past periods of dress, notable trends, and significant garments. It makes sense that we are longing for the same deeper understanding with this current slow fashion movement, yet fashion history commentary was only made possible in retrospect.

In a recent conversation with Kestrel Jenkins, of Conscious Chatter, she argued that we should stop trying to define something that is constantly evolving. The beauty of being part of a growing section of the industry is that there is still so much more to discover and create! If we try to find a specific explanation now, we will be ending our journey before we’ve even begun.

Explaining The Faults Of The Fashion Industry To Friends & Family

From fiber to finish there is excessive waste, inhumanity, and shortcuts being taken in the fashion industry.

When discussing sustainable fashion with friends and family who have never heard of it before, I usually give them a few examples of issues along the supply chain. From fiber to finish there is excessive waste, inhumanity, and shortcuts being taken in the fashion industry. Through this explanation I try to convey that it is a large and incredibly complex issue that touches every area of our lives. Sometimes I feel proud of the little speech I recite, and other times I realize that it will never be enough for them.

While I want to share the slow fashion movement with the world, it admittedly can be frustrating to discuss what this community and movement is trying to be with those outside of it. Everyone, it seems, has a different opinion of what we should be doing and why we’re not making enough headlines.

There’s the argument that it doesn’t actually feel connected to environmental damage, that the messaging isn’t cohesive, and that it’s overall too much work to buy into. And each of those claims have some absolute truth to them. Yes, we do need to make it easier to understand the direct impact fashion has on the world. Yes, we do need clear and consistent messaging in order to make big waves. And yes, it is more work to be a sustainable shopper!

Sustainable Fashion Is Becoming More Mainstream Day By Day

Each day we are making small, but meaningful progress towards understanding what exactly this movement is, and what we need to do in order to make it a lasting reality.

However, I disagree that we are doing it all wrong. I think we are climbing steadily to more exposure, a larger presence in popular culture, and mainstream media, daily. I believe we are working hard day in and day out to bring the sustainable fashion community closer together as one voice. Each day we are making small, but meaningful progress towards understanding what exactly this movement is, and what we need to do in order to make it a lasting reality. We’re playing the long game here folks!

Climate change wasn’t brought to this dangerous point in a day and neither will the solution. That’s not to say that we should slow down or give up, though if we are constantly preaching quality over quantity when it comes to garments, then we have to practice that in all aspects of this fashion revolution.

We must be transparent, as designers, as writers, as companies, that we are all learning, along side our audiences, what it means to be a conscious entity.

We must be transparent, as designers, as writers, as companies, that we are all learning, along side our audiences, what it means to be a conscious entity. And we unfortunately don’t have all the answers yet. It looks as though we’ve all been trying so hard to attract new customers that we’ve pretended the business plan is finished when all we actually have is "Save the planet! Save the people!" If companies are going to be transparent, they have to be humble as well.

So what is sustainable fashion? There’s Wikipedia’s broad definition, Green Strategy’s seven form breakdown, Study.34’s comprehensive thoughts, and more. All are a bit different, and all are correct.

Yes, in a perfect world, we would have a clear and specific definition of what sustainable fashion means. In a perfect world, we would have specific regulations to keep standards high and hold companies accountable already. In a perfect world the fashion industry would be working like a well-oiled machine to expand sustainable practices across all brands and companies. Alas, we are not in a perfect world and we have to continue working on this issue until it is solved, even if it takes more than a lifetime.


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Audrey Stanton was born and raised in the Bay Area and is currently based in Los Angeles. She works as a freelance writer and has an exciting venture of her own in the works! Audrey is deeply passionate about conscious fashion and hopes to continue to spread awareness of ethical consumption.