Want to Commit to Sustainable Fashion Practices? Follow This Guide

Unsplash | Piotr Szulawski

I used to think I was a conscious shopper. I wouldn't allow myself to buy new clothing unless I donated old pieces in my closet. I would donate clothing, shoes, and jewelry to Goodwill or various other charity organizations, priding myself in not disposing to landfills. And I tried to shop each season versus shopping when there were sales or a hot trend to capitalize on. Although these are all good tactics to becoming a more ethical shopper, it wasn't until the pandemic slowed down my calendar and need to travel that I took sustainability more seriously.

While sheltering in place, I've spent time cleaning out my closet and been shocked at how much I've consumed, underutilized, and thrown away without so much of a thought. In efforts to do better and offset my carbon imprint, I began researching sustainable brands and practices. With so many brands claiming to be sustainable, this was quite a daunting task. But considering fashion is the second largest industry responsible for pollution, it's a task worth taking.

If more people committed to creative ways of sourcing, prolonging, and recycling clothing, we could heal the planet. But, what does this look like? To help us decide how to determine what clothes we have (and want to purchase) are sustainable, we consulted a couple of experts: Cassandra Dittmer, sustainability stylist; Dalia MacPhee, celebrity fashion designer; Shona Quinn, social consciousness director of Eileen Fisher; and Melanie DiSalvo, founder of Virtue + Vice.

Sustainable Fashion: Definition and Keywords
Unsplash | Markus Spiske

Sustainable Fashion: Definition and Keywords

"Apparel that's of a higher consciousness with an intent to sustain or balance out the planet rather than harm or deplete it," MacPhee explains.

When deciding if a brand is sustainable, there are three main things to focus on — the environment, ethics, and sourcing. For the environment, it's important to research the amount of chemicals, resources, and water the brand uses. You must also look at the ways the brand approaches labor, wages, safety, and gender laws. And finally, focus on their use of animals to make their products.

Sustainable brands are pretty good about displaying the below keywords on their websites and social media pages to let you know they are the real deal.

Ethical Fashion: Sustainable and ethical are interchangeable with ethical focusing more on the social impact and human labor of the fashion industry.

Slow Fashion: A consumer or a brand can participate in slow fashion, or the act of considering the process and resources required to inspire less shopping.

Circular Fashion: Minimizing waste and repopulating resources through design.

Organic: Raw materials that are better for the environment.

Cruelty-free: Products that have not been tested on animals.

Biodegradable: A guarantee that the garments will naturally decompose in the environment.

Carbon neutral: The act of balancing out your greenhouse gas emissions.

Fair trade: An ongoing group of organizations collectively supporting workers rights and the environment.

Recycling: The act of recreating waste into something new.

Upcycling: Turns waste into something of better quality and is one of the most creative ways to reinvent something.

Sustainable Fashion Brands — How to Know If They're Legit
Unsplash /Janko Ferlič

Sustainable Fashion Brands — How to Know If They're Legit

When purchasing a new garment, Quinn believes you first need to get clear on why you are shopping. "Are you feeling down? Are you bored? Will purchasing enhance your mood long-term? Or do you just need something to brighten up your closet?"

Buying less is always the way to go, but if you do need to make a purchase, Dittmer advises on shopping brands that have certifications. There are currently over 30 certifications that brands can get to prove they are sustainable. A few of the top ones you'll see on clothing or brand websites are ahead.

B-corporation: Brands that have B-corporation certificates have been approved against a long list of social and environmental performance standards. This certificate believes brands have a responsibility to both communities and the planet.

Fair Trade USA: This one ensure the workers who make our garments are paid fairly and work in safe conditions.

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): Oftentimes designing, production, cutting and assembling is all done in different countries. It creates a lot of room for error when making sure things are ethical. The GOTS is an organization that unifies standards between countries and stages of production. It verifies the organic status you see in organic cotton, hemp, wool or linen.

Oeko-Tex: The stamp of approval for not containing any toxic chemicals.

PETA-Approved Vegan: A brand's promise that no animals were harmed or used in their products.

Sustainable Fashion Textiles
Unsplash | Mia Moessinger

Sustainable Fashion Textiles

If selecting fabric is important to you, all our experts recommended recyclable (organic, polyester, and nylon) fabrics. They advocate for bamboo, Tencel, organic hemp, and organic linen. You can also research brands that source from regenerative farms, or farms that focus on topsoil regeneration, improved water systems, and biodiversity.

Recycled Cotton: Cotton has been widely used all over the world, but because of the pesticides and other chemicals needed for production, it has become problematic for the environment. To minimize impact, recycled cotton is made from old clothing items, reducing water, and energy consumption.

Tencel: Requiring less energy and water than cotton, Tencel is a light cellulose fabric made from dissolved wood pulp.

Organic Hemp: Found all over the world, hemp requires very little water and naturally fertilizes the soil when growing.

A couple of new plant-based materials worth looking into are made from pineapples, mushrooms, and cactus.

Sustainable Clothing Choices
Unsplash | Priscilla Du Preez

Sustainable Clothing Choices

Realizing that your closet isn't sustainable can be an unsettling and overwhelming thought. So when organizing and disposing, MacPhee recommends "not feeling guilty or pressure to do everything at once." Any little step is a step in the right direction. It's important to go back to your definition of sustainability and decide what's important for you and how to make those changes.

When looking at your closet, try to figure out the difference in the clothes that have lasted a long time and the ones that easily rip and spoil. "Unfortunately, because of the H&M and Forever 21 culture, we are so far removed from what quality is," DiSalvo explains when discussing how quality is wrongly associated with price. She recommends going, "into your closet and looking at the items that have lasted long. Pull it apart, look at the seams, look at the fabric: touch it, feel it, pull it." Once you've done that, compare it to the items that are breaking, and train yourself to see and feel quality.

When disposing of garments, make sure you are donating to reputable places. And if you are struggling to give up items that are no longer of use, MacPhee encourages writing a note on the clothing you plan to give away. "Write a little note on the back of the label to remind yourself and the future wearer that wherever [the clothing item] goes, it's like a piece of you just went forward."

How to Prolong the Life of a Garment
Unsplash /Kenny Luo

How to Prolong the Life of a Garment

Once you've determined what's sustainable in your closet or what future garments are ethical, the real work begins. Properly caring for your garment can go a long way.

The easiest way to prolong a garment is by following the care labels on each piece. Whether the brand recommends handwashing or dry-cleaning, do exactly as it says. However, be weary of washing nylon and polyester as each wash releases tiny plastic particles that can make their way into waterways and the food chain. To avoid this, consider purchasing special bags and filters that will filter out these microfibers.

When you feel pressured to purchase trends, look to your wardrobe first. "Go to your wardrobe first and see what could be tweaked or tailored to fit the trend or season," MacPhee explains, while advocating for a good tailor. If miniskirts are trending and you happen to have a longer skirt you haven't worn in years, opt for a tailor who can remake the skirt into the trend and offer the remaining fabric into another piece — like a matching face mask!

We Have the Power
Unsplash | Tu Tu

We Have the Power

To be sustainable, your clothes must not harm animals, humans or the environment.

As consumers, we call the shots and have the power to elicit change. Each piece we wear gives a platform to brands, so we must intimately know what statement we are making. Doing the necessary brand research and following sustainable practices will create a shift in the industry.