Fashion is a $2.5 trillion industry, producing 10% of global carbon emissions, 20% of global wastewater, and vast biodiversity loss. Consumers are demanding change, forcing sustainability in fashion as a requirement, not a trend.
I like to think of myself as an ethical consumer – someone who spends money on brands and labels that align with my values and the causes I care about, like the environment.
So I was shocked to learn how much needs to change to make fashion sustainable and more environmentally conscious. Did you know, for example, that manufacturing one pair of jeans uses 1,800 gallons of water?
According to the most recent episode of “Blank Canvas,” an original digital video series hosted by Baratunde Thurston, the fashion industry produces 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. That’s more than international flights and maritime shipping combined. The industry is also responsible for a whopping 20% of the world’s water pollution.
And the Passionates are not having it. As I mentioned in my last blog, the Passionates are people who work for and do business with the companies that share their personal values on critical social issues. Our research shows that 90% of Passionates think about the sustainability approach of fashion companies before they make a decision to buy products.
Why we need to make fashion sustainable: The high price of fast fashion
So in our second Blank Canvas after-party, I discussed the changing fashion industry with two incredible experts: Tara Nolan, founder and CEO of The Conscious Connoisseur, and Maya Penn, the 20-year old CEO of Maya’s Ideas, an award-winning slow fashion brand.
We started by examining “fast fashion,” where the industry produces more goods, often at lower quality and a speedier pace, to address changing fashion trends. “The fashion industry didn’t think of the long-term implications of this production on the planet, such as waste,” says Nolan. “We’re starting to realize that fast fashion comes with a cost.”
For example, 84% of clothes in America end up in landfill. As they become aware of this outcome, many consumers are changing their behavior. Here’s what they’re doing.
Sustainable fashion: Don’t toss that torn shirt
“People are starting to invest in capsule wardrobes,” which are smaller, curated collections of timeless clothing, Nolan says. “I’m a big fan. I wear a lot of the same things because they last longer. Buying more stuff that will end up in a landfill does not align with my values.”
One way to make items endure is to take better care of each item.
“If you tear a shirt, learn how to repair it instead of throwing it away,” says Penn. “If you stain a blouse, spot wash it instead of using a full washing machine cycle to clean it. These little things in the entire lifecycle of a garment really add up.”
Reuse, resell, remix
Participating in the circular economy is another way to make your mark. I’ve been buying high-end secondhand pieces. And once you’re finished with an item, don’t throw it away – resell it.
“Some of my early memories are of going to thrift stores with my mom and getting secondhand clothing,” Penn adds. “I always wear vintage or sustainable items. I create some pieces and buy others from sustainable brands.”
You don’t have to be a fashion designer to remix or up-cycle a piece. The internet has lots of easy DIY projects – such as turning a t-shirt into a tote bag or painting, embroidering, or cutting an old pair of jeans. “There’s so much you can do with every piece to give it new life,” Penn says.
Become a conscious connoisseur
As consumers rethink their relationship with fashion, the industry is taking notice. “Conscious consumerism is on the rise,” says Nolan. “These hard proof points help business owners and companies take the right actions.”
For example, companies like Levi’s are recycling old jeans and turning them into building insulation. Footwear manufacturer Allbirds is working to fully eliminate their carbon footprint in the next few years. Other brands are following suit.
But consumers need to keep up the pressure – by making informed purchases and communicating their point of view to fashion companies. “We need to stand for our values, leveraging our voices and talents to create a better world for everyone,” Nolan says.
Blank Canvas is an SAP original series hosted by Baratunde Thurston. Blank Canvas After Parties are where purpose and passion meet on Twitter.
Making fashion sustainable: Start the conversation
With so many people focusing on sustainability – and fashion brands taking note – it’s an exciting time to be a socially conscious consumer and a Passionate.
“Brands are hearing the voice of the customer,” says Penn. “Sustainability is not a niche or a trend. It’s the new standard of business.”