10 Sustainable Fashion Myths Explained By Experts
In this article 10 sustainable fashion myths are explained by industry experts. Read their professional insights and learn new aspects of this important topic.
In honor of Fashion Revolution Week last year, I gathered round a panel of experienced sustainable fashion experts. I asked their expert insights on these 10 very common ethical and sustainable fashion myths. What they told me was eye-opening.
The topic sustainable fashion is far wider and far more complex than I could ever imagine. This year’s Corona virus pandemic has made it even more complex when worker’s rights and the entire future of the fashion industry is at stake.
It’s important to learn more about sustainability in fashion industry to be able to build a better future together. Read this and challenge your way of thinking about sustainability in fashion.
Profile photos with the courtesy of our panelists
Our Sustainable Fashion Expert Panel
1. Roosmarie Ruigrok
Sustainable Fashion Expert at Clean&Unique, The Netherlands
2. Anna Rinta-Jyllilä
Freelance Fashion Production Expert at My Concept, Finland
3. Nienke Steen
Corporate Responsibility Expert at MODINT, The Netherlands
10 Sustainable Fashion Myths Explained
1. Finding sustainable business attire is difficult and I don’t want to look like a hippie at work
Roosmarie: “I am happy to see that companies are doing more to become more sustainable. Brands like Filippa K and Suit Supply, both members of Fair Wear Foundation, are setting up increasingly sustainable brands.”
Anna: “Sustainability doesn’t mean a hippie look. Any look and style can be sustainable. Hippie look can also be unsustainable. Sustainability is defined by totally different things than style and look.”
Nienke: “There are many attractive brands, who make nice suits, dresses and other representative clothing, who are working responsibly. You can check out your favorite brand at the websites of Fair Wear Foundation and Dutch Agreement Sustainable Garment and Textile.
Check out their corporate responsibility pages and find out what they do. Also websites like Project Cece, Take it Slow, Wat Mooi, Fair E-Good, Studio Jux and Zara Join Life will provide you with enough opportunities to find sustainable business attire.”
2. Ethical fashion is expensive and reserved only for the wealthy hipsters
Roosmarie: “I agree that to buy new ethical fashion is expensive. A well-made garment IS expensive. We as consumer are so used to buy stuff for a price that is not acceptable.
When you combine an old item with something borrowed, and when you buy something new it is ethical, then maybe you come up with a very unique outfit of the day!”
Anna: “If the clothing brand pays a fair pay for the people who make the clothes, they can’t be as cheap as the cheapest clothes on the market are right now. But they don’t have to be extremely expensive either.”
Nienke: “Not at all, there is more and more available within affordable price brackets. Check out the aforementioned websites above. What also helps: Buy less, buy high quality and take good care for it. Then the price is even less over the full life cycle.
Most importantly, you can be proud of what you wear and have something that could be a bit different from the rest. You can also check out 2nd hand stores, web shops or markets and look in your own wardrobe for garments and new combinations that make you feel beautiful.”
3. If I just take my used clothing to the recycling bin I have done my part on being a sustainable fashion consumer
Roosmarie: “Bringing your clothes to a recycling bin is the best thing you can do! That way they can be re-used or recycled. Of course to be a sustainable consumer you want to do more:
Take care of what you have, wash your clothes with eco-washing powder, don’t buy single-use plastics, switch to green electricity, separate your waste and travel by train and bike!
Anna: “It’s a bare minimum. I would recommend doing more.”
Nienke: “First off all, check if someone else could use it or maybe you can clean or repair it? End-of-life stage of a garment is very important. We want to recycle, and even better, upcycle our garments. If you throw it in the recycle bin it will be re-used, recycled or burned.
As consumers we need more information on how to sort our old garments because now people throw torn garments in the waste bin, instead of the garment bin, but even dirty or torn garments can be recycled.
Nowadays there are too many garments burned which could be new materials for our mechanically or chemically recycled collections. Technically we have all opportunities.
We have to create the right infrastructure together with the government, the industry, the waste handlers and the consumer. Modint facilitates an event Dutch Circular Textile Valley to organize that collectively.”
4. Fast fashion can never be sustainable
Roosmarie: “Fast fashion is driven on time and money and therefore it will never be sustainable. But the question is what is sustainable? There is no good definition.
Fast fashion is made in the Far East, transported by sea, mostly made with polyester and made under price pressure and time pressure.”
Anna: “Basically yes. The concept of fast fashion is not sustainable. Of course you can use fast fashion items in a slow fashion way but the fast fashion as a concept itself is not sustainable.”
Nienke: “Not true, it depends on so many factors. Pressure on prices and delivery times could lead to pressure on suppliers and impacting workers and the environment. But to be able to judge you have to know:
Where is it produced and in what conditions? What material is it and is that biodegradable or recyclable?
Right now, supply chains of so called fast fashion could be even better than mid-range to high-end garments if they have a Corporate Responsibility (CR) policy in place.
It depends on the management system, the ownership of sustainability, expertise, verification, supplier relations and so on.
We need designers looking at the purpose and the life cycle of the garment, so that they can take impact, circularity and end-of-life stage into account.
We need new systems in place so that consumers know what to do with their old garments and that waste handlers work hand in hand with the industry and the other way around.”
5. Luxury brands are more ethical than cheap high street retailers
Roosmarie: “It doesn’t say anything. Only when luxury brands work with true craftsmanship and show their resources then maybe it is more ethical than the street labels.”
Anna: “Some are, some are not. It depends on the brand. Unfortunately there are many brands – luxury brands, cheap brands, mid-price brands – out there who don’t give a damn about sustainability.
That truly is a shame. It’s especially shameful if it’s a big and successful company that could afford being more sustainable and yet they’re choosing not to be.”
Nienke: “Not always. It depends on their Corporate Responsibility (CR) strategy and it’s implementation. Is it part of their DNA, policy and management system? Having more room to pay a fair price and less pressure on delivery times could help to produce responsibly.”
6. Cotton is a sustainable material
Roosmarie: “Cotton is amazing and it is sustainable. When you make cotton wet it becomes stronger than when it’s dry. That is the reason our towels are made from cotton. Only thing is that cotton is growing in places where it is not to supposed to be grown.
Then you need pesticides or GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) cotton. This harms the environment. Using organic cotton, following the GOTS standards and treating it well will make it sustain for years!”
Anna: “It’s all relative. Cotton is a natural, renewable fiber but it needs a lot of water to grow so the answer is yes and no.”
Nienke: “Cotton is a thirsty crop, that needs a lot of water and fertilizers to grow, and a lot of water, energy and chemicals to process. So I would say it is not a sustainable material.
There are better options like organic cotton, better cotton, recycled cotton, cotton made in Africa and cotton in conversion.”
7. Polyester is an unsustainable material
Roosmarie: “Yes! Polyester comes from oil. The oil industry is a dirty business. Avoid polyester, nylon, polyamide etc. Even the recycling of polyesters becomes now a hard business. A better alternative are fibers made out of plants such as TENCEL™.“
Anna: “If it’s not recycled polyester then it’s not that sustainable. Although polyester can make garments really durable and long lasting.
So once again: it’s all relative. Polyester is also a non-renewable material, so if you have to use it for a reason or another, I recommend using recycled polyester.”
Nienke: “Polyester has a lower environmental impact compared to conventional cotton but it is still an energy and chemical intensive process from crude oil to a textile fiber. There are recycled and bio-based low impact polyesters on the market.”
8. Fashion would be more ethical if the production was moved to EU as we have no sweatshops in here
Roosmarie: “I don’t agree. It all depends on the working conditions of the people who make our clothes. The cost of labor is so high and no one wants to work in the fashion industry as a seamster.
In Albania the workers earn less than in Bangladesh. In Portugal the minimum wage is 676.67€ /month (2018). I think we have to tackle the issues in the fashion industry globally as it is a worldwide problem.”
Anna: “It’s not just the sweat shop issue. If you live in Europe, it’s more sustainable that your clothing don’t come from the other side of the world.”
Nienke: “Production in EU doesn’t mean it’s ethical. Most EU countries are defined as low or medium risk concerning labour conditions or environmental impact. This is in relation to education, legislation, verification and technical innovation in the EU.”
9. Large publicly listed fashion corporations are evil and only small companies can be relied on change towards a more circular fashion industry
Roosmarie: “It is true that a smaller company can take better steps quicker. But bigger companies can make a bigger change. What I like about H&M and C&A that they give new innovations a platform so that they can scale up.
On the other hand what I do not like is that the supply chain of these corporates doesn’t change. This stays as business as usual. I would love to see a change to this.”
Anna: “Some big companies try to do better. Do they try hard enough, that’s another question. But no, they are not automatically evil.”
Nienke: “No. There are really nice sustainable small brands out there and being small sometimes means that it’s easier to oversee and engage your supply chain.
But many big brands do have huge budgets and dedicated teams of experts working on Corporate Responsibility (CR) policy and implementation through out the world.
Especially the big brands need to keep their image safe so they really want to work on responsible supply chains. The complex and widespread supply chain makes it difficult for most of the mainstream brands.
The smaller brands that have CR in their DNA from the beginning are mostly winners after all.”
10. Consumers have the power to change the fashion industry
Roosmarie: “Yes they have! See what happened after the collapse of RanaPlaza factory in Bangladesh in 2013. The Fashion Revolution movement made already a big change on transparency. I am proud to be the coordinator of Fashion Revolution in the Netherlands.“
Anna: “Yes they do. The impact of consumers is huge. Basically it shouldn’t be that way. Sustainability issues should be regulated by the law much more than they are right now. But since that is not the case right now, it’s better to “vote with your wallet.”
Nienke: “Yes. Consumers are the most important stakeholders to brands so reward best practices and ask critical questions to your favorite brand. The best way is to direct the questions to their head offices. Buy a bit less but better!”
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Stay stylish AND sustainable!
This article was originally published on 20th April 2019. It was updated on 28th December 2020 with better structure and up-to-date links.