Sustainable Fashion: Investing or Shopping
The term "sustainable fashion" has gained a lot of popularity and is often used without proper substantiation. The spotlight is shining brightly on sustainable practices as we gain greater awareness upon the significant environmental consequences associated with our clothing choices. Surprisingly, the fashion industry alone accounts for a staggering 4 to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions annually (1). Its massive levels of waste are shockingly comparable to, and greater than, the emissions of international shipping and flights combined (2). Thus, it is crucial to understand the true meaning behind sustainable fashion.
What’s been happening lately, and why?
Over the past 15 years, the fashion industry has experienced a doubling in production (3), but there has been a significant decline of approximately 40% in the duration clothing is worn before being thrown away. Disturbingly, once discarded, about 73% of clothing is either incinerated or deposited in landfills (4). Out of the small fraction that is collected for recycling, roughly 12% will be shredded and repurposed for mattress fillings, insulations, or cleaning cloths. Regrettably, less than 1% of the collected material is actually utilised in the production of new clothing (4).
Given the wide range of environmental aspects at play in the fashion industry, there is a limited number of brands actively addressing the various complexities associated with sustainability. Even among those brands that do make an effort, it is acknowledged that there is room for improvement. Merely relying on shopping for items labeled as "sustainable" is insufficient. It is necessary for us to completely reconsider our purchasing habits and transform the way we consume clothing.
The difference between sustainable fashion and shopping sustainably
While the term sustainable fashion mainly refers to the actions taken by companies to be more environmentally positive, shopping sustainably is a task for the consumer. Shopping sustainably refers to the choices made when purchasing an item and the reasoning behind them.
Prior to making a purchase, Harriet Vocking, the Chief Brand Officer at sustainability consultancy Eco-Age, recommends reflecting on three crucial questions: “What are you buying and why? What do you really need? Will you wear it at least 30 times?”. It holds significant importance to also consider what will happen to the product after its lifespan is over. What will you do with your garment after you are done wearing it?
The goal of this article is to shift the consumer’s purchasing style from shopping to investing.
Why is shopping bad for the environment?
Following the latest fashion trends is an imminent occurrence that traps the consumer into a circle of poor shopping decisions, especially when it comes to fashion. Trendy clothes often follow the fast fashion model, which involves producing garments quickly and cheaply to meet rapidly changing trends. This results in increased production rates, higher resource consumption, and larger amounts of waste generated throughout the supply chain. The fast turnover of trendy clothes encourages consumers to buy more and discard items quickly. This leads to excessive consumption and a "throw-away culture" where clothes are worn for a short period before being disposed of, contributing to increased textile waste.
Shift your perspective: Shopping to Investing
Besides the fact that following fast fashion trends will lead you to have a negative environmental impact, it will also have a poor effect on your style and appearance, due to always running out of style every season. Or a negative impact on your financials because a fast fashion consumer always has to stay in trend with the new season’s items.
Clothes can be largely divided into two main categories: the previously mentioned fast fashion and the timeless and classic items that never run out of style.
Being sustainable does not exclude having a good style. The best dressed individuals are surprisingly the most sustainable. Throughout fashion history, there is always a constant niche that never runs out of style. There are a certain number of clothing items that have kept their status as classic and in style which should be present in everyone’s closet.
Instead of being trapped in the loop of what is this season’s color or what is the latest fashion trend that one of the Kardashians has set on Instagram, how would it look if we considered our wardrobe as investing?
Why should this be considered as an investment? The term “investment” forces us to think for a longer period of time. Let’s say that we can shop for consumables (egz. soap or food) but we can choose to invest in clothes that are intended to last us for a longer period of time. On average, a fast fashion clothing item’s life-span is 4-6 months, but a well thought purchase of a fashion piece can last up to 5-10 years in our wardrobes, or even longer (5).
When it comes to budgeting, most of the items that will form your sustainable closet will cost you more than an average fast fashion piece that you buy every season. Besides the fact that the fast fashion item will run out of style in less than a year, the quality is poor and will be damaged even if a consumer intends on using it for longer. Investing in a quality piece can run you a few extra bucks but will outlive any mass-market item and, if chosen properly, it can remain in style forever!
While it may sound like a cliché, principles like "less is more", “quality over quantity” and “buy less and buy better” hold significant importance when you take into account the immense production of 100 billion garments worldwide each year. Consumers should be aware that they have a choice to make when it comes to their investment in clothes. While we may think that buying quality pieces is more expensive, in the long run it is actually not true. Following the cheaper option of mass market trends will push customers to continuously purchase items throughout the year and give them the impression they always run out of clothes, while investing in a few essential pieces a year can offer you the versatility to create a timeless closet that never runs out of style.
Second-hand or vintage clothing shops can also be a good-to-know alternative as they play a crucial role in promoting environmental sustainability. By offering pre-loved clothes, these stores contribute to the reduction of textile waste and the conservation of valuable resources. Instead of ending up in landfills, unwanted clothes find new homes through resale, extending their lifespan and reducing the demand for new clothing production. By purchasing such items, customers have a significant impact in reducing the environmental damages associated with the manufacturing process, including the consumption of water, energy, and chemicals.
Some of the most iconic pieces that should be in your wardrobe (6):
Little Black Dress (LBD): The little black dress is a wardrobe staple that can be dressed up or down for various occasions. Its versatility and timeless elegance have made it a fashion icon.
White button-down shirt: A white button-down shirt is a versatile and sophisticated piece that can be worn for both formal and casual occasions. It can be paired with jeans, skirts, or tailored pants, making it a timeless wardrobe essential.
Tailored blazer: A well-fitted blazer adds polish and sophistication to any outfit. It can be paired with jeans, dresses, or pants, creating a classic and refined look.
Blue jeans: Classic blue jeans are a wardrobe staple that never goes out of style. They can be dressed up or down, paired with various tops and shoes, making them a versatile and enduring fashion choice.
Trench coat: The trench coat is a timeless outerwear piece that exudes elegance and sophistication. Its iconic design and functionality make it a perennial favourite for both men and women.
White sneakers: White sneakers have become a fashion staple due to their versatility and comfort. They can be paired with almost any outfit, from casual to semi-formal, and are considered a timeless footwear choice.
Image 1: Heftiba, A. (2020) grayscale photo of the new york times square. Available at: https://unsplash.com/photos/ZoAhudO-BQM
Image 2: Silva, N. L. (2020) woman in red blazer sitting on stairs. Available at: https://unsplash.com/photos/qUp0UsT89BY Pucker, K. P. (2022) The Myth of Sustainable Fashion. Available at: https://hbr.org/2022/01/the-myth-of-sustainable-fashion
Remy, N., et al. (2016) Style that’s sustainable: A new fast-fashion formula. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/sustainability/our-insights/style-thats-sustainable-a-new-fast-fashion-formula
World Bank (2019) How Much Do Our Wardrobes Cost to the Environment? Available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2019/09/23/costo-moda-medio-ambiente
World Economic Forum (2019) How the Circular Economy Redesigning Fashions Future. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/02/how-the-circular-economy-is-redesigning-fashions-future/https://www.vogue.in/fashion/content/vogues-ultimate-guide-to-sustainable-fashion
McKinsey & Company (2020) Fashion on Climate Change. [pdf] Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Industries/Retail/Our%20Insights/Fashion%20on%20climate/Fashion-on-climate-Full-report.pdf
Johnston, C. (2023) 16 Timeless Fashion Pieces To Have In Your Wardrobe. Available at: https://www.clevergirlfinance.com/timeless-fashion-pieces/